Why We Hired An Auto Accident Injury Lawyer

Like we mentioned recently, we recently finalized a settlement from a car accident and used a lawyer to do so. We didn’t start out thinking we would want or need a lawyer (you may remember that Mrs. PoP is kindof anti-lawyer), but in the end decided that we were much better off for having used auto accident injury lawyer.

Also, as we go along in this story, I’m going to define vocabulary that we learned as we went along, but were pretty essential in understanding all the moving parts of settling a case like this.

 

Immediately Following The Accident

Crash, bang, ouch.  I was rear ended while stopped at a red light on my way to work.  Nice way to start the day.  From the Emergency Room, Mr. PoP called our insurance company to file a claim.  This is where we started to learn some details…

Drivers in Florida (and a number of other states according to Wikipedia) have PIP auto insurance.

PIP (Personal Injury Protection) Insurance: also called no-fault insurance. Here’s what matters in Florida.

  • No matter who caused the accident, your insurance company starts picking up 80% of the immediate bills (subject to cap)
  • If you have optional Med-Pay coverage, they also cover the remaining 20% (subject to a different cap)

What did that mean to us? Basically, we dealt with our own insurance company and focused on me getting better. Which was really nice.

 

But You Weren’t At Fault!

Too true.  That’s part of the beauty of PIP.  You start getting care immediately and don’t have to fight to get it.  The at-fault party (or their insurance company) does pay eventually, and that’s what subrogation is for.  Subro-what?

Subrogation: the right for your insurance company to go after the at-fault party’s insurance company to get back what was paid out on your behalf. Basically it takes you out of the legal equation and streamlines the process.

Our insurance party started the subrogation process pretty early on to resolve claims with the at-fault party. Within a few weeks of me getting my car back, they closed the vehicle damage claim with the at-fault insurance party. It required almost no work on my part.

 

For 12 Months, I Worked Hard At Getting Better

The first year after the accident, I worked solely with my insurance company and doctors and kept waiting for my back to stop hurting. Sadly, after about 12 months of treatments, my chiropractor said I had reached MMI, which was both disappointing and relieving.

MMI (Maximum Medical Improvement): is a certification that your doctor provides which basically says, “This is as good as it’s going to get and your remaining injuries are likely permanent.” Most MMI certifications come with a letter that outlines recommended future palliative care to minimize and treat pain, even if they can’t fix the permanent injuries.

On one hand, reaching MMI was heartening because it signified closure. I now knew how much pain I’d have to deal with, and could move forward and put this chapter behind me. On the other hand, reaching MMI when you’re still in pain is frustrating because you have to face the realization that this is how much pain I’d have to deal with – probably FOR-E-VER.

 

So We Could Settle Now, Right?

Luckily for me, I worked with pretty honest insurance reps. They all specifically told me that I shouldn’t even consider settling until I had reached MMI.

So when I reached MMI, I called up the at fault party’s insurance company. It wasn’t a tiny outfit. It’s one of the big ones with fancy commercials that talk about how much they care for people. I’m here to tell you that’s BS.

The At-Fault Party’s Insurance Company Is Not Your Friend

PIP is a little deceiving when the accident isn’t your fault. Your insurance company is your BFF and is happily paying for all of your medical bills, taking your phone calls, and just generally being really pleasant and kind. (“Don’t forget to write down how many hours of work you missed so we can reimburse you lost wages!” “Fax over that bill and we’ll take care of it today.”) Seriously!

The other insurance company is NOT your friend. They are the class bully. And they want to kick you and make you cry even though your back already hurts.

When I reached MMI, I had a nice letter from my doctor that said I would need chiropractic treatments 2-4x per year for the rest of my life. Beyond that, pain meds and anti-inflammatories would also be needed. So my test for understanding the value of any settlement offer was taking the value and dividing it by the cost of an average chiropractic treatment.

What was our settlement offer? $700. That’s just over 2 chiropractic treatments based on what our chiropractor was billing. Or about 6mos – 1year of continuing care for an injury that I would have FOR-E-VER. (Do we need the video again? I think we do.)

I used reason and logically explained to the adjuster for the other insurance company why I didn’t think this settlement was enough, and was basically told, “Well, that’s great that you think your feelings and pain matter, but they don’t. This is all you’re getting.” Then they basically stopped responding to my calls.

It’s pretty hard to continue to negotiate when the other party ceases all contact. So what choice did we have? We needed professional help.

 

Picking A Lawyer And Getting A Settlement

We didn’t know what to look for in a personal injury lawyer, so we went with what we usually do when looking for new service providers. We checked Angie’s List. But sadly, they don’t currently publish ratings for attorneys. =(

So we started asking friends, colleagues, and neighbors for suggestions and ended up going with one of them based on a couple positive reviews from those sources. The fees were the same at all the offices we called, and this one had worked well for others.

They will virtually all agree to have a sit down consultation before requiring you to sign on as a client. Do this. It helps. Even if only to ease your mind.

The way we looked at it, if we couldn’t get any further with the other company’s insurer than we had already, a legal fee of 33% of the current offer was just a couple hundred bucks. So the downside to hiring someone and getting stuck paying them out of that small settlement was pretty low. But the potential upside was probably worthwhile and having representation would allow us to be better informed about the whole process.

 

What the Lawyer Did To Change the Game In Our Favor

Required Me To Get An MRI And See A Neurologist

Maybe I was uninformed in this whole process, but going to see a neurologist never occurred to me. My head didn’t hurt! My brain seemed fine! But to a neurologist I went to get a prescription for an MRI on my lower back to look for soft tissue damage. The neurologist also hooked me up with a Rx for a topical NSAID that is still the only (non-narcotic) thing that helps my back on days when it’s really bad.

The reason for getting an MRI comes down to tangible proof. When I spoke with the other insurance company, there was no tangible proof of my pain other than the word of a chiropractor, which really comes down to my word. There was no picture to point to damage since the x-rays of my back and CT scan of my neck done immediately following my accident showed no damage.

The MRI of my lower back was a different matter. It very clearly showed a disc tear and protrusion in one of the discs in my lower back.  Precisely at one of the pain points that I had been struggling with since the accident.

 

Informed Me That I Could Continue Treatment Even Though I Was “MMI”

Once I had hit MMI, I stopped going to the doctor. I assumed that my insurance company was done paying and that I needed to reach a settlement before my health insurance would pick up the tab. So when my SI joint popped out again (the other lingering pain point), I was cringing and dealing with the pain hoping we would settle soon. Not much fun.

Then the lawyer said, “You’re in pain.  Go back to the doctor. Get treatment. MMI doesn’t mean you’re done FOR-E-VER.”

(Okay, I promise we are done with that clip.  I just love the Sandlot!)

“In Florida, with PIP if you need treatment you get it.”

“What about holistic treatments? Can I try rolfing?”

“If you wanted a Shaman to perform a spiritual healing ceremony, your PIP would cover his fees.”

So I went back to the chiropractor and got adjusted when I needed to.  Which has been about once every 3-5 months.  (Funny, that’s about what my honest chiropractor said I’d likely need…)

 

Negotiated On Our Behalf and Was Very Clear About the Potential Risk/Reward of Litigation

Seeing as the other party’s insurance company was particularly mean and unresponsive to my previous attempts at negotiation, this was really the primary reason we hired a lawyer. But the one we got was VERY good about explaining the laws to us, particularly an important one called Offer Of Judgement.

Offer Of Judgement: a tort reform law that encourages settlement without unnecessary lawsuits. Basically if a settlement offer is made prior to litigation, but rejected and the case goes to court, the party that rejected the settlement can be on the hook for the other party’s legal fees even if they win.

What does this mean in practice? That it’s actually possible to go to court, convince 6 (yes 6 for a civil trial here, not 12!) jurors of your injuries, win an award, and if your lawyer’s fees and the opposing counsel’s fees are bigger than your settlement, actually OWE money.

Our lawyer was really clear that if we went this route, joint assets held by both Mr. PoP and I (and really, all of our money is combined), would be at risk. It felt like a big gamble because the other insurance company doesn’t have a lot of incentive to keep costs down if they’ve had an offer refused.

Negotiations went back and forth and the whole process took almost another year. But the final settlement ended up netting us about 10x what the original offer did, even after accounting for paying the lawyer’s fees as well as reimbursing med-pay expenses that our insurance company had paid out.

 

Downside to Having Legal Representation

Having a lawyer wasn’t all roses and kittens.  The biggest downside to having legal representation is that it puts your insurance company on the defensive. All of the easy contact and getting bills taken care of ASAP went out the window as soon as I got a lawyer as all communication had to go through my “legal representative”.

To be honest, that delayed a few reimbursements as we had to pay out of pocket for the rolfing treatments and be reimbursed after the fact.  Yet another powerful reason for having a solid emergency fund/buffer as at a couple different points we were out $500 – $1,500 that we had to pay out of pocket while waiting for reimbursement.

But overall, the benefits of having representation far outweighed the negatives for us, and if (heaven forbid) something like this happens again, we will probably follow a similar path.  Though perhaps we’d try and get an MRI and figure out if there’s tangible proof of soft tissue damage and see where that gets us in the negotiation process…

What has your experience been like after a car accident?  Did you get legal representation?  How did your settlement process work?

 

Disclaimer: Laws and circumstances vary widely.  What worked for us may not work for everyone, so do your own research and consider consulting with professionals in order to be sure of your rights and responsibilities in a civil matter such as an auto accident.

 

 

34 comments to Why We Hired An Auto Accident Injury Lawyer

  • Smart move, and way worth it to get 10 times more. Not sure I would have taken the risk if the settlement had already been a bit high, but since lawyers do that every day they are surely better trained to handle the claim and just the time saved is worth it.
    Pauline recently posted..What the animals taught me about lifeMy Profile

    • Thanks Pauline. Around here, personal injury lawsuits and lawyers get such a bad rap, that we definitely wanted to avoid it… but in the end, it was way better for us.

  • oh man, that sounds like quite the ordeal. i think id be afraid to get a lawyer, but ypu cant argue with results. 10x the original offer is pretty nice. it feels pretty unethical that the insurance company tries to settle at 10% of what thwy actually owe. a good way to keep costs down though…
    CashRebel recently posted..Frugal Camping and Wrap Up #10My Profile

    • It really was an ordeal, and it’s nice that it’s finally over. I think a lot of insurance companies try to settle for even less than what our original offer was – I’ve heard of offers on the scene of the accident that sound like a horrible idea!

  • Karen

    How’s the rolfing compared to the chiropractor? (I’ve been to neither.)

    I don’t know that your insurance company was on the defensive, it’s that you chose to have outside legal representation (as opposed to their lawyers) and so I would think they are required to go through your atty. Or is it because they did not go to bat for you enough that you obtained the outside representation?

    (I think even when you’re not at fault, you have to do a lot of the work you’d expect the insurance company to handle for you. IME)

    • Rolfing and the chiropractor are pretty different.
      The chiro is all about adjusting your bones and getting them aligned. (My SI joint is what still keeps popping out and needs ongoing chiro, and I had ribs that were popping out a little from the seatbelt strap right after the accident. Those are totally fine now.) For me, chiro manipulations are pretty painless since my bones and joints are really easy to adjust.
      Rolfing on the other hand is about aligning the soft tissue (fascia), and for me it was pretty painful at first. Very deep tissue stuff. I had big giant knots in my glutes after the accident that kept coming back even after a deep tissue massage, and what rolfing ended up doing was tracing the source of those knots to tissue that was twisted a little further down my leg and was causing a really subtle turn in my leg. Fixing that made me step straighter and I’ve never developed knots in the same way since.

      You may be right about my insurance company. The communication pretty much stopped with them after we got representation, so I was never super clear why.

      • Meg

        Given that my problems are muscular, that sounds very appealing. Do rolfers (?) have medical training? I’m leery of having someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing mess around with my rather fragile body.
        Meg recently posted..I Have Discovered the BroilerMy Profile

        • Rolfing certification isn’t medical like chiropractic, but there is a certification process and the one that I went to was technically an “advanced certified rolfer”. Rolf.org is probably one of the better resources out there for seeing what it’s all about if you’re interested.

  • As someone who practices healthcare law, I would consider representation should I get in an accident. I used LegalZoom to draft my will, but personal injury cases are much more complicated. Attorneys can also act as the gate keeper so that all communication goes through them, and you don’t inadvertently waive away your rights.
    My Shiny Pennies recently posted..We Signed a Prenuptial Agreement – Part 2My Profile

  • Wow that’s a lot of red tape! I guess some of it is necessary for our own protection…and some of it…well is a major pain! I was in an accident but not hurt and I took a small settlement (it was a long time ago…but maybe $2000?), without me having to do anything. It might have been a different story if I was hurt, but I’m just glad I wasn’t.
    Budget and the Beach recently posted..Life UpdatesMy Profile

  • It really is a lot of red tape. And though we only got about $7K in the settlement, the total amount that ended up being associated with my part of the car accident was about $15K in injury benefits paid out by my insurance co, a $15K settlement (we netted $7K of this) from the other insurance co, and another ~$7K that went into fixing my car after the accident. I have no idea what the other party’s car cost to fix or if she was injured, but my share alone is about $37K that was paid out. Crazy how much damage not stopping at a stop light can do!

  • Meg

    I’m sorry to hear about your injuries! When I developed chronic pain problems, I was surprised to discover just how draining it was to be achy all the time. If you haven’t take a look around your house and make sure that you’ve bought anything that will make your life easier. One of the best things we did was move to an apartment with a dishwasher. Having dish washing remove from my chores bought me a lot of energy to spend on other things.
    Meg recently posted..I Have Discovered the BroilerMy Profile

    • Too true. Luckily our furniture is pretty good for lounging, which is helpful, and Mr. PoP is in charge of the dishes. For me the big thing is that sitting in one position for too long is painful, so getting up and moving around regularly is the best thing for me.

      • Meg

        I had a problem at work because I sit in really funny ways and people were complaining that I must be lounging since my feet were up, etc. I finally had to sit down with the VP and explain the situation, which I’d been trying to keep quiet since I’m a private person in real life.

        YMMV, but the absolute best chair I’ve found is the IKEA Poang with matching ottoman. It is the only chair I can sit in for long periods of time and the angle is also perfect if you want to use a laptop or do needlework while seated.
        Meg recently posted..I Have Discovered the BroilerMy Profile

        • Oh, I’ve always been bad at sitting like a normal person and the car accident has only made it worse. I actually have a little air cushion that I use in my office chair and take with me if I know I’m going to be in bad seats for a while like airplanes.

  • CF

    I think you guys made the right choice. I haven’t been in a car accident, but my parents have. They used a lawyer as well, but they were not able to get a super favourable settlement unfortunately. Ah well!
    CF recently posted..5 Tips for your next performance reviewMy Profile

  • I’ve never been in a car accident myself but I agree that it was smart to wait until MMI. Proving pain is near impossible because the only proof is the person who feels it. No one xray or MRI will prove that one is in pain only that something may be wrong. It was smart to get the tests done because if that’s what it took to say, hey look, something is not right, then so be it. If getting a lawyer gets you compensation or treatment for the rest of your life and it’s worth the cost then I’d say go for it. If it’s not then I would have just taken the settlement. Every situation is different though. Thanks for sharing this.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..The Loss Of A Dog, Euthanasia Costs and Dealing With GriefMy Profile

    • You’re very right. Every situation is different, and a lot of this was learning as we went along. I wonder how being Canadian (with national health care) changes matters since you wouldn’t have the same future health care costs as we do in the US.

  • SLCCOM

    This is how the system works: Heads, I win. Tails, you lose!

    I hope you don’t get to “play” any more!

    • I think we made the best of it. We weren’t looking at my back injury as a lottery ticket, so we’re glad that we managed to get enough of a settlement to take care of the medical treatments for a decade or so. That to us, is a win.

      And thanks. I don’t want to “play” the car accident game ever again. =)

  • Oh man! I can’t believe that your first offer was $700! I just went through almost the exact situation you’ve gone through a few years ago. I didn’t use a lawyer and I think I benefitted from the fact that I had “hard injuries” and not soft ones that are harder to prove.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..The Most Commonly Asked Credit Score QuestionsMy Profile

  • First off, I’m glad you’re able to get the treatment you need. That’s definitely priority #1. I’ve never been in a situation like this, but I think this is a great example of when it makes sense to spend more money for better value. The cheaper route, doing things yourself, was clearly inferior to spending more money on a attorney who knew what he was doing. It’s a great reminder that spending less is not always the better option. Thanks for sharing so much detail on this experience.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Teaching My Son Basic Money SkillsMy Profile

  • Wow, this is extremely thorough and informative. I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured in the accident, though it does sound like a pain to have to go through all that legal stuff. Thanks for sharing the details. I think we all learned something!
    Lisa @ Lisa the Vegetarian recently posted..Completely UnexpectedMy Profile

    • That’s definitely one thing that I reminded myself throughout this whole process. That it could have been so much worse.

      Glad to share the details. Hopefully it helps someone when they’re faced with the same stressful situation. =)

  • I would hire an personal injury attorney if the insurance company wasn’t accepting that my injuries from an accident were real, but maybe not otherwise. I live in Texas and have never heard of PIP before. It does seem like something other states should look into implementing for their citizens. Additionally, there is no way I would go without purchasing the optional Med-Pay coverage to go along with the PIP.

  • Stacy

    I am curious as we are in the middle of settling my daughter’s MVA. Did your attorney take 33% off of the top or did he take the subrogation amount first (the amount that you had to pay back to your insurance) and then take his 33% from the balance?

    • Ours took his 33% out of the gross, then we had to pay out the surrogated amounts with the rest of the money. But, our lawyer did negotiate with our own insurance company after the settlement with the other company was reached and we only ended up paying back a little more than half of what we could have been held to.

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