Do I need a lawyer if the insurance company is offering me a settlement?
Let me answer that question with a question: Would you perform surgery on yourself? Settlement of a legal claim is a serious matter. It usually pays to have help from an expert; a review of your case by our firm is free.
Insurance companies usually want to settle quickly. The reason for this is they know that, in some cases, injuries become more serious over time. There are many examples of this. One known medical phenomenon is the masking of pain in one area of your body due to an injury in another. For example, you may have hurt both your neck and a knee in an automobile collision. The knee pain might be so severe that you don’t realize that you also hurt your neck until the knee pain subsides weeks, or even months, following the injury. We have had several cases of minor head trauma which, quite some time following the injury, turned out to have aggravated an aneurysm.
If you settle your case before the full extent of your injury is known, there is likely nothing that can be done for you if additional injuries are later discovered. In one notable case, we represented a client whose head trauma did indeed result in a ruptured aneurysm. However, when we contacted the insurance company, we found out that our client neglected to tell us that he signed a general release shortly after the accident for one hundred dollars. He gave up what was likely a six figure settlement for less than the cost of a week’s groceries.
Is it too late to get a lawyer if I already signed a release?
Please note that Pennsylvania law does impose some restrictions as to when and where a general release may be signed. In very rare instances, it may be possible to set aside a release that a client has signed, but this is unusual indeed. If you have signed a release while in the hospital, within 15 days of your injury, or while incapacitated in some fashion, please contact us to review the circumstances of your case.
Can a lawyer get me a bigger settlement?
The most important reason, however, for having legal representation is to make certain that you receive an adequate settlement. We often meet with clients who have received an offer from an insurance company. Occasionally a fair offer is made and we will tell you if we don’t think we can improve upon it. However, it has been our experience that even after payment of legal fees, the net amount that the client receives is usually greater than what the insurance company had offered. Often the net result to the client is substantially better, even after payment of legal fees. So in effect the client has the benefit of having a lawyer and it effectively costs nothing in circumstances where the net result is better than the insurance company’s offer.
Why is this true? You don’t need to accept our experience alone. Let me quote from a book that is little known outside the insurance industry. It is called An Introduction to Liability Claims Adjusting by Corydont Jons. This is a book that has been used in training courses for insurance adjusters. Let me quote from the text:
If you have offered everything the case is worth, there is no more to offer. The case has no increase in value simply because an attorney has been engaged. Therefore, the widely recognized principal: “Never spend your top dollar until you think you can buy something with it.” This dictates caution and restraint in one’s final offer to a claimant.
The author is correct that merely because you have a lawyer your case is not made more valuable. However, insurance companies recognize that when they make an offer, the person receiving the offer may hire a lawyer. Once an attorney is retained, the client will usually not settle unless they net at least what they were originally offered. Therefore, if the insurance company wants to settle the claim, they will have to pay more.
While we usually are able to improve upon what the client has been offered, of course there is no guarantee. There may be facts that come to light that affect the value of the case one way or the other. Even if the client does not realize any improvement over what the insurance company had offered, they have received the benefit of professional representation. The client may have other issues or concerns beyond the settlement of the claim. The client may have concerns about future medical bills or providing for their family in the future. These are types of things which the other party’s insurance company couldn’t care less about, but our lawyers will be glad to help you with these concerns.
When should I hire a lawyer?
Remember that the best time to retain a lawyer is as soon as possible after an injury. At Bernard Stuczynski & Barnett we are always happy to provide a free evaluation of your claim. If you have received an offer from an insurance company, it makes sense to contact us to review if your offer was fair. Once we review everything that is known about your case, we will likely advise one of three steps to take:
- The offer is reasonable and you should accept it;
- We think there is a good possibility we can do better; or
- Further investigation is necessary to determine whether it is a fair offer.
If you’re curious as to whether or not you are being offered a fair settlement, call our firm today for a free consultation. We’ll let you know.