Most people think their injury case is worth more than it is. The problem is insurance companies won't agree with you most of the time. The prism they use to analyze your case is different from yours. You will view your case from a very subjective point of view. They use software, statistics, analytical charts, and tons of objective data. They know what juries in your zip code will award on most days. So while you may be correct in your analysis, they are betting on software and statistics in making you their offer. Remember, the insurance company's job is to KEEP its money. Insurance adjusters don't really like paying out on claims. There are many factors affecting the value of any personal injury case, and many exceptions to what I'm about to say, but we are going to simplify matters for purposes of this blog post.
Here are 5 main reasons your case may result in a lower settlement:
1) The extent of your injuries is not that bad. If all you have is aches and pains (sprain/strain), then your injury will be categorized as a "soft tissue" case. Generally speaking, insurance companies aren't impressed with soft tissue cases. Frankly, most jurors are also unimpressed. Remember, 90% of jurors have aches and pains every day. If you ask 12 members of the jury to miss work for two weeks to listen to your case in court, you better have something better to offer them than "aches and pains" because most of them have the same issues every day of their lives (without being involved in an accident).
Your injuries drive the value of your case. In short, the more significant your injury is, the higher the value of your case will be. Many clients come to my office and tell me about their aches and pains after an accident. I totally understand how frustrated they are. After all, who wants to have aches an pains when you didn't have them before an accident. However, then I tell them about my client who had a brain injury and uses a walker for the rest of his life, or my client who lost 50% of his vision, they begin to understand. Once they hear of these more "significant" injuries, they start to put things in perspective. Even if you have lingering aches and pains that don't resolve, if nothing shows up on an xray, MRI or CT scan, it's going to be an uphill battle. I'm not trying to belittle my client's injury, but I assume they want facts and candid advice when they come to see me. Simply put, fractures, surgeries, and permanent injuries tend to be worth more than simple soft tissue cases.
2) Damage to your vehicle is relatively minor or hard to see. After over 20 years of working on both sides of the fence (plaintiff and defense), I've come to accept the basic truth that minor damage (or damage that is hard to see) is a tough sell when it comes to convincing others you were injured. If you need to explain the damage to your vehicle, that is a warning sign your case may be valued less than someone who has photos of horrific vehicle damage. The truth is many people have minor damage but significant injuries, and vice versa. However, the unfortunate truth is that juries and insurance adjusters aren't impressed with minor damage. So while you may indeed be injured, you need to understand that minor damage is going to be a problem for your case.
3) Limited insurance. In some cases, your case may be worth a great deal, but if the person who caused you injury only has limited insurance (i.e., $15,000) and you don't have any additional insurance available to you under your auto policy (i.e., underinsured motorist coverage), then you may be out of luck. Remember, you don't get to keep the entire amount. You may have liens that need to be paid, other outstanding expenses, attorney fees, etc. While you theoretically can go after the responsible party in court, you will have to weigh and balance the potential expenses and time involved in doing so against the likelihood you're going to collect anything from that person. Does it make sense to spend $20,000 in an effort to recover an additional $20,000 on your case? And that assumes the responsible party has any funds to give you in the first place.
4) Low medical bills. Simply put, the lower your medical bills, the lower your settlement will be. Higher medical bills generally result in higher settlements. This is not true in every case. For example, if all you have is a neck sprain and you go get $50,000 in massages, no insurance adjuster or jury is going to award you that amount. Just because you have the bills, that doesn't mean they are reasonable. However, if you have a serious injury, and all you have is a $250 urgent care bill, that may be a problem for your case. That is not to encourage you to go get high medical bills, but just to impress upon you the need for active treatment after an accident. If you don't get any medical care, the insurance adjuster will simply assume you're probably not hurt. Also, remember the amount of your bills is not relevant...it's what the health care provider accepted as payment in full. So for example, if your bills are $100,000 but your health care providers accepted $20,000 as payment in full, then the latter number is what matters. You cannot present the higher amount. Therefore, if you have Medi-Cal, you can imagine your bills will be very low because Medi-Cal pays a fraction of your bills and providers cannot bill you for the balance.
5) What kind of medical treatment you received and how you went out doing so. If you have a significant injury but wait 4 months to do anything about it, the insurance company is going to give you a hard time. They will argue your injury was unrelated, or you wouldn't have waited 4 months. That's why I always tell clients you need to be proactive with your medical care. If your care is sporadic and inconsistent, don't be surprised if the insurance company offers you a paltry sum. The sooner you treat, the better.
Again, the previous points are simply general in nature. There are many exceptions. If you want candid advice about your personal injury case, please feel free to contact our office. Call (661) 414-7100.
by Robert Mansour
Robert Mansour is a personal injury lawyer serving Santa Clarita, Valencia,