Settling a Personal Injury Claim With an Insurance Company

Settling a Personal Injury Claim With an Insurance Company

Settling a personal injury claim with an insurance company could take anywhere from several weeks to several years. Some of this delay is inevitable, while other aspects depend on various circumstances and the skill with which you handle each step of the process. 

Although no two cases are exactly alike, below is a general overview of the settlement process that covers all major aspects.

Step 1: Seek Medical Attention for Your Injuries

Seeking immediate medical treatment should be your priority for both medical and legal reasons. 

The most important legal reasons are:

  • Medical records are among the most credible forms of evidence
  • Failure to seek medical care could open the way for the defendant to claim that the accident was not the cause of your injuries

Err on the side of caution—seek medical attention if there is even the slightest chance that you suffered an injury. 

Step 2: Gather Evidence at the Scene of the Accident

Take photos while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive. For example, after a car accident, photograph the vehicles’ relative positions on the road. This can often tell you whose fault the accident was. 

Ask the appropriate party to prepare an accident report—a manager, for example, or a responding police officer. Get contact details from the at-fault party (if their identity is obvious) and witnesses.

Step 3: Contact an Experienced Florida Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’re facing a legal claim, it’s best to get a lawyer involved early on. Most Florida personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations. You can use a free consultation to explore your options. Small claims might not require the assistance of a lawyer.

Step 4: Perform a Preliminary Investigation

You’d best let your lawyer handle this step. This might involve:

  • Interviewing witnesses
  • Getting copies of any accident report
  • Obtaining your medical records and collecting your medical bills and other relevant documentation

You can help by writing a pain journal with daily entries detailing the effects of your injuries on your life. Your lawyer can recommend many other steps to take.

Step 5: Send a Demand Package to the Insurance Company 

A demand package is a demand letter plus supporting documentation (such as your medical records and bills). Your demand letter should describe your claim, justify it with facts and evidence, demand compensation, and set a deadline for a response. Any experienced personal injury lawyer will possess plenty of experience drafting these letters.

Step 6: Commence Negotiations

Once the insurance company responds to your demand letter, it’s time to start negotiating. You can expect the insurance company’s first offer to be low. Don’t worry about it; this is just a routine part of negotiating a personal injury claim. It’s also why you should let your lawyer negotiate for you.

Don’t forget to consider both economic damages and non-economic damages. Non-economic damages, such as emotional distress and pain and suffering, often amount to far more than medical bills and lost earnings combined. 

If the insurance company flatly rejects your claim or fails to respond to your demand letter within a reasonable time, proceed directly to Step 7.

Step 7: File a Personal Injury Lawsuit

If negotiations stall, or if they never get started in the first place, it might be time to file a formal lawsuit. 

There are at least three benefits to filing a lawsuit:

  • It forces the insurance company to place a high priority on your claim. They can’t just “shove it to the bottom of the stack” anymore.
  • It beats the statute of limitations deadline. The Florida statute of limitations is usually two years from the date of the accident. You might have more or less time to file, depending on the circumstances.
  • It gets both parties access to the pretrial discovery process. 

Filing a lawsuit doesn’t mean a trial is inevitable. You can always offer to withdraw your lawsuit in exchange for a fair settlement—and that is what happens most of the time. 

Step 8: Engage in Pretrial Discovery

Pretrial discovery is a powerful, court-supervised evidence-gathering process. You can use it to force the opposing party to provide evidence that is in their possession. You can also use it to gather evidence from a third party. 

This evidence can include:

  • Testimony: You can cross-examine the other side’s witnesses in a deposition.
  • Interrogatories: You can submit written questions that the other side must answer under oath.
  • Documents: You can demand the right to copy documentation. However, attorney-client privilege and the work product privilege restrict access to some documents.
  • Physical evidence: In a car accident case, you might want to examine the at-fault party’s automobile. The other side might want their doctor to examine your injuries.

You can ask the court to sanction the other side if they refuse to cooperate. Beware: they can do the same to you. 

Step 9: Mediate

In mediation, you bring in a trained third party to help you reach a compromise with the other side. Once you file a lawsuit, the judge will likely pressure you to mediate. A mediator cannot force you to agree to anything. You might also consider other options, such as arbitration.

Step 10: Draft a Settlement Agreement

You don’t settle a personal injury claim on a handshake. Typically, lawyers for both sides will work out a settlement agreement. Do not simply download a template from the internet and use it without modification. Once both parties have signed a settlement agreement, it functions as a binding legal contract. 

Step 11: Wait for Your Money to Arrive

Your money might take several weeks to arrive, especially if you are dealing with a large, bureaucratic insurance company. It will go to your lawyer first. They will deduct necessary amounts, such as legal fees and case expenses, and they will forward the rest to you.

Traps That the Insurance Company Might Set for You

Watch out for the following insurance company tricks:

  • Pressure and intimidation
  • Stonewalling
  • Stalling
  • Lies and half-truths
  • Misinterpretations of the language of the insurance policy
  • Spying on your social media accounts
  • Taking a recorded statement and then using your own words against you

This list is just the tip of the iceberg of possible insurance company tactics. They won’t dare try any of these tricks on an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer. Of course, if the insurance company’s behavior is bad enough, you can file a bad faith claim against them. This is a second claim for damages beyond your personal injury claim.

Let a Personal Injury Lawyer Handle the Settlement Process for You

Settling a Florida personal injury claim requires a significant amount of skill, expertise, persistence, and (sometimes) patience. Although settlement is an alternative to trial, there is an irony. It is the lawyer who is most successful at trial who is most likely to be able to command a settlement. That’s because nobody wants to face a successful trial lawyer in court. 

If you have a legal claim, schedule a free initial consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible at (727) 787-2500. We are available 24/7 to speak with you.