You’ve been injured through no fault of your own.  The insurance adjustor has seemed friendly enough so far, and now has made an offer to resolve your claim.  The adjustor may or may not have explained that if the offer is accepted you will be releasing, forever, your right to any further compensation for your injuries.

Is the settlement offer fair?  Should you accept it?  We’ve seen over and over again people who should have never accepted the insurance company’s settlement offer, and are now left with no means to pay medical bills for ongoing injuries.

Here are the 7 biggest reasons you should talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer before accepting the insurance company’s settlement offer:

Reason #1: The Insurance Adjustor is Not Your Friend

Insurance adjustors are trained to develop “trust” with injury victims.  One major insurance company was recently exposed for internally developing a program called “good hands to boxing gloves,” in which adjustors were coached to be friendly to accident victims with the goal of getting the victims to believe the adjustor was “on their side” so they would accept low settlement offers.

These insurance industry tactics are no different from the “good cop” tactics used by interrogators.  The insurance adjustor is not your friend and is not on your side.  He or she works for an insurance company whose goal is to pay you as little as possible for your claim so that it can make as large as possible profit for itself.  The insurance adjustor may even receive a bonus tied to how little the company can pay claims like yours.  The insurance adjustor is trained to negotiate the cheapest possible resolution of your claim.  Unless you adjust and negotiate injury cases for a living, you may be at a serious disadvantage.

An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your claim and advise you whether the settlement offer is reasonable or not.

Reason #2: Insurance Companies Pay More for Claims Handled by Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers

We’ve seen instances where the insurance adjustor has advised the injury victim not to talk to a personal injury lawyer, offering explanations such as “if you talk to a lawyer, they will take a portion of the settlement- I want it all to go to you” or “I can’t make this offer once a lawyer becomes involved.”  (Unfortunately, many injury victims probably accept this “advice” and never do get an independent evaluation of the settlement offer.)

An insurance adjustor who tells you not to discuss the settlement offer with a lawyer is a huge red flag- the equivalent of a used car dealer trying to talk you out of getting the car inspected before purchase.  The truth is people who are represented by personal injury lawyers get much more money for their claims than those who are not represented.  A study commissioned by the insurance industry revealed that injury victims with a lawyer get, on average, 3 ½ times more money than those who settled their claim on their own.  The reason for this is that insurance companies know that an unrepresented injury victim is at their mercy and must largely “take it or leave it,” whereas a person represented by an injury lawyer can take the case to court and seek to get the injured person what they truly deserve.

Reason #3: It’s Free

Almost all reputable personal injury attorneys provide an initial, free consultation.  (I review injury settlements for free all the time, both in person and even online.)  Oftentimes, we tell people that the offer fairly represents the value of the claim, and that there is no reason to hire us to become involved.  That is, I don’t believe I can add any value to the settlement.

Other times, however, it is clear the insurance company’s offer is unreasonably low.  This may be because of an oversight in the insurance adjustor’s calculation of the claim, or something more calculated.  In these instances, we explain to people why we think the insurance company’s offer is unreasonably low, and outline a plan together for how we can get them the compensation they are entitled to receive.

Reason #4: A Release is Forever- There May Be Reasons Not to Settle

Any insurance settlement offer will carry with it a requirement that the injured person “release” their claim; that is, they sign away their right to ever pursue additional compensation.  Unfortunately, we’ve seen where people signed a release then had a setback in their healing or needed additional costly medical treatment for their injury.  Once the claim has been settled, however, the injured person can’t go back to the insurance company to get these additional treatments paid.  A settlement is forever.

For this reason, even if the insurance company’s offer is significant, we often advise injury victims to hold off on settling their claim until the extent and nature of their injuries is clarified.  Sometimes, people are in hurry to settle because medical bills are piling up.

Fortunately, in Montana, insurance companies can be required to advance the costs of medical treatment prior to settlement, and cannot condition payment of medical bills on an injury victim providing a release.  Sometimes, just helping people get their medical bills taken care of allows them to reject an unreasonably low settlement offer.  An experienced personal injury attorney can help you decide whether now is the right time to settle and give up your right to pursue further recovery.

Reason #5: A Lawyer Can Help You Evaluate Whether the Insurance Company has Treated You Fairly

Montana law requires insurance companies to treat people fairly and adjust claims promptly and in “good faith”.  If the insurance company acts in “bad faith,” it may be liable to the injury victim for other types of damages such as punitive damages (punitive damages punish a party for behaving badly).  Sometimes, the insurance company’s treatment of an injury victim may be so outrageous that the value of their bad faith claim is higher than their personal injury claim.

The way insurance companies attempt to limit their exposure to bad faith claims is by including in settlement agreements a requirement that the injured person give up not just their claim against the person who injured them, but also any claim against the insurance company for bad faith claim handling.  An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to review whether you are entitled to additional compensation for any bad faith by the insurance company.

Reason #6: The Insurance Company’s Settlement Offer May Have Failed to Consider Important Components of the Claim

There is no magic formula to state what an injury claim is “worth.”   The evaluation of an injury claim takes into consideration what are called “economic” and “non-economic” damages.

Economic damages include past and future lost wages as well as past and future medical expenses.

Non-economic damages cover intangible harms such as pain, agony, disability, and loss of established course of life.

An insurance adjustor’s settlement offer may have failed to include a key component of your injury claim.  For example, it may be likely that a surgery will be necessary in the future which has not been taken into consideration by the insurance company’s settlement offer.  This type of failure would result in an unreasonably low settlement offer.

An experienced injury attorney will be able to independently analyze the value of your injury claim so that you can decide whether the insurance company’s offer properly takes into consideration both the economic and non-economic damages you are entitled to receive.

Reason #7:  There May be Additional Insurance Policies or Sources of Recovery Which You Don’t Know About

Oftentimes, insurance companies will represent that there is only a limited amount of money available under the responsible party’s insurance policy.  This may be true, or it may not.  The person who caused your injury may have more than one insurance policy, enabling you to make claims and recover compensation from multiple policies.

The injured party may also have their own insurance policy or polices which they can make claims against such as an “underinsured motorist” policy.  The insurance company’s settlement offer may cut off the injured party’s ability to make claims against other applicable insurance policies.  For instance, by accepting a settlement from the responsible party’s insurance company, you may unwittingly be waiving your right to pursue a claim against your own underinsured motorist coverage.  There may also be other sources of recovery which no one has even considered.  An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to analyze whether there are other sources of compensation, and whether it is wise to accept a settlement offer in light of those other sources.