What to Avoid When Taking Auto Insurance Companies to Court
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UPDATED: Mar 18, 2019
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We’d all like to think that, after a car accident insurance companies would be more than happy to write a blank check in order to make sure we’re compensated for everything we think we’re due, but that’s not usually the way it happens.
Insurance companies have an obligation to protect their business interests, which, unfortunately, means consumers sometimes have to take them to court. If you’re considering a court case against your car insurance company, there are a few things you should avoid.
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Remember that, anytime you enter a civil court, you are taking a gamble that the judge and/or jury will see things differently than you see them and potentially rule against you. A court case never guarantees a victory on your part.
And if you lose, you could be forced to pay the legal expenses of the insurance company. If you’re not willing to lose a court case, you’re probably better off not going down that road to begin with.
Don’t Assume It Will Be over Quickly
If you plan to sue a car insurance company, don’t make the mistake of assuming the case will be over in a week. According to Vujasinovic & Beckcom P.L.L.C, a personal injury law firm in Houston, Texas, the process could take years unless you’re willing to try to find a solution in small claims court. And small claims court is no place for serious personal injury cases.
In most states, courts are compelled to set trial dates within one year of a suit being filed. But since cases rarely are settled after the first hearing, you may have several subsequent hearings to go through before a resolution is reached.
The average personal injury case takes between one and two years to be resolved.
Don’t Dismiss the Idea of Small Claims
In relation to the previous point, don’t make the mistake of automatically dismissing a small claims case in preference for a personal injury case. It may be that, in your circumstances, a small claims action is your only realistic chance of winning some sort of compensation. If so, a small claims award is better than no award at all.
So, who would choose small claims court over a personal injury case? Usually it’s someone involved in minor fender bender where damage to the vehicle was insignificant.
In such cases, people may suffer soft tissue injuries that are not evident to the naked eye or through certain tests or x-rays.
Though the injuries may be very real, it’s difficult to prove them in court.
It can also be difficult to convince a jury that can see photographs of a car that has sustained only a small dent.
Since personal injury cases can take several years to resolve, another one of the inherent “problems” with soft tissue injuries is that they seldom result in permanent problems. As explained in the Merck Manual, soft tissue injuries are typically bumps, bruises, and broken bones that heal permanently over time.
It’s very difficult to convince a jury that soft tissue injuries are worth a substantial amount of compensation.
A good indication that you’ll need to pursue your case in small claims court is having trouble finding a personal injury attorney willing to take your case.
Since these types of injuries tend to result in very small awards, most of your high-powered personal injury attorneys won’t get involved because the payoff isn’t large enough.
Don’t Sue without an Attorney
The California Department of Consumer Affairs correctly points out that most jurisdictions do not allow attorneys in small claims court. But, if you are pursuing a personal injury case in civil court, not only are attorneys allowed, but it’s highly recommended that plaintiffs retain them.
In some cases, a judge won’t even allow a case to begin until the plaintiff has proper representation.
As much as you may think you know the law and can handle yourself in court, don’t make the mistake of trying to sue your insurance company on your own. Remember that they have full-time attorneys who are experts in civil and insurance laws.
Those attorneys come to court fully prepared to defend their employers at all costs. Without an experienced attorney representing you, you’re more than likely to lose.
If you’re afraid you’ll have to pay too much from your settlement to your attorney, that’s a legitimate concern. However, it’s typically not avoidable. Trial attorneys make their living by winning multi-million dollar awards and then taking a certain percentage of those awards as compensation for their services.
The best you can do is speak to half a dozen different attorneys to get idea of whether or not it’s worth it to you to hire them.
Don’t Attempt to Work Things out on Your Own
If you’re going to sue a car insurance company, it’s important that you never try to work things out on your own once you’ve made the decision to hire an attorney. This is true even if you’ve not yet chosen your attorney.
Any inquiries made by insurance companies, attorneys for the defense, and even other parties involved in the accident, should be handled by your lawyer. If you haven’t yet chosen a lawyer, you’re better off declining to answer inquiries until you’ve hired one.
Even after you’ve hired a lawyer, a car insurance company will more than likely try to contact you directly in the hopes of reaching a settlement outside of court. This is nothing personal against you, nor is it the case of an insurance company trying to rip you off. It’s simply good business practice to avoid the extra expenses of going to court.
Nevertheless, refer all contacts made by insurance companies to your attorney so that your case is not compromised.
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Don’t Assume an Open and Shut Case
One of the most difficult things in a personal injury case is getting your hopes up about a substantial award, only to find out that a court is going to award you very little. That’s the nature of insurance law.
Whenever a consumer sues an insurance company, there are only three things to consider: breach of contract, bad faith practices, and fault.
If your insurance company is not guilty of the first two, determining fault for an accident claim is all you’re left with.
Since this is almost always the case, there’s really no such thing has an “open and shut” case. Your attorney will most likely develop a strategy based on factual evidence and manipulating the emotions of the jury. The insurance company’s case will be based on deflecting as much liability as possible from themselves or their client.
These opposing strategies take a long time to work out in court. Sometimes an insurance company is successful to the extent of limiting the size of an award.
As such, it always helps your case if you do your best to keep accurate and comprehensive records, remain diligent about following through on medical examinations, follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter, and do everything your lawyer requests you to do.
According to Investopedia, you’ll increase your chances of success if you are diligent about the details.
Don’t Make It Personal
Unfortunately, we live in a very litigious society in which personal injury attorneys frame disputes with insurance companies as a “you against them” affair. This sometimes results in plaintiff’s taking what’s intended to be a legal matter and making it something personal.
Yet this is a good way to get yourself all worked up the point that the stress is worse for your health and your emotional well-being than any damage actually caused by your accident.
Despite what attorneys like to make us believe, insurance adjusters are not sitting around their offices scheming of ways to take your money while allowing you to suffer needlessly after a car accident.
They are trying to find that delicate balance between making sure accident victims are fairly compensated and protecting themselves against being taken advantage of by trial attorneys.
Along those same lines, don’t assume the trial attorneys are always saints only looking out for the best interests of their clients. Trial attorneys are businessmen whose livelihood depends on squeezing insurance companies for as much money as they can.
The trial environment causes attorneys and insurance companies to treat one another as enemy combatants in civil court. As a plaintiff, your best strategy is to let them battle it out as they see fit. Don’t get yourself emotionally wrapped up in their fight.
Don’t Live in the Past
Lastly, once your case has been settled, don’t make the mistake of living the rest of your life in the past.
Whether you won or lost, life moves on into the future.
Far too many people won’t let go of their accidents, and the consequences thereof, and allow the rest of their lives to be shaped and controlled by that single event. This is a good way to rob yourself of the joy and pleasantness that life has to offer.
Though you may have aches and pains, there are still plenty of good things in life to live for. Focus your mind on those things. Maybe it’s your children or grandchildren; maybe it’s a social cause or civic organization you belong to; maybe you find some joy in church or volunteer work.
In either case, settle your accident claim and then get on with your life. The sooner you can put it behind you, the better off you’ll be.
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