How to Kill Your Personal Injury Claim
By Augustus F. Brown, Esq.
A recently retired automobile liability insurance adjuster was asked by an interviewer to share some helpful hints from his long practice (now over!), that could help injured parties (usually the plaintiffs in a personal injury lawsuit) recover more, or better, or even — at all!
The adjuster smiled, and without hesitation listed what he called "the two biggest mistakes that plaintiffs make" in the process of settling a car wreck or personal injury insurance claim.
When I read the interview, I knew he was right. So here are these warnings — learn them! Heeding these warnings could save you a lot of problems (and money!).
Mistake #1: The Social Media Smoking Gun
Nowadays some folks think that posting photographs of themselves is a fun and pleasant activity; just something amusing for their friends, family, and themselves to see.
A lot of people do it so often they don't even think about it — wherever they are, whatever they are doing, they "snap" a shot with their smart phone — or even hand their phone to a passer-by to take a picture. Immediately thereafter, they post the picture to social media.
Sounds innocent, right? But I have seen instances where my clients ruined their recovery by posting what they thought was "just an innocuous picture."
As the retired adjuster said, "Posting ANYTHING gives ammunition to car liability insurance companies to use against the injured party in settlement negotiations — or in the courtroom."
For example, someone who has suffered a serious knee injury posts a picture of himself a couple of weeks later squatting on the sidelines of his son's soccer game, or dancing at a wedding, or jumping off the diving board at a swimming pool. Normal stuff, right?
But in court, it's dynamite against the injured party, who may explain that "sure, I did that, but I paid the price for it the next day and three days later!" Alas — neither the adjuster nor a jury will see it that way, because when it comes to "soft tissue injuries," seeing a photo of a happy person evidently having full use of his knee just killed the claim for damages!
The moral of this story: If you are injured, stay off all social media until your claim is resolved. TOTALLY!
Mistake #2: Waiting Too Long To Start the Recovery Process
In words of the great poet John Donne, "Never ask for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee." And what it's tolling is the deadline for filing your claim!
The first and most important step to enable a successful injury claim is to make sure to begin the process of filing your suit within the Statute of Limitations. In Maryland, that typically means within three years of the date of the accident or injury. Period! And not a day later!
Even if the injured party (the plaintiff) has not reached maximum medical improvement, his or her legal right to sue is not extended. Also, a plaintiff must make sure suit is filed early enough so that additional parties can be added to the suit, if the defendant's insurance company alleges they are responsible.
There are unusual circumstances in which the statute of limitations for filing may be extended — for example, for a minor, or if the court holds that the three year period begins on the day the plaintiff became aware it.
But these are unusual. Don't count on anything unusual — get to your attorney and have your attorney file your claim WELL BEFORE the Statute of Limitations bars you from recovery.
Otherwise — as the retired adjuster said, "the bell has tolled," and the insurance company is "completely off the hook." No matter how worthy your case, or how terrible your injury, your suit will be dismissed.
The moral of this story: A Plaintiff must always resolve a claim in a timely manner, and must make sure all necessary filings are done within the Statue of Limitations.
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