Car accidents are stressful for both the victim and the person responsible. The victim needs money to pay mounting medical bills and replace lost wages, while the person responsible for the accident usually fears losing a lawsuit. For these reasons, both sides are tempted to settle a car accident dispute quickly, before they’ve had a chance to think about their best options. If a car crash injured you, discuss your case with a Houston personal injury lawyer before agreeing to any settlement.
Avoid the Lowball Offer
Picture it: you were just rear-ended on Interstate 45 and are recovering at home, wondering how you’ll pay your rent or mortgage now that you’re laid up with broken bones and in considerable pain. At that point, the telephone rings and a kindly voice on the other end introduces himself as an insurance adjuster. He has great news! He wants to offer you settlement—for $2,000. He can rush the papers over to you right away. Just sign and he’ll deposit your check straight into your account tomorrow.
Think this is a dream come true? Think again. Chances are, this initial offer is much less than your injuries are worth. And once you agree to the settlement, you’ll lose your ability to get fair compensation for your injuries.
There’s a very simple reason insurance adjusters make lowball offers. Before calling or visiting you, they have a range in mind as to how much they can offer you. An insurance adjuster will never make an initial offer in the middle or high end of the range; instead, they’ll start low and give themselves room to go up. So an insurance adjuster might really think your injuries are worth $30,000, but they’ll never start out with an offer close to that number.
Estimating How Much Your Injuries Are Worth
Before you can decide whether a settlement offer is too low, you need some sense of how much your injuries are worth. Some injuries are easy to calculate, such as medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, and repairs to your car. You can put a dollar amount on these economic damages. The insurance adjuster will add up these costs—and so should you.
Texas law might also entitle you to some non-economic damages, which are harder to calculate. For example, car accident victims in Texas can receive compensation for:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Lost companionship
- Lost future earnings capacity, if you can’t return to your current job or any job at all
Every situation is different, and only an experienced car accident attorney can analyze the circumstances and determine how much you are likely to receive as compensation. Based on this analysis, your car accident attorney will come up with a settlement range that fairly compensates you for the disruption in your life.
Rejecting the First Offer
When you receive the insurer’s first offer, you should immediately reject it. After all, the insurance agent expects you to negotiate! Instead, make a counteroffer by starting out at the high end of your range. For example, you might have estimated that your injuries are worth $40,000-70,000. Don’t counter-offer with $40,000 because you’ll have nowhere to go. Also don’t counter with $55,000, since that doesn’t give you much room to maneuver, either. Instead, you’ll probably counter with close to $70,000, which is the upper end of what you consider a fair settlement.
Negotiating a car accident settlement is a lot like negotiating the purchase price of a car at the dealership. Each side goes back and forth, moving in increments until they reach a number to which they both can agree. At each stage of the negotiation, you’ll explain why you are entitled to the amount you are asking, by providing information about your economic and non-economic damages.
And what if you can’t reach an agreement? Don’t worry! A settlement is entirely voluntary. If an automobile insurer decides to play hardball, you can always walk away from settlement negotiations and file paperwork in court to start up a lawsuit. You’re never forced to settle against your will, and your lawyer can’t accept a settlement offer without your permission. The choice always remains yours.
The Dangers of Settling Too Soon
A settlement has many advantages over going to trial. You can guarantee that you’ll receive some money and you can usually get your money faster. However, there are clear dangers of settling too soon, such as:
Your injuries haven’t healed. If you suffered a traumatic brain injury, then it might take longer to figure out how much money you’ll need for your future medical care. In this situation, you might need to wait a little while before settling until you have a better idea how much money you’ll need.
Once you settle, you can’t sue. When you sign your settlement agreement, you also are signing away your right to sue for the injuries you suffered in the accident. After all, an insurer has no incentive to settle with you if you can turn around and still sue them in the future. Sometimes, it might be better to sue in court than settle your dispute—if, for example, the other driver’s insurance policy limit is less than your overall damages.
Speak With a Houston Car Accident Lawyer Today
Settlement negotiation is an art form, and an experienced car accident attorney knows how to reject an offer and when to finally accept one—so speak to a Houston car accident lawyer as soon as possible. At Stewart J. Guss, Attorney at Law, we’ve helped countless car accident victims get the compensation they deserve for car accidents that were no fault of their own. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys, call today at 800-898-4877 or send us an email through our online contact form. You’ll pay us nothing upfront until we’ve won your case.