It’s been estimated that the average motorist will file a collision claim three or four times over the course of their driving career. Whether your overall number goes up or down, it’s highly likely that you will be involved in at least one car accident in your life. Each one stems from a unique combination of factors, such as time of day, weather, status of the road, driver behavior, condition of the vehicle(s), and more. The majority of accidents should be reported to your insurance company, regardless of whether you think you are at fault.
Working with insurance carriers can be very frustrating, but being an informed claimant can make all the difference in ensuring that you are not taken advantage of and that you receive a fair settlement. Calculating the value of your claim is the most important – and most contested – part of the process. A claim includes the damage to your vehicle (property damage) and the damage to your person (bodily injury damage). If you file a claim under your own automobile collision, uninsured, or underinsured motorist coverage, your claim will be referred to an insurance adjuster who acts as the company’s representative, not yours. If you file a claim against someone you think was responsible for the accident, the adjuster represents that person’s liability insurance company.
Because Florida is a no-fault car insurance state and everyone who operates a motor vehicle must carry certain limits of Personal Protection Coverage (PIP), injured motorists in the Sunshine State generally deal with their own insurance carrier. However, claims can be made under the at-fault driver’s policy if the medical bills and/or lost wages total more than $10,000 in PIP coverage or result in:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
The job of an adjuster is to spend as little money as possible while quickly settling a large number of claims. Adjusters may be in-house (employees of the insurer), independent (employees of a third-party firm under contract to the insurer), or public (those who advocate for policyholders instead of insurers). You do not have to give a statement the first time you speak with an adjuster and, since you are bound by what you say, it is often wise to wait a few days. It is acceptable to sign a release for access to your medical records, share the names of your doctors, and continue treatment, but don’t discuss any settlement offers until your healthcare team releases you from treatment. Be sure to save bills for any costs associated with your medical treatment and document any money you lose because you are unable to work.
Take your car to a repair shop that charges reasonable rates and get an estimate. You are not required to get more than one estimate and you are entitled to request that only original equipment manufactured (OEM) parts be used rather than the cheaper substitutes. When you completely recover from your injuries, or as much as you are going to, submit all documentation and bills to the adjuster along with a demand letter. If you aren't satisfied with the response you receive, be polite but assertive. Show good faith and set a reasonable minimum you are willing to take. If an amount in an acceptable range is offered, you may wish to consider agreeing, but never settle for less than covering all your bills.
Consult an attorney before signing any settlement documents. It’s also wise to talk with an attorney if anyone was injured in the accident or if there are questions about valuation. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski Law has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities, and remedies. For 45 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless traffic collision victims, and we are highly experienced in handling a wide range of auto and truck accident cases. We also work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a case evaluation form.