If you’re the victim of a Virginia car crash, you may have decided that you want to settle your own case. What many law firms won’t tell you is you may be better off without an attorney. In fact, at Abrenio law, we only accept car crash cases where we are confident that we can put more money in your pocket than you’d get without us.
How could I end up with more money without an attorney?
Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee. That means, while you don’t pay up front, we take a percentage of what you get in the settlement. At Abrenio Law, we take between 25% to 33% depending on when your case settles or has to go to trial. Though we’ve heard of firms charging as high as 40%. As you can see, these are large chunks out of your settlement funds. To see more money in your pocket with an attorney, the attorney must increase the value of your case by at least the amount of their attorneys’ fees.
When it comes to soft tissue cases – cases not involving fractures, broken bones, or torn tendons – we’ve found that car insurance companies can be “somewhat” fair. In those cases, we often find attorneys simply don’t add enough value to put more money in your pocket. For example, let’s say your case is worth $5,000. An attorney might be able to get you $6,000 or even $7,500. But when you consider paying their attorneys’ fees, you would have been better off to accept the $5,000.
That’s why, at Abrenio Law, we specialize in complex injurie cases – cases dealing with fractured bones, torn tendons, burst discs, traumatic brain injuries, cases that require significant treatment including surgeries. In those cases, in our experience, insurance companies tend to make absurd offers. For instance, where a client would be offered $15,000, and we believe we can get the client $100,000, we would clearly be adding value to the client by putting more money in their pocket.
But, James, I simply don’t want to deal with the insurance company.
You may be thinking that, even if you lose money in your pocket, you’d rather have an attorney deal with the insurance company. To be clear, this is a valid view. Like hiring someone to do your taxes, or a housekeeper, sometimes folks would rather just pay for a job to get done. In those cases, absolutely hire an attorney. While Abrenio Law doesn’t handle “soft tissue” cases, there are countless firms that do. So, we’d suggest seeking one out on www.avvo.com.
You’ve read this far, and you still want to handle your own case. Here’s some things to think about.
NOTE: If you represent yourself, you assume the risk that entails. That includes messing up your case and getting little to no money. We are providing this blog post for informational purposes only. You cannot rely on this as legal advice, and this blog does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you want legal advice, hire your own attorney.
If you’ve decided to handle your own Virginia car accident case, there’s some things you need to consider. Here’s a few important points:
- Statute of Limitations. In Virginia, there’s a deadline to file your case in court or forever waive your rights. (And, no, simply notifying the insurance company of your claim is not enough to save your case beyond the statute of limitations. It must be properly filed in court against the right party). Ordinarily, the Virginia SOL is 2 years. However, in some instances, it can be shorter. For example, if you have a claim against a Virginia County, you have to provide notice of the claim within 6 months of your accident.
- You can handle your personal injury case separately from your property damage claim. This means that you will get two separate insurance adjustors for each respective claim. And you can resolve your property damage claim while still maintaining your personal injury claim. When you do so, however, you need to make clear that’s what you’re doing.
- Once you settle, you can’t go back for more money. At the end of the case, you will get one settlement check. Unless your talking about a “MedPay,” claim, car insurance companies don’t pay individual medical bills. You get one check at the end of it. That means that you need to follow up your treatment and fully recover before you settle your case. That also means that if you need treatment after you’ve settled, you can’t claim it after settlement. (Hint: if you’re getting significant, long-term treatment for your case, it’s likely more than a simple “soft tissue” case and you likely will have to hire an attorney.)
- When possible, use your health insurance to pay your medical bills. In Virginia, medical providers are required to pay for in-network care. So, make sure to use your health insurance, if at all possible. This will help because it will get your doctors paid, while your personal injury case can take months to resolve. Later, you may have to reimburse your health insurer, but it’s highly likely you’ll save money reimbursing them than paying the doctors directly. That’s because health insurance gets a “negotiated rate” lower than the retail price of the bills. (Note: while not all health insurers require reimbursement, many do. And if you have government sponsored plans like Medicaid, Medicare, TriCare, or a Federal Health Plan, you will have to reimburse them.)
- Get your own medical records. The car insurance company will ask you to sign a HIPAA release to get your records. They will make it sound like this is a favor for you. The problem is that the release will be broad, and they will get all of your medical records, including records that have nothing to do the case. So, get them yourself.
- You should also get your own medical bills. That’s because, under Virginia law, you can claim the retail price of the bills, not just what your health insurance paid. So, you want to see your bills directly from the provider to know exactly what you’re entitled to in your case.
- You can also claim lost wages, as well as pain, suffering and inconvenience. How much value the car insurance will assign for these claims will differ based upon the facts of your case. However, make their job easy by getting supporting documents for everything.
- You don’t have to give a recorded statement. While they’ll demand it, you are not required to provide a recorded statement of what happened. And the insurance company will do its best to use that statement against you. In fact, Virginia is one of three states in the county that applies Contributory Negligence. Under that rule, if you’re found just 1% at fault for the accident, you are barred from recovery. So, refrain from making statements.
- Demand Letter & Package. Instead, once you’re fully recovered, you should prepare a full “Demand Package” with a “Demand Letter” that outlines your case, to include how the accident happened, the details of your injuries and recovery, your bills, and claimed lost wages. You should also include the Police Crash Report, photographs of property damage and injuries, your medical records, bills and other supporting documentation that you want them to consider. While it may seem like a hassle to put this together, by doing so, you control the information that the insurance company considers. They are free to disregard that information, and not offer fair settlement, but you at least maximize your chances of getting a fair offer for settlement.
- Make sure to read your settlement release. If you are actually able to reach settlement, make sure to actually read the settlement release in your case. Often, the insurance company’s proposed releases are over broad and include language that could hurt you, and that you never negotiated for at all. Remember, settlement releases are like any contract. You, as party to the contract, are obligated to know what’s in the release and are bound by its terms.
- Don’t forget your MedPay claim. In additional to the actual personal injury funds your are seeking, you may have purchased “MedPay” or “Medical Expense Benefits.” You are entitled to your MedPay benefits in addition to the personal injury settlement funds. Now you don’t get dollar-for-dollar reimbursement for MedPay claims, but rather then “incurred” expenses. What this means is you either get the entirety of a medical bill that hasn’t been paid (so you can pay it) or the “incurred” amount, which is the amount your health insurer paid for that bill. Be aware, however, you may end up having to pay your MedPay benefits back to your health insurance company for reimbursement. So, don’t just spend checks when you recieve them.
I want to settle my own case, but I have no idea what my case is worth or how to negotiate.
We get this sentimate a lot. This may be your very first car accident case, and you have no idea how to consider what’s fair. Given that, we’d recommend you check out this article and video we’ve created to provide you more context.
We also understand that, often, insurance companies will play games during the negotiation process. So, here’s another video for you to consider.
James, this is useful information. Will you review our Demand Letter and give us feedback?
At Abrenio Law, we get a lot of calls involving soft-tissue cases. As discussed above, unless we are confident that we can add value, we do not accept them. We also cannot review demand letters. First, because we aren’t your attorney, you could not rely on our “review” as legal advice, so it has little value to you. Second, we get a lot of calls dealing with soft-tissue cases. If we were to review demand letters, we simply wouldn’t have the resources to help the clients we have agreed to represent.
So, initially, I wanted to settle my own case. But my injuries have not improved, and now I think I need an attorney.
At Abrenio Law, we often talk to folks many months after their accidents. Even after people have attempted to resolve their own cases. However, because their injuries haven’t improved, or they’ve discovered their pain was due to more serious injury than initially thought, we ended up accepting their case. To be clear, this is not usual, but it happens.
If you want us to consider your case, however, we require enough time left on your statute of limitations to properly investigate the claim. Therefore, we typically require at least six months remaining on your SOL to consider your case. That’s because, if the SOL is too close, we simply don’t have enough time to complete our due diligence.
Still have questions?
Make sure to check out our Personal Injury & Criminal Defense Practice Pages where we’ve answered many other questions you likely have. James Abrenio is a Fairfax-Based Personal Injury & Criminal Defense attorney who practices throughout Northern Virginia. You can learn more about James Abrenio, some of our Prior Results, and Read Our Reviews. Make sure to contact us at Ph. 703-570-4180 for your Free Consultation.