The question of how much money to ask for in a car accident settlement hinges on
- Are you an experienced car accident lawyer?
- Are you willing to file suit if you get less than a great offer?
- What is the size of your claim?
At our law firm, all roads lead to this ultimate question: how to do we maximize the value of this case? The demand is an important part of this equation.
- Sample demand letters in personal injury cases
- What is the value of your case?
- When is time to settle?
- Is my settlement money taxable?
I have a small claim, and I just want to settle without a lawyer
Most of you reading this do not have a lawyer. You have a small claim that you just want to settle. But you want to get as much money as possible. I get it. For our purpose here, let’s define a small claim as medical bills under $5,000 and no permanent injury.
You are probably expecting a speech about how you still need a lawyer and how you should hire our firm. Nope. If you are eager to handle your insurance claim yourself, have at it.
We will give you the free resources to get the best possible settlement you can. The real truth is that our law firm loses money on cases like this. We are built to handle large claims and we treat every case the same.
Why do we still sometimes take them? Because, if our law office is hired, our lawyers and team will do a great job for you and maximize the value of your case. Then, you will refer your friends and family to us when there is a serious injury or death. (Is this a good strategy or a waste of resources? I say the former; my partner Laura Zois says the latter.)
Anyway, back to the amount of the demand in small claims without a lawyer. The problem you have here is that you do not know how to value your case. You can research our site for the value of specific injuries, but you will not get an answer narrowly tailored to your case. If you ask for too much, you risk the adjuster rolling his/her eyes and telling you to just file suit. Conversely, if the adjuster accepts your offer, you have really screwed up. Because the great likelihood is that you sold yourself short and demanded too little.
So what is the answer? Just write your demand letter and then include a paragraph that says “I look forward to hearing from you when you have reviewed my letter and these medical records and documents.” Let the insurance company go first. There is little chance that their first offer will be fair. But by making them go first, you are helping eliminate some landmines created by your lack of experience.
What do you do after you get the offer? That is where it gets a little tricky. If the offer is less than $15,000, a demand 33%-50% more is probably not a bad strategy in most cases. From there, you are just going back and forth trying to get the highest offer that you can and then settling the case. When in doubt, make a higher demand than a lower demand. And always talk about getting a lawyer if they do not resolve the claim to your satisfaction.
Is this strategy filled with peril and pitfalls? You bet. But these are the risks you take when you try to handle your own claim.
I have a serious but not catastrophic injury case
These mid-level cases are actually more dangerous to handle without a lawyer than a catastrophic injury or death case. Why? The value of these cases is the most variable. We have had scores of cases that have both settled and gone to a verdict where the insurance company made an offer and the client ultimately received 30 times more than that initial offer.
But you are still set on handling this case yourself, right? You know that some two-bit personal injury lawyer will not create much value for your case. Okay… Your approach would be the same as the smaller case. Goad the insurance company into making the first offer. But you really are out of your depth trying to settle this case yourself. It is foolish to not a lawyer.
I have a catastrophic injury or wrongful death case
Catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases have less settlement variability than serious injury cases. But, in these cases, hiring the best lawyer that you can who specializes in these cases and who has a proven track record of getting large settlements and verdicts, is in your best interest. There is simply too much money at stake.
With that speech in mind, you want to calculate all the past and future lost wages, medical bills, ongoing care, and so forth and then add in your state’s cap on pain and suffering damages. That total should be your demand. In most of these cases, and particularly when liability is not in dispute, it is foolish to demand anything other than the maximum a jury could award.
- One extra tip that always hurt victims bringing their own claim: failing to understand the collateral source rule. If you receive PIP payments for medical bills or your employer continues to pay you for the time that you missed, you can still claim that amount as damages. The same is true for any payments made by your health care provider (although you may have to pay them back in part). This is the rule in Maryland and in most states, although there are some states that have abolished the collateral source rule.