It happens all of the time. Too many car accident victims listen to poor advice from misinformed family members and friends. Although they have good intentions, the bad advice you hear from non-lawyers can destroy your case causing you to get no money or less money than you deserve. Once this damage is done your attorney will be able to do little to help you. This article will provide you with the information you need to avoid many of the common mistakes.
Why is it so easy for accident victims to damage their own car accident cases?
The primary reason that it is so easy for you to damage your own car accident case is due to the fact that the process was specifically designed to work that way by the car insurance companies. There are certain rules that the insurance companies must abide by as set forth by State law. These rules determine much of the way that an insurance company is allowed to communicate with the accident victim, but the rules fall short and leave a large portion of the process open to interpretation. The insurance companies use this to their advantage.
To summarize, the insurance companies can technically play by the rules (meaning they are not breaking any laws), but they can still deny your claim or reduce the amount of financial compensation that you receive based entirely on a technicality that they have complete control over.
If you think “That’s not fair!” We agree with you.
How an attorney can help you!
Now that you have a better understanding of how the insurance companies are able to get away with some of the tricks that they pull, you are probably left wondering, “How can an attorney help?”
There are many misconceptions about “how” a law firm helps you win your case. For some reason, most attorneys have always operated in relative obscurity as if they did not want to reveal their techniques. On the contrary, our firm feels that it is important for our clients to understand all of the hard work that we are doing for them. With that in mind, we offer this explanation: The way that an experienced attorney helps you win a car accident case is by understanding the tricks that the insurance companies use, and beating them at their own game.
It’s really that simple, or that complicated depending on your attorney’s level of experience. Our firm knows the techniques that the insurance companies use and we know how to navigate through the process and avoid all of the pitfalls.
Arguments, techniques, and technicalities exploited by the insurance companies
You may be asking yourself, “So what exactly are these tricks that the insurance companies use?”
Here are a few examples:
1. Anything you say can be used against you
When you speak to an insurance company representative, everything that you say can and most likely will be used against you, if at all possible. It is human nature for us to change our stories ever so slightly if we are asked the same question in a different way–and I am not talking about lying. Being asked for new information or being asked to explain the same event but from a different point of view causes us to think about events and circumstances in a different way. This brings to light new information that, in the big picture, does not change the events of your accident, that is, until the insurance company twists your words in an effort to deny or reduce your claim.
As an example, let’s imagine that you were in an accident where you were rear-ended. While talking to the responsible party’s insurance company they ask you to explain your side of the story. You explain that their insured driver hit your vehicle from behind while you were slowing for traffic. Under Texas law that would mean that their insured driver is at fault, aside from a few extreme situations. The adjuster may ask you, “So they were following you too closely?” Naturally you would agree with that statement as the whole reason that the accident happened is that they did not leave enough braking distance to stop without hitting you. The insurance adjuster might then ask you if it was making you angry that they were following you so closely. Naturally you will reply, “Yes!” Their next question may be “Do you normally stop early so that you avoid hitting the car in front of you?” Naturally, you say “Yes.” What you do not realize is that they just got you to admit that “stopped early”. You inadvertently opened the door for them to accuse you of “brake checking” the other car. You admitted you were angry that they followed you too closely. You admitted that you “stopped early”. All the adjuster must do is catch you off guard with an accusation, and you just accidentally destroyed your own case.
An attorney will help you avoid all of this nonsense by speaking to the insurance company on your behalf, thereby eliminating the possibility that they can use your words against you altogether.
2. They ask you to repeat everything
Each time you call to check the status of your claim you will probably notice that you find yourself explaining your story over and over again, and that the call is often taken by a different person than your adjuster. This is not a coincidence. This is yet another part of the above-mentioned strategy. They are creating an opportunity for you to slip up and say anything that they can use against you.
On the contrary, when you have an attorney, one single adjuster will communicate with the attorney, thereby eliminating the effectiveness of this technique.
3. Lapse of treatment
A common argument used by the insurance companies is that you waited too long after the accident to get treatment for your injuries. This is known as a “lapse of treatment” argument. For example: You are involved in an accident where the other driver rear-ended you and a witness corroborates your story. Clearly the other driver at fault so their insurance company isn’t going to argue liability (in theory). They accept liability and now their new mission is to pay you as little as possible. The insurance company discovers that you waited two days after your accident before you went to see a doctor. While you and I know that is a reasonable time period, as most injuries do not fully manifest themselves immediately after an accident, the insurance adjuster will insist that this lapse of treatment is an indication that your injuries are less severe than you claim. This creates a perfect opportunity for the insurance company to trivialize your injuries and offer you a ridiculously low offer.
An experienced attorney will establish a causal link between your injuries and the accident that would be quite challenging for the insurance company to refute.
4. Lack of police report
If you did not call the police to come to the scene after your car accident you are playing right into the insurance company’s hand. This creates a situation where it is your word against the other driver’s, and believe me when I tell you that you would be shocked to discover just how many people will lie about their liability in a car accident. If you do not have a police report that shows the other driver to be at fault, the insurance company can certainly use that against you. This goes back to the issue of the insurance company having a lot of freedom in interpreting the rules. If there is a police report that shows their driver to be at fault, they will have a hard time arguing against that. But create an opportunity for them to have a reasonable chance at denying liability, and they will certainly take advantage of that.
An experienced attorney knows that even after the accident, there is often physical evidence that shows what really happened. Our firm will often conduct our own investigation that produces a result similar to a police report when one is not available.
An Attorney’s Leverage
With all of that in mind, what makes the insurance company want to play fair with the attorney? Where does the attorney get this “power” from? In The State of Texas, an accident victim has two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. Insurance companies do not want to deal with a lawsuit because it creates an opportunity for them to go before a jury, and, let’s face it, juries are not usually kind to insurance companies. Your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company and attempt to get you the compensation that you deserve. The attorney uses the possibility of a lawsuit as leverage against the insurance company. Your attorney’s presence effectively implies, “Treat my client fair or we will sue you!” Naturally, the effectiveness of that threat is proportionate to the attorneys’ ability to win cases. Our firm wins. The insurance companies are aware of this, and they take us seriously.
In conclusion, the best way to avoid damaging your case is by contacting a lawyer immediately after your car accident, before you ever have an opportunity to fall into an insurance company trap. The experienced car accident attorneys of our Law Office will listen to your story, help you make informed decisions, and guide you through the process toward a favorable outcome. Don’t be a victim twice.
If you have any further questions or would like advice, please contact us for a free consultation. Our attorneys are happy to answer any questions you may have.
What to Expect After a Kerrville Car Accident
Car accidents happen in Texas every day. This article describes the basic overview of what to expect after a car accident (from the perspective of the accident victim who has sustained an injury).
The process is generally made up of the following phases:
1. The scene of the accident
The car accident itself usually only takes a matter of seconds, but the specific details that occur in these moments will largely determine what to expect in the coming weeks or months. Instead of explaining what you should have done, I will list some of the common mistakes and hopefully, you can take advantage of this information to avoid those pitfalls.
You should always get a copy of the police report. If you fail to a copy of the police report you may create a situation where it comes down to your word against the other driver’s word. A potential client contacted our firm recently and shared a story where that was exactly what happened. His car was crashed into by a pickup truck that lost control when it was driving too fast in the rain. The victim chose not to call the police and a report was not filed. The victim filed a claim with the other driver’s insurance company and they conducted an “investigation”. When the insurance company asked their insured driver he just lied and claimed that another car hit his truck which caused it to spin out of control and crash into the real victim. It was an utter fabrication, but the insurance company used that lie as the basis for denying the victim’s claim all the while claiming that the imaginary 3rd car was to blame and that the victim should track down their insurance company. Let’s get real here. The other driver’s insurance company did not actually think that some mysterious 3rd car caused the accident. They were simply in a position to deny coverage for the victim based on a technicality and they did just that.
Do not trust the other driver. Often, the other driver will try to talk you into accepting payment out of pocket instead of dealing with their insurance company. DO NOT FALL FOR THIS! While the other driver may not have malevolent intentions, it is very likely that they do not have the resources to pay for your property damage and your injuries out of their pocket. Few people have that kind of money lying around, and those that do are usually smart enough to have insurance to protect their assets. Even if you only have minor injuries your medical expenses can still approach several thousands of dollars quite easily, and few people have the assets to properly compensate you for these injuries. Additionally, they may give you an excuse as to why they need to leave the scene, but they promise to meet up with you later to exchange insurance information. You should never allow this to happen. Chances are, you will never see them again.
If you have been injured, go directly to the hospital. Failure to get medical care in a timely fashion will diminish the validity of your assertions of pain and suffering, and it will effectively give the insurance company another argument to make against paying you a reasonable amount of money. Put yourself in the insurance company’s shoes. As far as they see it, if you did not even bother to go to the hospital, you must not have been injured that bad. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you overcome this argument. Nevertheless, this is an argument that you need to be aware of.
The second phase of the process involves getting the treatment you need for your injuries. Getting your health back on track is the most important aspect of your car accident case for obvious reasons. The way that the treatment phase is handled will also have a dramatic impact on the financial outcome of your case.
As a car accident attorney, I hear countless stories from my clients where a relative has given them some pseudo-legal advice. The vast majority of it is completely inaccurate, but probably the worst example I have ever heard is where a client’s relative advised her not to take an ambulance to the emergency room after her accident (in which she suffered significant injuries) because the ambulance bill would ultimately be taken out of her settlement and she would get less money in her pocket. That is a very skewed perception. Any and all medical bills serve as the foundation for any civil action taken against the responsible driver and their insurance company. In short, the more legitimate medical expenses that you have, the greater the potential value of your case. Conversely, if your medical expenses are too small the insurance company will have a strong argument that your damages are too small to justify any type of decent settlement. The rationale is that if you are not injured badly enough to see a doctor then you are not hurt badly enough to justify an insurance settlement. If you are legitimately injured and you have already let time pass between your accident and treatment, or you have not received enough of the treatment you need to validate your claim, our lawyers still may be able to help you save your case. We recently tried a case in which a young woman was rear-ended and she suffered a back injury. Because she did not get the proper treatment, her severe injury had gone mostly undiagnosed. The insurance company offered her $900 for her pain and suffering. Luckily, the client knew a bad deal when she heard one, and she hired our firm to represent her. By getting her the treatment that she needed, which resulted in substantive medical expenses that we could base her lawsuit on, we were able to turn her $900 offer into a six-figure settlement.
The third step in the process is the claim phase, whereby the accident victim or their attorney will file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. Technically speaking, the claim will be ongoing at the same time as the treatment phase. For most people, the claim process starts just after the car accident occurs. The vast majority of our car accident clients made an attempt to resolve the issue with the other driver’s insurance company and they turn to us only when they realize that they are not going to be treated fairly. Once a lawyer becomes involved, the accident victim can just focus on getting better and the lawyer will now deal with the hassles of the claim process. The lawyer “runs interference”, so to speak, for their client. This is a great benefit for the client as it insulates the client from the adjuster’s tricks.
The claim is divided into two sections: The property damage claim, and the personal injury claim. They are often handled by two or more different insurance adjusters, of which the more aggressive and experienced adjuster will handle your personal injury claim. There is not a whole lot of “gray area” in the property damage claim. A car will have X value and Y amount of damage. If the cost of repairing the damaged vehicle is reasonably proportionate to the value of the vehicle, the insurance company will fix it. If the cost of repair will cost almost as much as, or more than the value of the car, they will simply deem the car a total loss and cut you a check for the approximate value. While the price they give you is not always fair, the process of determining value is, for the most part regulated and this affords the adjuster few opportunities to play games.
On the contrary, the personal injury portion of the claim is considerably different. The rules are largely open to interpretation and the insurance companies often treat injured victims unfairly. The primary reason for this poor treatment comes from the fact that health care costs a great deal of money. The insurance company, just like any other business, would like to pay out as little as they can. They employ many techniques to keep you from getting all that you are entitled to. In their defense, the insurance companies do have a tricky job in the sense that they have to deal with the abundance of scammers out there, who attempt to lie about their injuries and commit insurance fraud. While that is a daunting task, it most certainly does not excuse the insurance companies from the way they mistreat honest people with real injuries.
4. Property Damage Resolution
Once liability has been determined, the other driver’s insurance company will compensate you for the damage to, or loss of, your vehicle proportionate to the amount of liability that they have. The property damage situation is generally resolved long before the personal injury portion due mostly to the fact that the claims process for property damage is pretty straightforward. Matters related to property damage are more closely regulated by The State, so the insurance companies usually don’t mess around way they do with the injury portion of the claim. As an added benefit to our clients, our lawyers can handle the property damage negotiations as well. We do NOT charge attorney fees for helping with this part of the process.
5. Injury Resolution
The moment the client has completed their medical treatment, our attorneys will calculate all of the client’s damages. The term damages refers to any and all money that a client deserves as a result of the accident. Some types of damages are more apparent such as compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. There are other more obscure forms of damages as well. For example, you can be compensated for mental anguish if your accident has caused you to suffer from depression. If your injury has made it hard for you to be intimate with your spouse or partner, you can be compensated for that as well. There are numerous forms of damages, and our lawyers work to make sure that you are compensated for everything that you are entitled to.
Once all of your damages have been assessed, a “demand packet” is sent to the other driver’s insurance company (or their attorneys if applicable). Upon receipt of the demand packet, the negotiations begin and our attorneys fight to reach a fair resolution for our client. If both sides can arrive at a fair agreement the case is “settled”, meaning the defendant or their insurance company pays an agreed-upon amount to our client. If such an agreement can not be reached, then the case will likely go to trial and a jury will decide the outcome.
If you have any further questions related to how car accident cases work, feel free to contact us. Our attorneys are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Can you really trust an insurance company?
As a car accident attorney, I often hear a phrase: “The insurance adjuster seemed so nice… I thought I could trust them.” Unfortunately, this phrase is always followed by an explanation of how the adjuster has tried to (and in some cases succeeded to) take advantage of the accident victim.
If you have been involved in a car accident, you will likely have to deal with an insurance adjuster at some point in the claims process. The vast majority of our firm’s clients hire us after they have realized that the insurance adjuster is not going to treat them fairly, and or the insurance adjuster is not going to offer them a reasonable settlement. (Note: The sooner a lawyer becomes involved in your case, the greater the likelihood of a high dollar settlement.) More often than not, the accident victim does not realize that they are being taken advantage of until it is much too late because the insurance adjusters are nice to them and the accident victim has no idea that they are being led into a trap.
In my 20 years of practicing this type of law, one thing remains certain:
THE INSURANCE ADJUSTER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND!!!
To put this into perspective I want to share a story that is, unfortunately, a true story about a woman who fell for the “We care about you” act. Her misplaced trust cost her potentially millions of dollars.
For twenty years, I have been trying to help victims who have been involved in 18-wheeler accidents. This work unfortunately puts me in frequent contact with the insurance companies that provide coverage for the trucking industry. I have seen these insurance companies employ countless deceitful tactics to preserve their bottom line, but few cases have stuck with me as long as the story of Jackie.
Jackie was a mother of three, married to her high school sweetheart, Joe. Joe was killed by an 18-wheeler. He was changing a flat tire on the side of the road, when an inattentive 18-wheeler driver swerved onto the shoulder and struck Joe, killing him instantly.
The insurance company providing coverage for this 18 wheeler knew about Joe’s death before Jackie did. They had already sent an attorney and an accident recreation expert to the scene to build a case against Joe by the time Jackie even got the news.
Needless to say, Jackie was devastated when she heard. The insurance company quickly realized that the 18-wheeler driver was liable for the accident. Jackie had gone to the morgue to identify her husband’s body, where she was confronted by an insurance adjuster with a settlement offer. Jackie was furious.
Unfortunately, this is a common tactic employed by insurance companies. They will often send an insurance adjuster to a victim’s family shortly after the incident, hoping to take advantage of the tragedy in order to protect their bottom line. But in this situation, Jackie’s brother forced the insurance adjuster to leave.
Jackie’s brother also suggested that Jackie sue the trucking company. But Jackie said that she was not “money-hungry.” She trusted the insurance company to compensate her fairly. The accident was their client’s fault, after all. Surely they would help her in this crisis.
For two weeks, Jackie received countless phone calls. Eventually, she agreed to meet with an insurance company representative. The insurance adjuster came prepared. She had a settlement package already filled out, ready for Jackie’s signature – and she was very aggressive in seeking it. The adjuster also convinced Jackie that, if she took the trucking company to court, she would only receive compensation for her husband’s lost wages. This, of course, was a bald-faced lie.
Jackie was frightened and overwhelmed. She was faced with the prospect of raising her three children alone. She was suspicious, but she agreed to accept the settlement if she could have it reviewed by an attorney. Without missing a beat, the insurance adjuster got on the phone and brought an attorney to Jackie’s house.
Little did Jackie know that the attorney was employed by the insurance company. He glanced over the settlement and told Jackie that it was the best offer she was going to get. Reluctantly, she signed the settlement.
Only too late did she realize how small the settlement really was. With the help of an experienced attorney, she could have received compensation for her husband’s lost wages, any funeral expenses, the loss of companionship caused by his death, and possibly even punitive damages. She deserved a million-dollar settlement. What she got was a settlement worth only a few years of her husband’s wages. And to make matters worse, the settlement was written in such a way that, once Jackie’s children were grown, her payments dwindled to $600 per month. $600 per month as compensation for the loss of the man she loved.
I wish I could say that this was a one-time incident, but this sort of thing happens every day. The insurance adjuster who essentially scammed Jackie out of the compensation she deserved was likely hailed as a company hero, saving the insurance company millions of dollars.
The bottom line is that these insurance companies care only about their own profits, and they will do almost anything to protect themselves. If you or someone you love has been involved in an 18 wheeler accident, you must seek out an experienced attorney immediately. Don’t fall for the tricks employed by these insurance adjusters. Make sure that you and your family receive the compensation you deserve.
As you can tell from that story, insurance companies will often resort to unscrupulous methods to pay out as little money as they can. I find it interesting that our society can see through a sales pitch, or at least recognize that it is one, yet they rarely second guess the sales pitch of an insurance adjuster.
If you plan to deal with an insurance adjuster without an experienced attorney to help you, you must, at the very least, be aware that the vast majority of what they ask of you and say to you is a well-orchestrated pitch designed to lure you into a position where they can take advantage of your good nature. That effectively, IS, the insurance company’s business model.
I am a realistic attorney and I understand that there are people who would rather not hire a lawyer or sue and an insurance company. Additionally, understand that not every single car accident requires the expertise of an attorney. But, I do think that everyone who has been in a car accident should at least be aware that the insurance adjuster is not really your friend and that all of their supposed interest in your well-being is just part of the sales pitch. Generally speaking, if they are treating you particularly well it’s because they know they have some liability and they are trying to charm you into not suing them for big money while they attempt to pacify you with a small settlement.
In short, get a second opinion from our experienced attorneys before you accept any offer. You’ve got nothing to lose and potentially much to gain.
Just call to speak to one of our lawyers, and we will give you an honest appraisal of the situation as to whether or not you are being treated fairly by the insurance companies. We are glad to answer any questions you may have.