By Francis M. Smith
After a serious accident, what injury victims tend to crave most is for everything to get back to normal. They want to heal quickly, return to work, and go about their normal lives. A lengthy settlement negotiation or court case doesn’t fit into this ideal – and insurance companies know it. Often an insurance adjuster will reach out to the injured plaintiff and offer them a check right away, supposedly so they can resolve the matter quickly and simply. However, a quick settlement resolution usually doesn’t benefit anyone except the insurance company. There are important reasons why you should resist the temptation to wrap up your injury case quickly.
One of the most important goals of a personal injury claim is to ensure that you are compensated fully for all the medical treatment associated with your injury, and to enable you to afford the best care available. Shortly after your accident, your doctors probably won’t know how what treatments you will need in order to reach your maximum recovery potential. Some injuries take time to reveal themselves fully after an accident, especially those involving the back, neck, and spine. Though they may be slow to manifest, these injuries can severely impact an accident victim’s life, and may require extensive treatment, including surgery.
Even once the full extent of your injuries is known, the most effective treatment isn’t always obvious. Different bodies have different healing responses, and one person may respond well to physical therapy while another may need surgical intervention. For numerous reasons, doctors tend to try the least invasive treatment for a particular injury first, and then move on to offer more aggressive options if the initial treatments are ineffective. This is for the benefit of the patient as well as the health insurance provider; doctors don’t want to subject their patients to the lengthy recovery period and risk of infection or complications from surgery if a simpler treatment has a chance of working just as well. So a patient may go through several forms of treatment until finding the most effective means of treating their injuries.
In some injury cases, the accident victim is left with a permanent disability or impairment as a result of their injuries. It’s critical to know whether your injuries will have any lasting effects on your ability to work or your future quality of life before you agree to any settlement arrangement with an insurance company. If you end up needing to change jobs to a less physically demanding, but lower-paying, position, you are entitled to claim compensation for the loss of future earnings involved in this career change. The same is true if your injuries prevent you from participating in hobbies or activities that you enjoyed prior to your accident; you deserve compensation for the impact on your quality of life. Because your doctors may not know whether you will have any permanent limitations due to your injuries, or how severe those limitations will be, until all treatment options have been exhausted, it may take some time before you and your attorney know the full value of your injury claim.
Insurance companies, of course, want to encourage injured plaintiffs to wrap up their injury claims quickly – and it’s not because their insurance adjusters get paid by the hour. Once you accept a settlement, you no longer have the right to seek additional damages for the same accident, even if it turns out that your injuries were much more severe than you initially believed. The insurance company wants to pay you as little as it can get away with, and if they know you have a strong case, they don’t want you to take the time to find out the full impact of your injuries- both from a pain and disability perspective and a cost perspective. The insurance adjuster won’t tell you this, of course. He will often appear very sympathetic and concerned for your well-being, saying that he knows what an ordeal this all must have been for you, and he knows how much you want to put it all behind you and move on with your life. But once you accept the check he offers, you give up all rights to seek further compensation for your injuries, at a point in time when you may not know how severely you were hurt and what impact those injuries will have on your life.
This is one reason why having an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side is an invaluable asset. An attorney who has worked on injury cases like yours for years might recognize the kinds of injuries that have caused his previous clients to need surgery, for example, and advise you to hold off on accepting a settlement until you are examined by a specialist. Having an experienced lawyer on your side can help you avoid settling for much less than your injuries deserve. The insurance company, on the other hand, would rather try to keep you away from an attorney and settle for some low amount directly with you. One study showed, however, that even after attorney's fees, the net recovery to an injury victim was three times higher when represented by counsel. An experienced injury attorney will be able to tell you if your case is ready for settlement, and the advantages and disadvantages of settling when an offer has been made.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.