Being involved in a car accident in Atlanta can be a life-changing experience for everyone involved, especially when they result in major property damage and serious injuries. Even if you’re entitled to significant compensation, the recovery process may only add to your stress from the actual accident.
Negotiating a car accident claim can be time-consuming, especially without an attorney. However, it is certainly possible, as long as you are meticulous, thorough, and concentrated on your research and gathering of the facts.
There are three main steps to settling your car accident claim without a lawyer:
- Gathering information
- Calculating the Amount of Money for Damages
- Sending a Demand Letter and Negotiation
Should I Negotiate a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer?
First, you should decide whether you want to do this alone. Your answer really depends on two key things:
- The severity of the accident. Minor accidents with simple, straightforward damages and compensation could be easily dealt with without legal counsel. Likewise, serious, potentially life-threatening injuries can be a long, drawn-out process with high stakes and emotions involved.
- It is clear the other party is at fault. The state of Georgia is one of 12 that employs a 50 percent modified comparative fault law: if you’re found to be at least 50 percent liable, you do not have the legal right to claim damages. In tricky cases where fault can be heavily disputed, recovering damages may be best left to an attorney.
For more information, see “Should I Negotiate a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer?”
If you do decide to tackle a car accident claim by yourself, here are some comprehensive steps to take throughout the entire process.
First Steps: Gather as Much Information as Possible
First things first: as soon as you’re involved in a car accident, call the police. They will file a report that can be used later on when you seek damages. Next, document everything. This includes:
- The other driver’s personal information, including name, address, date of birth, and driver’s license number.
- The make, model, and license plate number of the other vehicle.
- The other driver’s insurance information, including plan provider and ID.
- The names and phone numbers of any witnesses at the scene, in case liability isn’t certain.
- Pictures of the scene of the accident.
- Photos of the property damage.
- Pictures of any injuries sustained.
The goal is start building your case with solid information as the foundation for your settlement.
Immediately After the Accident: Take Action
Because car accident recovery can be time-sensitive, insurance companies like to act as quick as possible – thinking that they’ll get the one-up on drivers seeking a greater amount of damages. Do not take the first offer from an insurance provider – it is often much lower than what you would need to get your life back on track.
Therefore, it’s important to take swift immediate action toward recovery:
- Obtain a copy of the police report filed. This is as easy as going to the police station and requesting a copy.
- Go to the doctor immediately to assess your health. Keep track of all your symptoms – including those that may have developed a few days after the accident. It’s important to know that serious injuries may not creep up until days or even weeks later.
- Get all copies of any medical records, doctor’s notes, or bills as a result of the accident – regardless of whether they were paid for by health insurance or out-of-pocket.
- If liability is being heavily disputed, obtain written witness statements that support your car accident claim.
- Do NOT give a recorded statement to the other person’s insurance. No matter what you say, they may use that as leverage against your potential case.
- Do NOT write about your accident on social media. Most people have an unintended flair for the dramatic, which can be taken out of context and used to damage your case and minimize your injuries.
Now that you have all the paperwork necessary to build a case, you can begin to calculate exactly how much you need as compensation for your property and injury damages.
There are two types of damages to take into consideration when calculating total costs:
- Damages capable of exact calculation
- Damages not capable of exact calculation
Damages capable of exact calculation (also known as special damages) are any damages that have a tangible cost to them. Things such as property damage, medical bills, and other financial damages attributable to your accident are examples.
Lost earnings (also known as “lost wages”) also fall into this category, although they can require a bit of math to calculate. Lost wages are categorized in two buckets; lost earnings and lost earning capacity. In Georgia, lost earnings typically refer to wages lost currently as a direct result of the car accident, while lost earning capacity refers to any earnings that may be lost in the future because of injuries or damage sustained in the car accident.
Current lost earnings will be relatively easy to calculate: simply tally up how many hours/days you missed due to the car accident and determine exactly how much salary you are losing.
Lost earning capacity may be a little more complex, as it requires an accurate prediction of how long you may be out of work, and how much of your actual job may be affected. This takes a number of factors into consideration that may not be realistically quantifiable in the present day, including:
- The possibility that full recovery is not possible, hampering your working ability for an undetermined length of time – possibly permanently.
- Injuries that may make your current employment unrealistic, forcing you to re-evaluate your worth in the job market.
- Any promotions or salary increases you were expected to receive pre-accident.
Typically, this requires a comprehensive assessment by a medical professional, along with a consultation with an economist or financial advisor to better understand your true lost earning capacity.
Damages not capable of exact calculation are intangible elements to the accident that may nonetheless decrease your quality of life. This includes damages for mental anguish and pain and suffering. Although putting an exact price on this is difficult, it can nonetheless be a significant amount of compensation, and is almost always best left to an attorney.
Sending the Demand Letter
Once you’ve accumulated all of your documents and determined the exact dollar amount of damages you are seeking, it’s time to send a demand letter. At this point, you are corresponding with whichever party is responsible for negotiating accident claims. Typically, this is almost always the insurance provider.
The demand letter is the most important part of your negotiations. It’s a document that highlights exactly how much you are seeking, and why you feel you deserve to recover that amount in damages. Be sure to include the following:
- A thorough review of the facts of the accident, and why the other driver was at fault
- An extensive summary of your injuries and property damage, and the treatments and repairs facilitated to remedy those issues
- Any financial losses as a result of the injury, such as lost wages and lost earning capacity
- Any mental anguish and pain and suffering caused by injuries incurred from the accident
- Your formal demand in damages and compensation
- A time limit for the insurance company to respond.
Attached to the demand letter should be copies of all the supporting documents you’ve gathered to this point, such as:
- All your medical records and bills
- All your repair bills and/or estimates
- Copies of all the photos taken at the accident scene
- Copies of witness statements taken at the accident
- Any documentation to support your claim for lost wages and lost earning capacity
- A copy of the police report
Receiving an Offer
Hopefully, if the insurance provider is diligent, they’ll send you a response within the given time limit. At this point, they will present a counter-offer – usually much lower than the initial offer. That’s to be expected, as this is where negotiations are expected to begin.
If no reasons have been given as to why the settlement is lower than your demands, politely request a thorough explanation for the lower amount. If it is due to something like insufficient information about your bills, provide more details and documentation on your medical and repair bills.
However, if at this point you’ve already laid out all of your itemized financial needs, focus on the more emotional points. Explain how these losses will affect your life adversely and impact it in an overwhelmingly negative way. Then, make a counter-offer to their offer that is fair and within their constraints.
This back-and-forth may go on for months, but remain patient, polite, and professional. If you reach a mutual agreement on the settlement, make sure to get it in writing.
When You’re Out of Options, Hire an Attorney
If the insurance company is still not offering a satisfactory amount for your claim, it may be time to contact the court and start the lawsuit process. At this point, it’s highly recommended to contact an Atlanta car accident attorney – they have the knowledge and experience to go through the court proceedings to maximize your settlement and ensure you end up with an offer that meets your needs.
Our Personal Injury Lawyers are Here to Help
Whether or not you decide to take on an attorney for your car accident and personal injury claims, Kaufman Law is here to give you the support you deserve. With more than 45 years of personal injury experience, we have all the tools, resources, and knowledge on hand to ensure you recover the compensation you’re rightfully entitled to.
If you’re still unsure about the car accident claims process, visit us for a free consultation. With our guidance, we can give you the knowledge you need to make a decision on how to handle your car accident claim.