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Friday, March 2, 2012

Are Personal Injury Lawyers Better than Quick Insurance Settlements in Today’s Economy?

Question: I’ve been seriously injured in an accident. Should I take the quick cash settlement from the insurance company?

Answer: As a St. Louis personal injury attorney, I have noticed a disturbing yet understandable trend. Many individuals who have been seriously hurt in an accident forgo hiring a personal injury lawyer and instead accept a quick cash settlement from the insurance company.  To answer this complicated question that many injured individuals are facing, we need to explore the current economic climate, and understand what happens when an insurance settlement is accepted.

If you have been in a serious accident such as a car accident, truck accident, or have sustained other serious personal injury caused by negligence of others, you will most likely find yourself working with an insurance company. Often they will offer you quick cash settlement. Many Americans have felt the pain of the recession and the current difficulties of living in an economy that just can’t seem to recover, so the temptation is to accept this quick and easy settlement. (Read this recent article on “theeconomiccollapseblog.com ” titled,  50 Economic Numbers from 2011 That Are Almost Too Crazy to Believe”  if you need statistical detail regarding the difficult economic conditions many Americans currently face.)

Given the statistics above, and adding ongoing medical bills and lost time from work to this economic pain, it is not surprising that families with significant injury claims accept the quick settlement. They forgo hiring a personal injury attorney, who may take a year or more to achieve full and fair compensation for them, in favor of quick cash, in order to move past the traumatic aspects of the accident and move on with their lives.
However, it is vital to bear in mind the insurance adjuster represents the insurance company, not the injured person. His job is to settle as quickly and cheaply as possible, before the injured person has an opportunity to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help him fully and fairly evaluate the injury, its effect on his life, and the full value of the case.

In these tough economic times, insurance companies typically offer less to needy injury victims than in prosperous economic times. They know that people who are facing more hardship may make more desperate decisions.  When dealing with an unsuspecting and unrepresented victim of a serious injury, an insurance adjuster has no obligation to disclose anything to the injured party concerning the long-term effects of the injury or the likely future care and costs of treatment.

Insurance adjusters who offer cash settlements will pay a significant amount less than the claim value, if that. To add to the pressure to settle, professional claim adjusters will often discourage an injury victim from seeking legal representation by informing him that he'll typically have to pay a lawyer 1/3 of his settlement, and asking, "Why give your money to a lawyer when we're willing to pay your claim now, without any legal fee being deducted?”  

This fraudulent approach implicitly assumes that an expert personal injury lawyer would not be able to achieve a higher settlement for the injury victim than he could obtain for himself by dealing directly with the adjuster, a fact disproven by every study conducted on the subject.  

So, in the short term, it is understandable why accepting the high-pressure insurance settlement seems like the “right” thing to do. But note this very important fact: once an insurance settlement is reached, your case is over. There are very few exceptions to this rule.

Here’s the rub: what if the short-term settlement is not enough in the long run? How could you know for sure that you and your family would have what you need? Recall that insurance adjusters will typically offer a quick settlement for a sum that, while perhaps sounds like a reasonable amount for the injury victim's current out-of-pocket expenses, may only represent 25-50% of the claim's true ultimate value. You do not want to be faced with unexpected financial surprises after you have already accepted the insurance money and your case is closed.

A qualified personal injury lawyer will determine the case’s true ultimate value by conducting a comprehensive analysis of how the injury has, and will in the future, affect the victim's life.  A fully investigated case will ensure proper compensation is reached.  Without ever investigating the long-term ramifications of injury, future treatment, recurrent and/or residual medical issues, risks, and costs, the victim of an injury is not only operating in the dark, but at a decided disadvantage when negotiating with claim representatives who are trained to know what the future is likely to hold for the injured person.  

Now that we have explored this question in depth, I hope all the facts point to the importance of finding and consulting with the most ethical and experienced injury lawyer before settling with the insurance company.  A personal injury lawyer can give those who have serious injuries the legal support they need to be fully compensated for their pain, suffering, disruption of life, both past and future costs of treatment and loss of income or livelihood.  In fact, our firm would not even accept an injury case unless we were certain that our representation would result in a higher net settlement (after fees), than the injury victim could achieve on his own.

I know how to fight the insurance companies. Beware the tempting quick cash settlement. Consult with a personal injury lawyer before you settle, and know your rights.
Please contact me with personal injury questions anytime. I am here to help you and your family through difficult times.
Take good care- Stephen Glassman, St. Louis Personal Injury Attorney.
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