Mike Wells: Know your injuries before settling a claim | Local
This is the final column in a series to help people know what to do if they are involved in a wreck that is not their fault.
If you suffer bodily injury, when should you settle your claim?
Unless your wreck is work-related, you generally have one to three years under North Carolina law, depending on the circumstances, to file a claim in court.
But why does the insurance adjuster encourage you to settle down quickly?
Insurance adjusters will offer you to settle a case quickly because the insurance company, before writing you a check, asks you to sign a full release for all claims for injuries and damages, known or not yet known.
There is nothing unethical or illegal about it. (If the wreckage was your fault, you’d want your insurance company to pay no more on the injured party’s claim than is required by law to withhold your future premiums.) But if your injuries put more time to develop, or they are more serious than you imagined, which is sometimes the case, such claims are prohibited by this waiver after it is signed.
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Remember that claims from an injured party often settle for 30% (on average) of their total value. The parties state that they either wanted to put the case behind them, or that they did not realize that injuries, particularly to the neck and back, took longer to be fully felt and known. As a result, the parties settle before knowing the full extent of their injuries.
Two basic rules
1. Do not settle your claim until you and your doctor are satisfied that your injuries are better known and hopefully resolved. If your injuries are not fully known, you should not pay until they are known, including anticipated medical expenses, disability ratings, and any negative impact on your ability to earn your previous work income. This means at least 90 days and often more.
It’s not that you’re trying to “get something” that you’re not entitled to. It’s that you don’t know what the facts may predict in terms of future medical challenges and expenses.
2. If you are receiving ongoing medical treatment beyond a single ER visit and your injuries persist for several weeks and are causing you pain and physical limitations, it makes sense to consider consulting an attorney.
Lawyers who handle personal injury cases are usually experienced in what they do. But part of the problem for an aggrieved party is whether their case is big enough to earn them, after attorneys’ fees, more dollars. These cases, as stated earlier, are taken on a contingency fee (percentage recovery) basis.
If you’re unsure whether you should hire an attorney (for a contingency fee), consider contacting the NC Bar Association’s Attorney Referral Service. A qualified attorney will consult with you for 30 minutes for a maximum of $50 to tell you if the nature and extent of your claim suggests that you should hire an attorney (800-662-7660). Ask the Lawyer: Is your case likely to earn you, after settling and paying attorney’s fees, more “exit dollars” than you would likely earn representing yourself?
If your injuries are not worth hiring a contingency fee attorney, ask your personal attorney to offer you courtesy advice on less complex matters to ensure you receive a fair resolution. These are often time-limited matters, which your lawyer/paralegal can monitor. Lawyers should do this out of courtesy to you, as you are a client of the firm.
When you are injured in a wreck, take the time to get the necessary medical attention and be sure to take the appropriate steps to get your case resolved fairly.
Remember: an informed choice is an intelligent choice.
Mike Wells is a partner at Wells Law, PLLC in Winston-Salem. His email address is [email protected] and his phone number is 336-283-8700.