Friday, June 19, 2009

Tip #4 Increasing Your Total Loss Insurance Settlement

Your car was totaled in the accident but the insurance offer is really low!  Is there anything you do to increase the insurance offer on the car?

The liability insurance company is only responsible to pay the amount your vehicle was worth in the marketplace on the day before the accident.  That amount may or may not be enough money to replace the vehicle.  Keep in mind that insurance companies pay only average value, not top value, for a used car that has been totaled.  And they pay nothing at all for sentimental value!

Check the value of your vehicle on the Internet at and  Also check the Internet and/or newspaper classified ads to try to locate a vehicle very similar to yours (similiar in age, mileage and options) to check the price.    If you find values which are higher than the insurance offer, submit copies to the adjuster as part of your negotiations.

Be sure to give the adjuster written proof of major repairs to the vehicle, such as replacement of the engine or transmission.  Proof of regular maintenance such as regular oil changes may help increase the value.  Be sure the adjuster knows if your car had no rust or was in particularly good condition so that can be factored in.  Ask how the car was rated--average, good, excellent, etc.

If you had prior damage on the vehicle, the adjuster may want to deduct the cost of that repair from your settlement.  Try to negotiate on the amount deducted.

There can be two different total loss offers—one where you give the liability carrier the car in exchange for the settlement, and a second offer (for less money) where you keep the car.  Which offer is better depends on the extent of the car damage and whether you have the time and energy to deal with the damaged vehicle.

In a total loss settlement where you give the insurance company the title and the damaged car, they should pay the car value plus an additional amount for sales tax for your county and transfer and title fees.

Unfortunately, total loss offers are sometimes lower than the balance owed on your car loan. This seems incredibly unfair if the accident was not your fault!  If you paid a high price for the car, your loan may have been more than the market value of the car when you initially financed the purchase. The bank may have loaned more than they should have to help you out.  Since you bought it, the value of your car has depreciated every year.  You may have  damage you did not repair or that car may not be in the best mechanical or exterior condition.  If you owe more than the amount offered, you are "upside down" on your loan.  All the funds from the total loss settlement will be given to your lender, and you will have no car and a remaining loan balance to pay off!

In my years of handling auto accident claims, I have found that figuring out a way to get another car helps reduce stress.  If you have been making a loan payment and you have good credit, call your lender and explain the circumstances.  Ask if you can finance another car and roll the remaining balance of the loan from the totaled vehicle into the financing of the new vehicle.  If you can find a good vehicle that is not overpriced, your lender will probably work with you in this way.   Once the car has been replaced, you can focus on healing from your injuries.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tip #3 Yikes, posts about your injury accident on Twitter and You Tube could wind up in court!

A word of caution to those of you who publish extensively on the Web—what you text or post about your accident could be retrieved and used as evidence if your case goes to court.  This includes posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogspot, You Tube, MySpace, etc.

Lawyers for injured people may seek access to their clients’ accounts to find out what information has been posted and whether these posts are helpful or detrimental to the case. Lawyers for the insurance companies are now asking to look at these posts as part of the discovery process once a case is in litigation. Then judges must rule on whether the insurance companies are allowed access—e.g. whether the injured person is forced to sign a release allowing the insurance company to see all their postings. 

If you are in an accident, it is the best practice to keep your on-line comments about the accident to a bare minimum or not to mention it at all.  On-line jokes, rants, descriptions of injuries or what happened may end up being part of the evidence in your court case, and may have a negative impact.  Think about protecting your claim when you communicate on the web!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tip #2 Pick the Right Lawyer for Your Injury Claim

After your accident, you may be quite surprised to receive multiple letters and brochures from personal injury lawyers in the mail. You probably wonder: "How did these lawyers even know I was in the accident? How did they get my address and information?" Some people feel flattered that several lawyers are contacting them, making it easy to hire a lawyer without even leaving their house. Other people feel pressured and annoyed by receiving multiple solicitations and expensive brochures at a time when they are coping with pain and loss from the accident.

You are NOT required to choose one of the lawyers who sent you a letter or a brochure. There are many good lawyers who generally don't send such letters. If you don't know any lawyers, you can ask friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers for recommendations. You can look on-line or in the phone book. You can consult the State Bar of Wisconsin.

Schedule interviews with several lawyers before you make your decision. Bring a list of questions and take notes. You can ask questions about your claim, the lawyer's experience with similar claims, where the lawyer went to law school and where the lawyer has worked. Ask the lawyer to explain what he or she would do to help you. If you like, ask for references from past clients. Look around the office--does it make you feel comfortable? Pay attention to the lawyer's personality--do you think you could work well with this lawyer and his/her staff? Is this lawyer tough enough or understanding enough for you? Note what impresses you favorably or unfavorably during the interview. At the end of the interview, you do not need to sign anything. Explain you are researching how you will proceed with the claim and you'll get back to the lawyer with your decision. Then thank the lawyer for spending time with you.

After you have completed your interviews, compare your notes about the lawyers' backgrounds, legal experience, claim results and personality as well as any comments from recommendations that you received. This way you can make an informed decision and pick the right lawyer!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tip #1 Keep Notes After Your Injury Accident

An injury accident is an extremely stressful event. Post-accident pain and anxiety can negatively affect your ability to accurately remember important accident details--details that you will need to remember to effectively make your claim to the insurance company. 

The solution? After your accident, keep an on-going  written journal. Write everything down in a notebook or in your computer.

Write notes about what you were doing/where you were headed just prior to the accident. Include location, time of day, condition of the surface of the road, parking lot or interior floor, traffic at that time. Who else was at the accident scene?

Then write out the details about what happened in the accident. What did you see? What did you hear? What happened first? next? and then? Describe what you know of the injuries and property damage on the scene, both for yourself and others. 

Did you have pain right away? Note the area of your body that hurt and rate your pain on a  scale of 0-10 where 10 is the worst pain imaginable. Who called for the ambulance? How long did you need to wait for help to arrive?

If your pain came on later that day or night or the next morning, describe what you felt and note when you contacted your doctor or chiropractor. Keep a list of all of your medical providers post accident including the dates you had medical care, the names of your doctors, their contact information, and what happened in each appointment.  

Each day after the accident, note the date, the pain level in the areas of your body that were injured, any activity restrictions and your emotional state.  Note changes in your normal routine due to the injuries. For example:  "My back hurts if I try to put the wash into the dryer, so I have to ask for help. I can't turn my neck to look around while driving--I have to turn my whole body to see to the left or right. I am feeling frustrated and...."

Injuries affect you but also can negatively affect the life of your family members. If you cannot drive, then you cannot transport your son to his soccer matches. Maybe you cannot dance with your spouse at a friend's wedding, or accompany your family on a planned car trip. Include these details in your notes.  

Keep track of the dates and hours of any time off work due to the accident. When you return to work, note any changes in your usual work tasks you need to make due to your injuries.

Each time you hear from an insurance representative, write down his or her name, telephone number, the date and a summary of what you talked about. This is VERY IMPORTANT!  With this information, you can deal much better with the insurance company when making your claim for injury, car damage or other property damage and even bill payment. You probably will deal with several different  insurance companies. For example, an auto case often involves three insurance companies:  the liability insurance company for the at-fault party, your own auto insurance company and your health insurance company.  In some accidents, there may be a workers compensation insurer, Medicare or Medical Assistance as well.

Your notes don't have to be perfect--don't worry about spelling or grammar. Just keep writing! If you cannot write due to your injuries, ask a family member or friend to help.  

Writing down details as they happen is very valuable--otherwise it is likely that these details will be forgotten after a few months. Your notes will be extremely helpful if you decide to ask a lawyer to handle the claim.  

As an experienced personal injury attorney, I have handled over 1000 insurance claims for people who were hurt in auto accidents, slip and fall accidents and dog bite injuries since 1993. I am always favorably impressed by clients who can provide me with their notes!  These notes are a valuable tool to help me understand what the client has been through and how the accident changed the client's life. When I write the demand letter to the insurance adjuster, I strategically incorporate details from the client's notes.  A key to a successful claim settlement is effective use of the client's notes!