After being hurt in an accident, if the accident was someone else’s fault, their insurance company might bend over backwards to pay your medical bills and make sure that you are “taken care of”. This might also include reimbursing you for time lost at work or offering to fix your car, if the result of a car accident. If your bills are all being paid, you might wonder if you even need to get a lawyer involved.
Do I need a lawyer if my medical bills are being taken care of?
It depends. The number one job of insurance adjusters is to protect the company’s bottom line. It is simple math in that the more money that they have to pay out to accident victims, the less profit the company makes. This may seem obvious, but you need to be aware of this and not mistake their offers of compensation as generosity. If you fell down at a place of business because of something that the business owner did wrong (for example, not repairing a faulty floor tile) or you were rear ended while sitting at a stop light, the insurance company for the person or company who is responsible might make an immediate offer to pay your bills. When this happens, they know that they are responsible but they probably also know that they are liable for even more money than what they are paying out. Often times, the insurance company will wish to deal with you directly to accomplish different things on their agenda.
Why would the at fault party’s insurance offer to pay my medical bills?
There could be a few reasons why your bills are being 'so kindly' paid by the faulty party's insurance company, right at the outset:
- To get rid of you. Yes, the insurance company wants to settle your claim before you know exactly how badly you were hurt. It is never a good idea to agree to anything or make any decisions before you are completely finished with your medical treatment, keeping in mind that in most instances, Illinois does only gives you two years in which to file a lawsuit (should that become necessary). This is usually enough time to finish your medical treatment or at the very least to know what hurdles you will face going forward, physically. The insurance company will try to rush your claim before you are either fully recovered or have the chance to talk to a lawyer and find out the full extent of your legal rights.
- To establish a relationship with you. The insurance adjuster will be kind and try to develop rapport with you over the phone in order to get you to like and trust them. The hope then is that you would think twice before asking for all of the compensation that you might be entitled to, if, after all, the sweet lady on the phone has gone out of her way for you… NO. No one is going out of their way for you in offering to pay your medical bills, etc. It is part of the insurance adjuster’s job to make you happy so that you will settle for either compensation of only your out-of-pocket bills, or a small token sum for your pain and suffering. This is more likely to happen if the person that you are dealing with is nice to you. Just remember who the insurance adjuster works for. Not you.
- To make it more difficult for you to pursue a complete claim later on. By paying your bills at the outset, the insurance company is drastically reducing the likelihood that you will file a claim through a lawyer, later on. The reasoning would be that since all of your bills got paid, why not let the rest of it just go? The rest of it would be compensation for pain and suffering, etc…
Let the Insurance Company Get Off Cheap?
If your injuries were not that serious and the accident ends up being no big deal with minimal doctor’s visits or pain, you might be okay with just having all of your medical bills covered / car fixed. It may not be worth getting an attorney for- as most attorneys will charge a 1/3 fee- well worth it in most instances but not always. However, whether or not to have a lawyer pursue everything that you could be legally entitled to is a decision that should be your carefully thought out decision and not one that you feel pressured to make by an insurance adjuster, or anyone else. If the accident was their fault and your injuries are a direct result of the accident, you may be entitled to the following:
- Payment of medical bills
- Lost Wages from work
- Out of Pocket costs like prescription medication
- Pain and Suffering
- Loss of a normal life (not being able to do what you used to do, or do it as easily, even if only temporarily)
- Disfigurement (example: scars)
- Ambulance Fees
- Medical Equipment (example: hot packs, crutches, neck braces, orthopedic shoe)
By dealing directly with their insurance company, you will probably only be offered your out of pocket costs or, if you are offered more, they will want you to sign a release for it so that you can never request anything additional, even if the pain lingers or more medical treatment becomes necessary. There really is no magic formula for calculating what your claim is worth, but if you let the insurance company pay your bills at the outset, you will have a more difficult time recovering for the rest of it later. The better course of action to take, especially if you are still being treated for your injuries, might be to wait and make a claim for everything all at once. An attorney can help you present everything to the insurance company as a whole, making sure that you are not stuck with an insultingly low settlement offer or only payment of medical bills. Whatever you do, do not sign anything without having an attorney review it. The downside, of course, is that your medical bills will still need to be dealt with- usually via your health insurance or out of your own pocket, with no guarantee of ultimately "winning" it back, especially if fault is not clear cut.
What if the Insurance Company has already started paying my bills?
If you believe that there may be more medical bills coming, you may want to instruct your health care provider to NOT bill the insurance company but rather, submit the bills to your own health insurance company for payment. Stop all communication with the insurance company, as they are highly trained to pursue only their own agenda. Before doing anything though, you should speak with a lawyer since every situation is going to be different. We can discuss where things may stand for you, if you were hurt in or around the Chicago area and would like to know your options. By the way, you may also be interested in reading about how lost wages are dealt with in a personal injury case, if you are off of work and cannot pay your bills.