Recently a young lady came to our firm to seek our assistance after a car accident.
Her injuries were serious and there was no doubt that the other driver was at fault. Since her medical bills were paid by her employer's self-funded health insurance plan, there was a significant lien attached to the case. There wasn't going to be a lot left over for her pain and suffering and lost wages after the medical bills and liens were paid.
Here's what she said:
I have settled with the other driver's insurance company. They were so nice. They told me that $50,000 was all the insurance they had and they got me a check in just a couple of weeks.
[Hint: quick settlements without review by an experienced personal injury attorney. Good idea?]
She wanted to now sue for her uninsured motorist benefits. You see, she had done the smart thing and had bought car insurance which provided her with $500,000 of uninsured motorist benefits. (We recommend $1,000,000 in coverage, but this policy was pretty good.)
She now wanted to bring a claim against her own car insurance company for the uninsured driver benefits she had paid for.
We had to break the bad news to her.
We think you can settle small car accident cases on your own, without an attorney. I've even written a free book on how to settle your case.
In Virginia, you cannot settle with the at fault driver, take his insurance company's check, sign a release and then make another claim against your own insurance company.
Why? Because by releasing the at fault driver you have prevented the uninsured motorist carrier from being able to exercise its rights of subrogation. In other words, once you settled any part of the claim you are DONE.
You might not always need an attorney but its almost always a good idea to run your case past an experienced, board certified attorney (here's 9 questions to ask to make sure you get the right attorney for your case) before signing any papers. The insurance adjuster isn't going to teach you what you need to know, and that's a guarantee.
By our estimates she left $100,000 sitting on the table. Ouch.