Should I Take the First Offer of a Car Accident Settlement?

First Settlement Offer
Posted: June 7, 2024

After a car accident that wasn’t your fault, you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. A crash can begin a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, insurance paperwork, and mounting bills. Amidst this chaos, the insurance company may contact you with an initial settlement offer.

When you face expensive medical treatment and time off work, that first settlement check can seem like a lifeline. The insurance adjuster may pressure you to accept the offer quickly, claiming it’s the best deal you’re going to get. But before you sign on the dotted line, understand that accepting the first offer is rarely in your best interest.

Insurance companies are in the business of making money, not paying out claims. They want to resolve your case as cheaply as possible, and that first offer is often a lowball amount that doesn’t fully account for the extent of your damages.

Once you accept a settlement, you waive your right to pursue any further compensation, even if your injuries turn out to be more serious than initially thought.

Never just take the money to put the whole ordeal behind you. Settling too soon could mean losing out on thousands of dollars you need and deserve for your ongoing medical care, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages.

Before accepting any car accident settlement, consult an experienced personal injury attorney who can assess the true value of your claim. Your lawyer can handle communication with the insurance company and negotiate on your behalf to get you a fair settlement that meets your needs now and into the future.

If a crash hurts you or a loved one, remember that, in most situations, do not take the insurance company’s initial offer until you consult a car accident lawyer. Here’s why:

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The First Offer is Usually Low

Insurance companies are for-profit businesses. They aim to pay out as little as possible on claims to maximize profits. As a result, that first settlement offer is often a lowball offer that does not fully account for the extent of your damages.

The adjuster may make it seem like a good deal, but chances are it’s far less than what your claim is actually worth.

An initial offer often only considers your current medical expenses and lost wages to date. However, you may have future medical needs and time off work that should be considered.

If your injuries have left you with a permanent disability or health issues that will require ongoing treatment, the lifetime costs need to be factored into your settlement. Don’t let the insurance company short-change you by ignoring future damages you’re likely to incur.

In addition, there are other categories of damages beyond just medical bills and lost income that you may recover, such as:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium (damage to your relationship with your spouse)
  • Disfigurement
  • Permanent disability

A first offer may not include adequate compensation for these very real damages. An experienced personal injury attorney can assess the full value of your claim and account for everything in a settlement.

You May Not Know the Full Extent of Your Injuries Yet

Another key reason not to accept an initial settlement offer is that shortly after an accident, you may not yet know the full extent of your injuries and how they will impact your life moving forward.

Some serious car accident injuries, like traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord damage, are not always immediately apparent and may take time to manifest symptoms. Accepting a settlement too soon could mean losing out on compensation you need for medical issues that arise later.

Even if you feel okay in the days following a crash, get thoroughly examined by a doctor and follow up if any new symptoms develop.

Once you accept a settlement offer, you will be required to sign a release that prevents you from seeking further compensation, even if your condition worsens in the future. A car accident attorney can help you avoid settling your claim until a fuller picture of your injuries and prognosis is known.

1. Accepting an Offer Could Mean Losing Out on Non-Economic Damages

Settlement OfferWhen the insurance company makes a settlement offer, it typically only includes your economic damages like medical expenses, lost earnings, and property damage to your vehicle. However, car accident injuries often involve significant non-economic damages as well, like pain and suffering.

Pain and suffering damages compensate you for both the physical pain of your injuries as well as emotional trauma like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggered by the accident. You need a lawyer to quantify these subjective damages, but they are very real, and you deserve compensation.

Severe injuries can also limit your ability to participate in hobbies, exercise, travel, and other activities you previously enjoyed, resulting in loss of enjoyment of life. In addition, visible scars and disfigurement can have a profound impact on your self-esteem.

An attorney can help you document non-economic damages and negotiate a settlement that includes fair compensation for them.

2. Be Wary of Any Deadlines or Pressure to Accept

If an insurance adjuster gives you a settlement offer and pressures you to make a decision quickly, that’s a red flag that the offer likely isn’t in your best interest.

The adjuster may claim the offer is only good for a limited time or that it’s the best deal you’re going to get. Don’t give in to this pressure and sign your rights away without taking the time for proper consideration.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, let the adjuster know that you need some time to think it over and consult with an attorney. In fact, avoid discussing settlement at all with an insurance company until you’ve retained legal representation. Let them know to direct any further communication to your lawyer.

While it’s prudent not to let a settlement offer expire, as long as you file your personal injury lawsuit within New York’s three-year statute of limitations, there is no rush to settle. Your attorney can work to negotiate a better offer and advise you of your options and the potential risks and benefits of going to trial if a fair settlement can’t be reached.

Use Caution When Speaking to An Insurance Adjuster

After an accident, the insurance company may ask you to give a recorded statement about what happened and the extent of your injuries. Decline this request and let your lawyer handle all communication with the insurer.

Adjusters are trained to ask questions in a way that can get you to inadvertently admit fault or downplay your injuries, which can then justify a lower settlement offer.

Politely inform the adjuster that you don’t wish to give a statement and direct them to speak with your attorney instead. Your lawyer can provide the insurer with the necessary information while protecting your legal rights.

3. You May Be Entitled to Additional Compensation Beyond Insurance Limits

New York is one of a handful of states that follows a no-fault car insurance system. Under no-fault rules, if a car accident injures you, you typically turn to your own auto insurance policy first to cover your medical bills and certain other out-of-pocket losses, regardless of who was at fault for the crash.

This is done through your policy’s personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, New York requires all drivers to buy.

The minimum PIP coverage required in New York is $50,000 per person, which may cover minor injuries. However, if you’re seriously hurt, your medical bills can quickly exceed that amount. So what can you do if your PIP coverage won’t pay for your injuries? You have a few key options:

File a Claim with the At-Fault Driver’s Insurance

While no-fault rules apply to injury claims, vehicle damage claims can still be made against the at-fault party’s insurance, if the other driver was fully or partially to blame for the crash, you can pursue a third-party claim with their liability coverage for your repair bills, rental car costs, and other property damages not covered by your policy.

Sue the At-Fault Driver Directly

New York law also allows you to step outside the no-fault system and file a liability claim or personal injury lawsuit directly against the driver who caused the accident if you meet the serious injury threshold.

To sue, your injuries must involve at least one of the following:

  • Bone fracture
  • Permanent limitation of use of a body organ or member
  • Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
  • Substantially full disability for 90 days

If your injuries qualify, you can seek compensation from the at-fault motorist for both economic and non-economic damages like pain and suffering. An attorney can determine if you meet the serious injury threshold.

Consulting a Lawyer First is Always Advisable

Consulting a LawyerUltimately, while the decision of whether to accept a settlement offer is yours to make, consulting with an experienced car accident lawyer first is always in your best interest. Most reputable firms, including William Mattar Law Offices, offer free consultations to review your case and advise you of your legal options.

With no money required upfront, talk to an attorney before accepting any offer. Your lawyer can deal with the insurance company, properly value your claim, and advocate for a fair settlement that meets your needs.

Studies have repeatedly shown that accident victims who hire a lawyer consistently end up with significantly more compensation than those who don’t. Let your attorney handle the stressful settlement negotiations while you focus on your health and recovery.

Other Insurance Coverage Options for Car Accident Victims

You may have other options for compensation through your insurer, such as:

Your Health Insurance

If you have health insurance, you can use your coverage to pay accident-related medical bills that exceed your PIP limit.

Your health insurer will likely have a lien on your eventual settlement, meaning you’ll have to pay back what they covered out of any compensation you receive from the at-fault party. However, having your treatment costs taken care of in the short term can provide vital financial relief.

Your Optional Auto Insurance Coverage

While PIP is the only type of car insurance required in New York, you hopefully have additional optional coverage that can kick in if you’re seriously injured, such as:

  • Supplemental Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (SUM) Coverage: If you’re hit by a driver with little or no insurance, SUM can help cover your injury costs, up to the limits of the policy.
  • Medical Payments (MedPay) Coverage: MedPay is an optional add-on that will pay for accident-related medical treatment for you and your passengers. It can supplement your PIP coverage.
  • Additional PIP: While all motorists must carry a minimum of $50,000 in PIIP coverage, it’s wise to purchase higher PIP limits than the minimum if you can afford extra protection in case of a serious crash.

Call William Mattar Today to Discuss Your Car Accident Claim

Navigating New York’s complex no-fault insurance system requires a lawyer, especially when you’re dealing with severe injuries and mounting medical debt.

An experienced car accident attorney can explain your options, communicate with the insurance companies, and fight for the full compensation you need to cover your damages. If necessary, your lawyer can file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf and present your case in court.

At William Mattar Law Offices, we know the physical, emotional, and financial toll a serious car accident can take. If you feel overwhelmed and unsure where to turn, call our compassionate injury attorneys. We can review your case in a free consultation and work to get you the maximum compensation available by law.

Contact us today at (716) 444-4444 or through our online form for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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