How Can an Attorney Help You

Lawyers add value not cost to your accident recovery.

If your mother is like my mother she taught that if you treat people right they will do the same to you in return. This is a wise maxim for life but doesn't work when you are dealing with an insurance company. Most of us if we are lucky are not involved in an accident very often. And when we are, and try and apply the wisdom our mothers imparted to us, insurance companies use this against us getting us to waive our rights and reduce what it should have otherwise paid.

There are over six million accidents nationally each year, resulting in over three million injury claims. At those numbers, clearly it is in the financial interest of an insurance company to settle with you as quickly as possible to cut off its future financial exposure before you have an opportunity to consult with a lawyer. In the name of customer service, insurance companies contact you to get you talking, signing authorizations that help them and not you, and before your injuries become fully understood. For example, several insurance companies routinely try to contact you within 48 hours of the accident. They get you talking, and try and make friends so you trust them. They offer to take care of car damage, and then subtly say they will pay for some minimal amount for your medical expenses.

Recorded statements are not required to open a claim. Signing a medical authorization only opens the door for the insurance company to look through your medical history to see if they can blame your injuries on some other time in your past. Telling them about your time off of work and your employment serves as a means to talk to your employer and figure out how much money you make and if you are a good employee. Obviously, none of things increases the amount of money you receive at settlement.

Do you know what your medical care will cost? How does the insurance company know what is wrong with you and what it takes to get you better? What if it costs more than they are willing to pay? If you have agreed to settle, the balance of your medical expenses comes out of your pocket. Don't you want to make sure your doctor is getting paid for getting you better? Settling with spending limitations imposed by the insurance company may not get you better. Are you looking at today or your long term health?

Many insurance companies will try and offer you between $500 to $1,000 on top of the medical expenses they agree to pay. Is this enough to compensate you for your time, lost wages, and out of pocket expenses? The average recovery time is twelve weeks and requires 25 to 30 visits to the doctor. How much time do you also think you will spend following up with the insurance, doing their work for them, and dealing with the aggravation of getting paid what you are entitled? Let's assume you spend 25 hours going back and forth to the doctor that equates to only $20 an hour, and you have not been paid anything for dealing with the damage to your car. You also haven't been paid anything for the actual discomfort as a result of your injury.

How well versed are you in understanding lien claims against your settlement. If you went to the hospital, and they know you were involved in accident you will receive a lien for its services in your mailbox. Even if your health insurance pays its contracted amount, the hospital will be looking for the difference between the billed and paid amount from you. Arizona law also requires medical providers to bill your health insurance before any other insurance. However, most health insurance companies will send you a letter asking you to reimburse them for payment of accident related expenses. They won't tell you that Arizona is one of a handful of states that prohibit reimbursement like this. And when you send back the request for information form requested by the health insurance company you will have either now given them a recovery right they never had or agreed that the insurance company can put them on your check. The release the car insurance company says you will also pay these amounts even if there is not enough money to pay all the bills. Your hourly for handling this claim yourself may actually be going negative at this point.

An experienced attorney handles all these matters so you can simply focus on getting better. An experienced attorney is going to coordinate your benefits so you access all the insurance available to you as well as not pay back bogus claims against your settlement. An experienced attorney will coordinate the repair of your car. An experienced attorney will get you more than what you can get for yourself at settlement. An attorney pays for him or herself because the overall recovery is bigger. If you end up with a bigger recovery than you would have gotten yourself, the attorney has added value. An attorney adds value by dealing with the day to day hassle with the insurance company. An attorney adds value by coordinating your insurance benefits and making sure you don't overpay claims or liens against your settlement that are not valid.

An attorney will not be able to add value unless you get them involved at the outset. It is too late if you have finished your medical care, giving recorded statements, signed authorizations, or agreed to reimburse people you should not have. There is no cost savings by handling things on your own up front. Instead, it usually is too late to un-ring the bell with the mistakes that have been made at the outset of the matter. Getting an attorney involved at the beginning gives you the best options, and increases the likelihood of a successful claim being made.

Bottom Line:

1. Most people are not involved regularly in accidents. Even if you had an accident five years ago, things may have changed: laws constantly change, jury verdicts change (higher and lower), and insurance contracts change. Also, insurance companies have sped up the process to stack the deck in their favor against the claimant – have you seen the mobile claims offices driving around town or had the insurance adjuster wanting to make an appointment to come out to your house to resolve the claim. Their goal is not customer service because you’re not the customer. Instead, their objective is to minimize their risk and what they have to pay to you. Insurance companies have learned that if they can get to you before you have an opportunity to get advice from an attorney, they win. So what you don’t know may hurt you. Most people focus initially on the repair of their vehicle and obtaining medical attention. However, there are a number of other things that may be reimbursable ranging from lost wages to loss of use of your vehicle while it is getting repaired. Also, beware of health insurance companies or medical providers (hospitals in particular) looking for information about the claim. These folks are aggressively pursuing reimbursement whether they are legally entitled to it or not. Our office has found that coordinating these other benefits is often as complex as handling the underlying accident claim with the other driver’s insurance company. If you are unfamiliar with these issues, you are at a severe disadvantage. You could be resolving your claim not knowing that you may have unknowingly and unnecessarily obligated yourself to reimburse a health insurance company or medical provider for additional amounts beyond what you are being paid by the other driver’s insurance company. An attorney’s job is to make sure that you avoid these pitfalls, get what you are entitled to, and not reimburse someone that is not legally obligated to be repaid.

2. Arizona is a transient State, and people regularly move in and out of this State. As a result, many people who handle a claim on their own do not take the appropriate steps at the outset of the claim to conduct a full investigation and prepare for the possibility that the insurance company will not make them a fair offer. Many insurance companies will convey a sense of fair play by handling the damage to your car and telling you they have “accepted liability” for the accident. As a result, people let their guard down, and do not obtain witness statements, police reports, and sign medical authorizations to allow the insurance company to obtain privileged medical information about you without you first seeing it. Accepting liability does not mean that they will pay you what you think or is fair. If a claim is not fully prepared, and the insurance company does not make you a fair offer, the end result is usually litigation. The injured person has the burden of proof in the courthouse. If you have not done your legwork or can’t find the folks involved because too much time has passed, it is going to be extremely difficult to present a successful claim when you can’t meet your burden of proof. The time to prepare a claim is not at the end but at the outset. An experienced attorney will conduct an investigation of the claim and make sure it is properly prepared and managed throughout your recovery period so that if litigation is necessary the burden of proof can be met. Although it may seem strange, the objective is to avoid litigation and resolve the claim through negotiation. Litigation is costly – both emotionally and financially, and time consuming. With the assistance of an attorney, negotiating the claim to a successful resolution because the claim is positioned properly, usually results in a more timely resolution, less expense and a better recovery for the client.

3. An attorney saves you time and allows you to focus on what is important in your life, getting better and doing the things that you like to do. Do you really want to spend hours talking to tow yards, body shops, doctor’s offices, billing departments, health insurance companies, and attorneys who represent your various medical providers? That’s on top of going to the doctor to get medical care, dealing with the insurance company for the driver that caused the accident, coordinating insurance benefits, taking care of your family, working, and educating yourself about how to handle a claim. Simply, most people figure that their time is more valuable than that and an attorney adds value knowing how to navigate through these various tasks and taking the burden off them. As discussed above, if one of these steps or issues gets neglected and the necessary preparation work is not done, it makes it extremely difficult to meet your burden of proof whether you’re negotiating or litigating a claim.