Generally, when an accident occurs which results in seemingly minor or soft tissue injuries, many victims presume that they can handle the case themselves and in some cases, they may very well be able to do so. However, due to inexperience and an overall shortfall in knowledge surrounding insurance and accident law, victims unwittingly fall into traps set by insurance adjusters which reduce if not destroys the compensatory value of their personal injury case. Based on my many years of experience practicing accident law in Maryland, listed below are my top 4 mistakes made by accident victims:
Talking to the at-fault party’s insurance company: Some victims are anxious to reach a speedy settlement and perhaps motivated by financial constraints, are too quick to give a taped recording to the other party’s insurance company. Victims forget that their interest in receiving the highest possible settlement is at odds with the insurance adjuster’s interest in paying as little as they can and if possible deny the claim entirely. The fact that Maryland is one of only 4 states that still allows the draconian complete defense of contributory negligence which prevents you from getting anything serves to encourage insurance adjusters to sniff around for facts that suggest you were contributorily negligent. They will ask confusing questions in a manner that will encourage you to divulge answers that are adverse to your case without your knowledge and unfortunately once you have compromised your case, it can be near impossible for an attorney to subsequently correct the error.
Delay in seeking medical treatment: You were involved in an accident and felt slight pains in your back, neck and maybe even had headaches. But you otherwise felt fine and felt that you could carry on with your regular routine. A month or two passed and the conditions worsened which required a visit to your primary physician. The legal concern here with respect to ‘causation’ in that you’ve opened the door for the insurance adjuster to argue that the accident did not cause the injuries otherwise you would have sought treatment right away. This is a hurdle that may require the use of medical experts to overcome. Depending on the financial value of your case, the cost of expert witnesses may not be financially justifiable and therefore ruin your chances of receiving a fair settlement if any.
Failure to document what happened: One misconception held by many is that the police will issue a written report for every accident and indicate which driver was at fault. Obviously, this is not the case. The police are required to issue a report only in cases where an accident results in a car being towed and/ or victims transported to the emergency room. Minor fender benders – which happen to be the vast majority of accidents – will not give rise to a police report. Therefore, if you fail to write down what happened including taking pictures and obtaining the names, numbers, and addresses of eyewitnesses while events are still fresh in your memory, when you later consult with an attorney, you will likely omit many vital facts that could have made a difference in the outcome of your case.
Asking friends for advice on the value of their case: Sometimes clients come to my office and say “my friend, X, was involved in a similar accident and settled their case for $20k why is my case only valued at $10k?” Unfortunately, no two accident cases are alike due to a myriad of factors that I have documented in a previous blog. Many factors affect the value of a personal injury case including but not limited to the extent of the property damage (sustained by your car), the extent of injuries (soft tissue vs fractures), how long you treated (6 PT visits vs 20 or more visits to your chiropractor), lost wages (number days off from work and your hourly wage – do you work as a cook at McDonalds or as an engineer at Google? Did you miss 2 days from work or 2 weeks from work?), the long-term prospect for future treatment (is your injury temporary or permanent?) and even the existence or nonexistence of PIP can tip the net amount to the client satisfactorily or adversely depending on what factors apply.
This list is nowhere near exhaustive of mistakes made by victim plaintiffs that hurt their personal injury case. This is why regardless of how straightforward or easy your accident case may appear, it is recommended that you seek the consultation of an attorney experienced in handling personal injury cases. If you need additional information, contact us for a free consultation.