If You Settle Too Quickly, You may Regret It
We often get calls from clients or other people handling their own claims who are very eager to resolve their personal injury accident claim to obtain a quick cash settlement. There are times when our advice is to encourage them to hang on… the timing has to be right.
Wait Until Your Injuries Are Well-Known
The extent of many injuries is often not known for months or even years. For example, we had one 40-year old client, “Sophie”, who had recovered from her initial neck and back injury but who still had some knee pain. The knee pain resisted diagnosis. She was told it was a sprain and a strain. The insurance company’s doctor suggested she had a rare birth defect that was causing her pain and that it was totally unrelated to her accident. At first glance, it looked like it was time to settle because the accident-related injuries had mostly healed.
Fortunately a doctor finally took the time to perform more significant diagnostic testing on Sophie’s knee which revealed a damaged meniscus requiring surgery. We resolved this claim for 3 times more that would have been possible if we had settled before having the diagnosis in hand.
Are You Back to Full Speed At Work?
If you have not returned to work after your injury, or are working less than you did before the accident, you should definitely not settle your claim unless you are certain you have reached maximum medical recovery. (We call this MMR). In Ontario where pain and suffering damages are capped, often the loss of income claim makes up the largest component of a settlement. If you do not know your final medical prognosis, how will you calculate your loss of income? When will you go back to work? When will you be back full time? All of those questions will be unresolved. As you can probably guess, the insurance company is unlikely to make assumptions that will increase the amount of your settlement.
Ease the Financial Burden by Maximizing Your Statutory Accident Benefits
Our personal injury clients are sometimes impatient that the case is moving along slowly, especially if they are struggling financially in the meantime. Of course we can understand this feeling but we also know that a little more time, even an extra year, can make a really significant different to the quantum of a settlement.
An important role a lawyer can play for you while you wait until the time is right to settle your claim is to monitor your Accident Benefit claim. After an Ontario car accident, there is an entitlement to statutory accident benefits in most situations. If you qualify, these benefits cover your medical and rehabilitation expenses, visitors’ expenses, attendant care and housekeeping expenses, to name some of the available benefits.
In addition, the Accident Benefits provide weekly amounts as income replacement, caregiver expenses or non-earner benefits. These benefits are not a fortune. However, for many families, these amounts ease the financial burden of an accident, making it possible to “stick it out” until the claim for compensation is resolved.
In most circumstances having a lawyer monitor your Accident Benefits while also working on your claim for compensation from the at-fault driver will help you ensure that you get the maximum out of these benefits while the other case is in the works. If you are handling your case on your own, you will want to pay close attention to your Accident Benefits.
Here is an example of the importance of keeping an eye on your Accident Benefits entitlement. In the Spring of 2008, our law firm was contacted by the daughters of an 82-year-old retired brick layer, Claudio, who had been injured in a car accident 10 months earlier. Claudio did not speak English. Despite the fact that he notified his insurer about the accident and they handled his property damage claim, the insurance company never sent him information about his Accident Benefits. It took the daughters mentioning their dad’s struggles at home since the accident to alert the family doctor that accident benefits were there for him.
His family submitted the forms but still had a feeling that their dad was not getting all the benefits he needed.
When our firm audited Claudio’s Accident Benefit file, we found he had been short-changed to the tune of $49,000 in back payments and interest. One letter from my firm and the entire arrears were paid and Claudio’s weekly and monthly payments started.
In other words, there is often little to be gained and much to be lost when rushing to settle you injury claim. This is true whether you hire a personal injury lawyer or handle the case on your own. Take the time you need to build the case and understand your injuries