Legal Question in Personal Injury in Oklahoma
Me and my 19 year old daughter were involved in an accident Sept. 7 2008. The at-fault driver was drunk and is currently awaiting trial in Arizona for unrelated offences. We have been offered a settlement from GEICO but I feel that the settlement offers are unfair due to the aggravating circustances of this case. Quick synopsis:
I missed 9 wks work (teacher)Aprx $5000
Medical Bills for me Apx$5000.00(broken ribs)
Daughter Full Time College student left with entire left arm scarred/ consultation with plastic surgeon estimates $5000-$15000
Her medical bill and she in uninsured $3000.00
When we presented the adjuster with the consutlation for surgery she stated " this is only a consultation and not a plan of action so I cant consider it" If i obtain a lawyer, will the fees only be taken from the "new" amount if any he/she negotiates? policy limit is $50000 and the drunk has NO assets!
1 Answer from Attorneys
You don't state what the offer is, but generally speaking there are some things you may want to explore or get a lawyer experienced at dealing with insurers in personal injury cases into the situation.
First, although there is not a legal rule of a multiple for damages, an example rule of thumb is that an insurer may pay 2, 3, 4, or 5 times the actual damages (including lost wages, medical, etc.). This multiple is in effect the pain and suffering compensation. I have seen multiples of over 10 in cases where the insurer was certain they didn't want to take their facts to trial.
Further, your insurance may kick in if you have uninsured motorist and/or medpay coverage. Also, even if you don't have it, but your insurance agent didn't offer it to you properly, you may get the benefit of the coverage by law (it's this kind of thing for which a lawyer may be very helpful to you).
Another thing insurers like to do is to pay only the amount of medical actually paid by your health insurance. In Oklahoma we have the collateral source rule, which says your damages are the full amount of medical charges; not the highly discounted amount your health insurer pays. Also, your health insurance (eg, Healthchoice) will have a lien on the settlement so they get what they paid back (it comes out of your settlement). You can negotiate with them also.
Navigating and negotiating through it is what an attorney does, and it is not uncommon for an insurer to effectively take advantage of someone without representation. You may be right; you may be getting low balled, but without an attorney the insurer is pretty sure you won't go to court.
If your total, actual damages are in the $20k range, and it's clear liability against the other driver, I think getting the full $50k policy limit is a reasonable objective; however, I do also believe you increase your odds of a higher settlement with representation.