Why You Should Not Represent Yourself After an Automobile Accident
Sometimes, particularly in “minor” accidents where there is only property (automobile) damage without an injury to yourself or others, you may be tempted to deal directly with an insurance company without discussing your case with an accident lawyer. While this is certainly your right, this can be a serious mistake for several reasons:
- Insurance companies have room after room of lawyers and claims adjusters whose jobs are to limit their employer’s losses.
- A police accident report may not include all the factors that contributed to your accident.
- You may have suffered an injury that is not immediately obvious but may produce symptoms much later.
- When you sign a release, you lose the right to file additional claims.
Insurance companies love to see someone acting as their own representatives because this usually means a quick, and relatively cheap, settlement.
Insurance companies have lawyers, so why not you?
First of all, you must realize that an insurance company is a business and, like any other business, it wants to make a profit. To make a profit, an insurance company will want to limit the amount of money that it will lose when it settles your accident claim. If you are not claiming an injury, they will usually offer to settle your claim within a few days. This does not mean, however, that the settlement that they offer you will be a fair settlement. If you decide to deal directly with an insurance company, be sure to carefully read any document that you are asked to sign. Unless you are an accident attorney, you are almost guaranteed to settle your claim for less than your claim is really worth.
You should have an accident lawyer represent you if you were deemed to be “at fault” based on the police accident report. Liability or “fault” is a matter that should be determined by a jury and not by a police report or an insurance adjuster. Always remember that, in most cases, an accident report does not determine liability. Accident reports are at best only summaries of what “physically” happened and usually do not consider other factors that could have contributed to your accident. Even if you admitted to being at fault after the accident, an attorney may be able to uncover factors not known at the time of the accident that could explain why you should not be held responsible.
You may be injured yet not know it
It is well-known that accidents can cause injuries, particularly to the cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) spines that may not be immediately obvious at that time but can begin to cause symptoms day or even weeks later. On top of that, such injuries can also be very difficult to identify with with x-ray technology such as “plain films” or even with a CT scanner. This is why you should never sign a release or any other document at the request of an insurance claims adjuster until after you have been evaluated by physician who specializes in orthopedics or by a chiropractor with experience in managing accident injuries. An accident attorney will often have an established working relationship with several local health care providers who would be willing to wait for payment of their professional services fees until your insurance settlement is finalized.
Insurance companies want you to sign a release as soon as possible after an accident
Every insurance company is aware of the fact that the earlier an insurance adjuster can settle a claim the lower the “dollar value” amount of that claim will be. This is the guiding principle of insurance claim settlements: “Settle Early, Settle Cheap. Get a signature on a release”
A release is a document that is dear to the heart of every insurance adjuster. In simplest terms, a release is a document that says “Our insurance company will be happy to settle your claim if you’ll just sign this form.” What an adjuster won’t tell you is “Oh, by the way, when you sign this form you are signing away your right to file any other claims that arise from your accident. If something develops later on, then that’s your problem instead of ours because we can point to your signature on this release when you gave up your right to make any other claim against our company.”
By law, an insurance cannot lie to you or knowingly make false or misleading statements intended to induce to sign a release. This, of course, means that insurance adjusters will do or say anything that is not blatantly false in order to induce you to “sign off” on your insurance claim. While most insurance adjusters are honest and trustworthy, you should assume that the adjuster assigned to your accident claim is not honest and trustworthy and you should not trust any assurances her or she might give you.
In summary, it is usually not a good idea to act as your own representative if you have been involved in an automobile accident. Since insurance companies have access to an army of attorneys and claims adjusters to handle claims, it is always best to retain the services of an experienced accident lawyer to act on your behalf to secure a fair settlement of your accident claim.