The insurance company is offering me money after my accident. Should I take it?
Taking money from the insurance company for your medical bills before you finish with treatment is always a bad idea. When you are injured in a car accident and open a claim with the insurance company, the insurance company faces an unknown liability that they want to close as fast as possible. To obtain a final closure, they will often call those injured by their insured drivers and offer a fixed amount of money, plus payment for reasonable medical bills in the future (typically up to $10,000), in exchange for an agreement by those who are injured to close their claim permanently. This is a big problem for several reasons:
First, you don’t know the full extent of your injuries early on in your claim. Many people who are injured in auto accidents don’t think their injuries are very severe at first. They often cope with stiffness and soreness in the back and neck, bruising, or headaches, assuming that these will be short-term problems that will resolve quickly. Unfortunately, some people injured in car accidents don’t recover as soon as they would like. The forces involved in a car accident can cause injuries that linger, and can often cause severe injuries to the spine or brain that go undetected early on in the claim. If you take an early settlement from the insurance company with an agreement to close your claim, and then find out that you are seriously injured, the insurance company will refuse to pay the medical bills even though the auto accident definitely caused them. It is better to wait until you have been released by your doctor and feel like your injuries are behind you before discussing settlement with the insurance company.
Second, the insurance company decides what reasonable treatment is, not you, and not your doctors. If you take an early settlement from insurance with an agreement to pay for future medical bills, the fine print of the agreement will always state that the insurance company gets to decide if ongoing treatment is reasonable and necessary. This means that if your doctor’s professional medical opinion is that you need more treatment, and you feel like you need more treatment, the insurance company will still deny bills if they disagree. Since it is in their interest to limit their costs, they will rarely end up paying the full amount of what they agreed to at the time of settlement.
Third, patience almost always leads to a better settlement for you. The money that the insurance company offers up front is almost always significantly less than what they are ultimately willing to pay to settle your claim. Waiting until all your medical bills are submitted, and all your expenses are tallied will mean that your claim is taken more seriously by the insurance company and that your settlement award is much higher than the initial offer.
Finally, without an attorney, the insurance company can take advantage of you. Insurance adjusters deal with hundreds of injury claims every year. They know how claims work, how much time you have to settle your claim, and how to talk to individuals who have never been through this process before. Adjusters use this knowledge to try and convince you that their offer is fair and there is no need to wait or get attorneys involved. Adjusters will often sound genuinely concerned about you and try to win your trust before they make a settlement offer. However, their ultimate goal is not to help you get better, but to get your claim closed as quickly and cheaply as possible. When you hire a personal injury attorney, you level the playing field. An attorney gives you an advocate that has the same amount of experience and knows the tricks and deceptions of adjusters.
When the insurance companies settle for less than fair value on a claim, they do not reduce their premiums; they increase their profits. No one benefits from taking a low-ball deal except the insurance companies. If you are offered money early on in your injury claim, please don’t accept. Talk to a personal injury attorney before you sign or take anything from the adjuster, no matter how fair the offer seems. Personal injury attorneys will talk to you for free and can counsel you on what to do next. Don’t let the insurance company take advantage of you when you are most vulnerable.