As a personal injury attorney, I am always annoyed when I see or hear the ads of other personal injury attorneys in which clients stand up and proudly shout that their attorney got them lots of money-and it was quick and easy too! I have been practicing for 23 years and even in the most clear cut cases, settlements are almost never obtained quickly or easily. There is a great deal of work required by both attorneys and their clients to obtain a satisfactory injury settlement.
As attorneys working toward a settlement, our responsibilities are numerous. In addition to assisting our clients to navigate through the processes put in place by the legislature and the insurance companies, we must thoroughly investigate a claim from top to bottom. We must make sure that the fault of the other party is established. We must make sure we have witness statements, accident reports, and photographs. We must make sure we are aware of all health care providers rendering treatment to our clients. We must be sure to obtain all medical bills and records for a client, both before the accident and after. We must make sure we know all persons or entities paying a client’s medical bills, and what bills are outstanding at the end of the case. We must know the strong and weak points of our claims, possible defenses that can be used against us and how to combat those defenses. We must be available for clients to answer questions and guide them through the process, to provide them with options and to be there for them in some of their darkest hours.
Accidents of any nature can be highly disruptive for clients, and upend almost all aspects of their lives in an instant. In my opinion, the most important job a client has after an accident is to get better. If you don’t have your health, both physically and mentally, you can’t do much for yourself or anyone else (children, spouses, employers to name a few). While there are issues that must be immediately attended to, like getting property damage claims quickly and satisfactorily resolved to be able to get back on the road again, I find that people tend to short-shrift their health and want to settle their claims before they feel back to their pre-accident physical and mental baseline. I often hear “I’m tired of going to treatment,” or “I just want this to be over with.” The problem, in most cases, is if your health issues are not resolved, it will be next to impossible to obtain a settlement you can live with.
Sometimes it is simply not possible to have all treatment done before a case must be settled or a lawsuit must be filed—but more often than not it is possible. Clients tend to get frustrated and impatient, which is completely understandable considering that no one asks to be involved in these types of accidents—people just want their lives to go back to the way they were before. But the reasons not to prematurely settle your case are plentiful.
If you are still in pain, it is probably too soon to stop your treatment and settle your case. Our number one priority is to make sure you have your health issues resolved to the fullest extent, and if you’re still in pain, your health issues are probably not resolved. If you are still in need of medical treatment, it is likely we will not be able to get you the full value of your case. Auto and liability insurance companies do not like to pay for treatment you have not already had because they don’t want to pay for treatment you are not certain you’ll get in the future. They figure—why should they pay for treatment they don’t know you’ll ever receive? Additionally, once your case is settled, there is no going back for more treatment and having the insurance company pay for it—the cost of any future treatment is on you to bear without compensation from the insurance company.
Another reason to make sure you are completely healed and don’t need any additional treatment before settling is that if you stop treatment and later decide you want to resume treatment, you now have a gap in care that the insurance company will surely try to use against you. I have seen that many times—a client will tell me they are done and ready to settle, and when we are ready to send out the settlement demand, they state they are in pain again and need more care. Because the process of putting a high quality settlement demand together can take anywhere from 2-4 months, there is then a gap in treatment to have to explain away to the insurance company. In that scenario, the insurance companies will often argue that they shouldn’t have to pay for the treatment that occurred after the gap in treatment because surely there was some other, unrelated incident that required the person to seek additional care. By creating gaps in care, you set yourself up for an unneeded battle that can hinder the resolution of your claim.
Finally, the insurance companies focus very heavily on the amount of medical bills and treatment you’ve had in making an offer. They’re not the only things considered, but they are the primary items considered because they are concrete pieces of evidence that also provide the basis of determinations as to the amount of the pain, suffering and inconvenience you experience. They really are the cornerstone of an insurance adjuster’s evaluation. While there are some exceptions, generally speaking, the lower the bills are, the lower the settlement will be. This is certainly not to say that you should seek a bunch of unnecessary care to rack up medical bills in hopes of a higher settlement—the adjusters will sniff that out easily and use it against you, and it doesn’t benefit anyone. But it is to say that if you need treatment, get it before settling your case, because it’s the only way you to ensure you are adequately compensated for it. And I can promise you, if you are still hurting, any offer made by the insurance company will seem unfair and inadequate, which will likely make the negotiation process take longer than it normally.
Along those lines, many clients receive injections to various parts of their bodies as part of their treatment. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but often if they work, they will have to be repeated down the road. It is better to wait a bit and see how long the injections last and if more will be required in the future than to immediately march toward settlement as soon as you start feeling relief after an injection. This also gives the health care provider an opportunity to evaluate your body’s response and what next steps should be. The more concrete any future treatment recommendations are, the more likely the insurance company is to consider them.
We certainly do not want to prolong your case, or drag things out, but if there is still treatment being recommended by the doctors, and/or you are still in pain, it is not advisable to settle your case. In some circumstances, it is unavoidable and must be done, but those circumstances are few and far between. If possible, hang in there, get to feeling better, and the settlement of your claim will be a much smoother and less stressful experience.