How to settle your own case.


Warning!   These instructions do not include claims against a muncipality such as New York City, the police, trains, buses or public schools.   In those cases you MUST file a Notice of Claim within 90 days of your accident and should seek the advice of a lawyer.

You are almost always better off using a lawyer when dealing with an insurance company after an accident.   There are times, however, when you may not be able to get a lawyer to take your case.   If your claim is just for property damange, you might just be better off trying to settle your case without a lawyer.

Property Damage Claim

Injury Claim

Property Damage Claim:


If you were in a car accident and had damage to your car, but fortunately you were not hurt, then you may be better off trying to settle your claim without a lawyer.   If you can't get it settled, you can always talk to a lawyer later.
  1. Call your insurance company to see if you have collision insurance.   If so, your insurance company will pay you after they get an appraisal (minus your deductible).   They will even arbitrate the claim against the other driver and try to get your deductible back for you (but no guarantees).
  2. If you do not have collision insurance, contact the other driver's insurance company directly.
    • Get a copy of the police report directly from the precinct.   The report will only be kept at the precinct for 30 days.   After that, you will have to get it from Albany and that will take a lot more time. There is a $10.00 fee that you will pay at the police precinct.
    • If you do not already have the information for the other driver's insurance, look for the 3 digit "Ins Code" under the driver/owner information.  Go to the Insurance Department Search tool.   Enter the 3 digit code (if it begins with a "0" only enter the last 2 digits (011 would be entred 11) under "DMV Code."   From the result you can get the phone number for the company or their website information for a toll free number to make claims.
    • Call the number and give the information on the claim.   They may ask you to fax the police report.   That is fine to do as they would never pay out on your claim without a copy of the police report.   In explaining how the accident happened, make sure you explain why it was their insured's fault.   If they believe that it was not their insured's fault (if you rear-ended their car) they will offer you nothing.   If they believe that you were partially at fault (you were making a left hand turn) they will offer you only a portion of your claim.
    • The insurance company is likely to want to send an appraiser out to look at your car or have you bring the car into a facility to have it estimated.   Some insurance companies will send an adjuster to both estimate the damage and offer you a check on the spot.   In any event, they are entitled to examine your car, so be cooperative with arranging for the inspection.
    • If you think the insurance company will be unfair to you, before you negotiate a price with them, you should:
      • Get your own estimate of the damage (what it would cost to repair) and whether it can be repaired.   It is worth the time and cost (between $40-$75) to get a written estimate. It will help in your negotiations if your estimate differs from theirs and it is an absolute must if you have to sue.
      • Research the "Blue Book Value" for your car.   An insurance company will never offer you more than the value of the car, other than for expenses like towing, storage and rental.   Use the Kelly Blue Book used car value website to find the value range of your car for free.   If the damage to your car is higher than the Blue Book Value, then your car will be "totaled."
      • Get statements or letters from any witnesses that show it was the other driver's fault.
    • When the adjuster makes you an offer, ask her/him to break it down.   Compare their estimate to yours (item by item);   If they are saying that you were partly at fault, have them explain why;   if they are totalingy you car and their value is less than the highest Kelly Blue Book value for your car, ask why they have a lower figure?   These are the areas that you will argue over.
    • Don't be surprised if the insurance company gives you a fair price or agrees to up their price based on your estimates or Blue Book Value.   They know that being fair with you on a "property damage claim" is more economical than forcing you to start a lawsuit.   Unfortunately the same is not likely true if you have been injured in the accident.
  3. If you cannot agree on a fair price with the other driver's insurance company, and your total damage is $5,000.00 or less, consider suing the other driver in Small Claims Court.
  4. If you cannot agree on a fair price with the other driver's insurance company, and your total damage is more than $5,000.00, then you would have to sue in either New York City Civil Court (up to $25,000.00) or New York State Supreme Court (over $25,000.00).   It would be difficult to do so without a lawyer.
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Injury Claim:


When it comes to an injury claim, insurance companies are notorious for not dealing fairly with injured persons who try to settle their own claims.   Several years ago some insurance companies routinely sent letters to persons injured in accidents telling them to call the insurance company directly and suggesting that they didn't need a lawyer.   This practice was so frowned upon that the insurance companies had to stop sending the letter.

What you can expect is that the insurance company will constantly ask you for more information and then send you a letter saying that they are denying your claim.   When they do make an offer to an individual without an attorney, it is usually very small.

If you are unable to get a lawyer to take your case, your only option may be to try to handle the case yourself.  
  1. Start by getting the contact information for the insurance company.   You can do this by sending a demand letter to the potential defendant (driver or owner of other car, owner of business or building where you were injured).   You should hear from the insurance company within 3 weeks.   If you don't hear from them within 3 weeks, send a follow up letter.   For a car accident:
    • Get a copy of the police report directly from the precinct.   The report will only be kept at the precinct for 30 days.   After that you will have to get it from Albany and that will take a lot more time. There is a $10.00 fee that you will pay at the police precinct.
    • If you do not already have the information for the other driver's insurance, look for the 3 digit "Ins Code" under the driver/owner information.  : Go to the Insurance Department Search tool.   Enter the 3 digit code (if it begins with a "0" only enter the last 2 digits (011 would be entred 11) under "DMV Code."   From the result you can get the phone number for the company or their website information for a toll free number to make claims.
    • Call the number and give the information on the claim.   They may ask you to fax the police report.   That is fine to do as they would never pay out on your claim without a copy of the police report.   In explaining how the accident happened, make sure you explain why it was their insured's fault.   If they believe that it was not their insured's fault (if you rear-ended their car) they will offer you nothing.   If they believe that you were partially at fault (you were making a left hand turn) they will offer you only a portion of your claim.
  2. The insurance company is likely to want to get a recorded or written statement from you.   While that would not usually be done if you had a lawyer, it is part of the process if you are handling the case yourself.   The insurance company will need to know what happened from your view and what your injuries are.
  3. They will also want all of your medical records for treatment from the accident.   They will send you "HIPPA" authorizations to obtain those records as well as your employment records if you lost time from work.   NEVER sign blank authorizations.   Only sign authorizations with your Doctor or Hospital information filled in, including the dates (time period) of the treatment.   Cross off any portion of the authorization which give the insurance company permission to "speak" with your doctors.
  4. You should get copies of your own medical records and bills so that you will be able to answer any questions which the adjuster has regarding your records.
  5. Get statements or letters from any witnesses that show it was the other driver's fault.
  6. If the adjuster makes you an offer, ask her/him to break it down.   Find out what they consider the total value of your injury.   If they are saying that you were partly at fault, have them explain why.   These are the areas that you will argue over.
  7. Don't be surprised if the insurance company refuses to give you any offer.   They know that if you do not have a lawyer you are probably having trouble getting a lawyer to take your case.   On the other hand, they also know that paying you a small amount (usually less than $5,000.00) may be more economical than forcing you to start a lawsuit.   If you're getting nowhere and it would be enough for you, tell them that you can settle for less than $5,000.00.   Their first offer may be only $500.00 but it can be a way to get the negotiations moving.
  8. If you cannot agree on a settlment and you are willing to limit your claim to $5,000.00 or less, consider suing in Small Claims Court.
  9. If you will only settle for more than $5,000.00, then you would have to sue in either New York City Civil Court (up to $25,000.00) or New York State Supreme Court (over $25,000.00).   It would be difficult to do so without a lawyer.