It's a tale as old as time: Jane Doe's car collides with John DoRight's truck because she wasn't paying attention. John's truck is severely damaged and he's also injured. He wants to file a claim with Jane's insurance company, but she's worried about what this will do to her rates and her coverage. She already has a few accidents on her record and this one could cause her insurer to drop her. Hoping to avoid this possibility, she tries to negotiate payment for damages without involving the insurance company.
If you're John in this situation, you should be wary of any at-fault driver who tries to make their own settlement offer for property damage and bodily injury after a car accident. Whether they're doing it because they want to keep their own rates from going up or because they don't have insurance, accepting a settlement before you seek medical attention and have your vehicle examined by an experienced mechanic and auto body repair expert is a huge risk.
The damage to your vehicle may be more than surface deep
The first and most obvious danger to accepting an on-the-spot settlement is the fact that the damage to your vehicle may be more extensive than what you see on the surface. Sure your fender is beat up, which may only cost you a few hundred to fix, but what about the integrity of your vehicle's frame? What if the impact has left your frame weakened, meaning your car or truck is totaled?
Without an expert inspection, you don't know if you need a few hundred dollars in repairs or a few thousand for a new vehicle.
You may not be experiencing the pain associated with the injury yet
In a lot of low-speed crashes, people fail to seek medical attention right away because they don't think they're injured. Unfortunately, many neck, spine and other injuries take days to develop symptoms. By that time, the other driver is long gone.
The fact of the matter is, more than likely, neither you nor the other driver is a doctor who is able to properly diagnose and calculate the cost of medical care for whiplash, herniated discs or any other crash-related injury.
Your injuries could be more extensive than you realize
Whether you were involved in a "fender bender" or a more serious collision, always seek medical attention afterwards. There are plenty of serious injuries you can't see, including herniated discs, organ damage and brain injuries. These types of injuries often require expensive tests, hospital stays and lost time from work. Certainly something most at-fault drivers will not be able to afford.
This is not something an at-fault driver is thinking about when making you an on-the-spot offer to pay for your injuries. They are trying to get out of the situation as quickly as possible, which means a high probability of getting a lowball offer that doesn't truly cover your needs.
The at-fault driver doesn't know the full extent of your needs and neither do you
Unless you or the at-fault driver is able to see into the future, chances are in the moments following an accident, you won't know how much compensation you'll really need. You don't know if you'll miss work because of your injuries or how much it will cost to fix or replace your vehicle. You need time to process what happened and have experts take a look at both you and your vehicle before you can even begin to assess what is a fair settlement and what isn't.
The truth of the matter is this: accepting a settlement for damages may be done at your own discretion, but it is unlikely it is your best choice immediately after a car accident. Instead, you should protect your best interests and hold off on making any decisions regarding compensation until after you've talked to someone more knowledgeable in accident claims, such as an experienced personal injury attorney.