It can be tempting to settle your own case, especially when the insurance company has already made an offer. We get it—lawyers can be expensive, and you want to save money. But, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you might end up devaluing or even losing your claim.
If you want to settle your own case, you’ll need to have a good understanding of the law so you can build a strong claim. But given the risks involved, you should consult a personal injury lawyer you trust and have them evaluate your case before you take the next step.
Can you settle a case without an attorney?
You have the right to handle your own settlement negotiations. It may not be a good idea, but sometimes handling your own settlement negotiations is more economical than having an attorney represent you. Examples of such situations include:
- If you only suffered minor injuries and are not seeking a lot of money in damages
- The defendant already admitted fault and is ready to settle for a fair amount
- You only suffered property damages, such as car damage in a car accident
- You have some legal knowledge and experience to help you represent yourself
Even if your case fails to settle and you file a case in court, you still have a right to represent yourself (as a pro se litigant). First, you’ll need to understand how the claims process works.
Process of filing a claim and settling a case
Whether you’re settling in a civil dispute or a personal injury case, the first step is to send a demand letter to the at-fault party or their insurer. But before that, you need to collect evidence to support your claim.
- Take pictures of the injuries and property damage sustained
- Get a copy of the police or incident report
- If you need medical treatment, see a doctor before anything else
- Get witness statements
- Collect evidence of financial loss such as receipts, medical bills, car repair bills, and past paychecks if your injuries forced you to stay off work
Once you have the evidence you need, it’s time to put together a demand package. The demand lets the defendant and their insurer know that you’re taking legal action against them and are seeking compensation, failure to which you’re ready to go to court.
Preparing a demand package
A demand package or settlement offer contains a demand letter and supporting documents. The demand letter outlines the facts of the case, why the insured party is liable, and your formal demand for restitution. When preparing the letter, you’ll need to:
- Calculate economic losses/special damages such as lost wages (past and future), medical expenses, and property damage
- Calculate non-economic losses/special damages for pain and suffering, humiliation and embarrassment, loss of companionship, among others
- Adjust your claim according to liability levels. In some states, victims who were partially at fault receive a corresponding percentage of the settlement
- Shared liability also applies where there are multiple defendants
The demand letter should be properly structured and detailed. At the same time, you should leave out any information that could imply fault. Since the demand letter is the cornerstone of your claim, we strongly recommend that you work with an experienced personal injury attorney to prepare and send it.
How to negotiate a personal injury claim
The demand letter is the start of the settlement process. The insurance adjuster assigned to your case will review your claim and the evidence presented. They might also investigate on their own to verify or disprove your claims.
What follows is a back-and-forth negotiation process, either by correspondence or physical meetings. Be wary of your words and actions because the adjuster will try to trick you at every stage.
Lawyers are trained in expert negotiations, so we usually have a few negotiation tricks to help us get the upper hand. Here are some of them to help you
Negotiation tips when dealing with insurance adjusters
Most negotiations go something like this: you start high, the insurance company starts low, and you meet somewhere in the middle. A lot of the time, the adjuster will start with an offer 10% of what you stated in the demand letter. To get the best settlement:
- Aim to get a fair offer, but not less than half of your initial claim
- If the adjuster makes a very low offer, ask them to justify it and note down their reasons to help strengthen your claim
- Emphasize emotional points in your favor, for example, mention how your injury affected your family
- Always get the final settlement in writing
The insurance company is out to make money, and it’s in their interest to pay you as little as possible. That’s a game they have perfected for years. If you feel out of your depth, engage an experienced lawyer to handle the negotiations for you at any point. Learn more
Why you shouldn’t handle your own claim
Personal injury claims can be complex and frustrating. There are many reasons why you should opt to have a skilled attorney represent you, especially if yours is a high-value claim.
- You may not have the necessary legal knowledge to handle nuanced laws, legal precedence, and industry procedures; no Google search will teach you these
- You’re too emotionally attached and may not have the objectivity required to collect and present facts and evidence required to prove your case
- You don’t have the leverage to negotiate from a position of strength compared to, for example, an established law firm
- You’ll be dealing with experienced adjusters and lawyers, which immediately puts you at a disadvantage
- The claims process can be long, stressful, and tiresome, especially if you’re still recovering or working to support your family
Most importantly, a single mistake, such as wrong paperwork or slip of the tongue, could instantly devalue or destroy your claim. You can even be tricked into signing papers that waive your right to further compensation. Will all these risks, settling your own case is simply not worth it.
The advantage of having a lawyer when settling a case
Considering that most lawyers offer the first consultation free of charge and work on a contingency basis, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a skilled lawyer handle your claim and settlement.
Working with an experienced lawyer shows the defendants that you mean business. Not only will a lawyer be an expert negotiator, but their knowledge of the law helps them protect your interests. Take advantage of this and talk to a trusted lawyer from Onward Injury Law now.