After sustaining injuries in a truck accident that wasn’t your fault, you may know that you can pursue compensation from the parties responsible for your injuries.
In most cases, the compensation will come from insurance companies, but insurance carriers are notorious for trying to settle claims for less than they’re worth. In fact, the insurance company may offer you a lowball settlement offer in the hopes you accept it and move on.
So, what should you do after receiving a first offer from an insurance company following a truck accident?
Read on to learn more about how insurance companies operate and the steps you can take to receive the maximum compensation you deserve. You should also contact a Dallas truck accident attorney in your area for specific advice regarding your claim and help navigating the process.
Commercial Truck Insurance Requirements
Virtually all states require drivers to maintain auto insurance on their vehicles to drive legally in the state. In most cases, owners and operators of commercial trucks must maintain relatively high amounts of liability insurance and other coverages to pay for injuries and damages trucks and truck drivers cause in accidents.
For instance, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires commercial truck drivers to have liability insurance coverage that can range from $750,000 up to $5 million, depending on the truck’s size, the cargo it hauls, and the distance the truck routinely travels.
Trucks under 10,001 pounds that are hauling non-hazardous freight must have at least $300,000 in coverage.
Additionally, the FMCSA requires trucking companies that haul household goods to maintain minimum insurance coverage of $5,000 per vehicle for the loss or damage of any single shipper’s cargo and $10,000 coverage per occurrence for aggregate cargo damages or losses.
The Trucking Insurance Company’s Role Following an Accident
Trucking insurance companies are businesses that offer policies to truck drivers and truck owners. These legally binding policies provide coverage and indemnify the policyholder against specific losses.
The insurance company handles injury and property damage claims against the truck driver or owner and disburses settlements to victims in accordance with the policy’s terms. After receiving a claim, the insurer will send an adjuster to investigate the accident and gather evidence about how the accident occurred and who holds liability for the crash.
Insurance companies use complicated calculations to determine initial settlement offers, incorporating several factors to arrive at a settlement amount. Once they determine a settlement, they extend an offer to the claimant.
However, as businesses, insurance companies do not want to pay any more on a claim than they have to—or pay anything at all—as paying on claims eats into their profits. Thus, they typically extend lowball settlements to resolve a claim as cheaply as possible.
Factors That Can Affect a Settlement Amount
Various factors can influence the insurance company’s determination of a settlement offer and the compensation you could receive.
Some common factors that may play a role in determining a settlement amount include:
- The nature and severity of your injuries
- How your injuries affect your ability to work
- The extent of property damage you incurred
As you may surmise, the insurance company's determination may only reflect the basic, minimum requirements they must meet according to the law—not your best interests.
This is when you need an attorney. A lawyer can leverage their knowledge and experience for your benefit and help ensure you receive a fair settlement.
Tactics Insurance Companies Use to Reduce Claims
Even if you suffered severe injuries that kept you from working and sustained considerable property damage in the truck accident, the insurance company is probably not going to put too much weight on those factors and instead look for every avenue to reduce their level of liability.
Some defense tactics insurance companies use to reduce claims and offer low settlements include:
- Disputing the severity of your injuries
- Refuting your need for specific treatments or rehabilitation
- Asserting you bear responsibility for the accident and your injuries
- Claiming the damage amounts you are seeking are too high or outside the scope of the policy
The insurer may use other tactics to reduce their payout, and you need an attorney who understands the tactics to advocate for you and hold the insurance company accountable.
You Are Not Obligated to Accept an Initial Settlement
Keep in mind that you are under no obligation to accept an initial settlement offer from a trucking insurance company. Some people believe that the initial settlement is the final and best figure the insurance company will offer and that they have no recourse to get a higher amount. This is simply not true.
The initial settlement offer usually begins the settlement negotiation process, and you have every right to negotiate with the insurer to get an amount that will cover all your injuries and losses.
However, dealing with insurance companies and negotiating fair settlements can be daunting and frustrating without extensive legal knowledge and an understanding of the tactics insurance companies use to reduce claims.
Therefore, you need an experienced truck accident attorney on your side to deal with the insurer and negotiate a full settlement that covers your damages.
Responding to a Settlement Offer
With the help of an attorney, you need to evaluate the settlement offer to determine if it covers your losses.
Following that, you basically have three options:
- Accept the offer
- Reject the offer
- Make a counteroffer
If you reject the offer, you typically must wait for the insurance company to make another offer.
In most cases, your attorney will make a counteroffer to the insurer and negotiate to get a higher amount. You cannot force an insurance company to negotiate or even respond to your claim, and settlement negotiations can take time. If the insurer does not respond with another settlement offer or refuses to negotiate, your attorney may have no other choice but to file a lawsuit against them and sue them in civil court.
Beware of Accepting a Settlement Too Soon
Although you need money to pay for your medical bills and cover your lost income and other damages, you do not want to accept a settlement too soon.
Once you accept a settlement, you cannot pursue additional compensation for your injuries and losses later. Thus, if you accept a settlement and find out later that your injuries resulted in a permanent disability, for instance, you will have no legal recourse to get additional funds to pay for future medical care.
It's always best to work with an attorney to fully document and assess your injuries until you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is an assertion from a medical expert that further treatment for your injuries will not aid in your recovery.
This doesn’t mean you won’t require medical care but that the care will not improve your condition. The process of reaching MMI can take time, but you want to ensure you don’t relinquish important compensation you may need going forward.
Using Evidence to Assist in Settlement Negotiations
Another benefit of having an attorney represent you in negotiations with the insurance company is that they can help gather the evidence needed to support your claim.
Some common forms of evidence your lawyer can use include:
- Police reports of the accident
- Witness statements and testimony
- Medical examinations and your medical records
- Testimony from expert witnesses, such as physicians and accident reconstruction specialists
- Photos and videos of the accident scene
- Pictures of your injuries
Armed with this evidence and anything else pertinent to your case, your lawyer will be in a much better position to substantiate your claim and negotiate with the insurer to get the full and fair compensation you need.
Keep records of all communications between you, your attorney, and the insurance company throughout the negotiation process in case they try to deny or refute your claim or any aspect of the process later.
What Happens After I Accept an Insurance Settlement?
Once you and the insurance company agree on a settlement amount, all parties must sign a settlement agreement that outlines the specific terms and the amount of compensation the insurer must provide to you. You must also sign a waiver promising not to pursue additional compensation in the future, and your case will be closed.
The insurance company will then initiate the process of cutting a settlement check. They will send the check to your lawyer, who will hold the funds in a trust account. After your lawyer subtracts their fees and related costs and pays any outstanding bills they must pay on your behalf, they will distribute the remaining funds to you.
Will I Have to Go to Court?
Most truck accident claims settle outside of court, but these situations may require you to file a lawsuit against the insurance company and the at-fault parties:
- The insurance company refuses to negotiate a fair settlement or will not negotiate at all
- The insurance company refuses to respond to your claim or denies your valid claim unjustly
- The insurance company refutes liability
- The insurance company acts in bad faith regarding your claim or the settlement agreement
Other factors may force your attorney to file suit against the insurer as well. Discuss your situation with a knowledgeable lawyer who has experience dealing with insurance companies and litigating truck accident cases.
Reach Out to an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Today
An experienced truck accident lawyer can make all the difference in how much of a settlement an insurance company offers. Insurers understand that most accident victims don’t have the legal knowledge and resources to properly handle truck accident claims and fight for their rights.
A lawyer can help you build a strong claim that holds up to scrutiny, and they can serve as a much-needed legal ally to help increase your settlement so that you get all you need to realize as full of a recovery as possible.
An attorney also understands how insurance companies operate, and they are well-equipped to handle all aspects of your claim and go to court for you if necessary.
Overall, what you should do after receiving a first offer for a truck accident claim depends largely on the specific facts and circumstances surrounding your case. A lawyer can assess your claim and calculate the types and amounts of compensation you need. They can also help you evaluate the initial settlement offer and negotiate for the highest amount possible.Don’t leave money on the table following a truck accident in Texas that injured you or a close family member. Reach out to a personal injury attorney in Dallas, TX today at the Francis Firm for a free consultation and receive advice and guidance regarding the settlement process.