A reader asked: “If I smashed my arm (in a car crash) and it broke, can I get pain and suffering money from ICBC (without a lawyer)?” You bet you can. It’s as easy as pie. In fact, ICBC will lay out the red carpet, pour you a drink and hand you a platter of nibblies to choose from.
A broken arm is not a great example. It is exceedingly rare that anyone breaks an arm in a car crash. It is even more rare for a person to suffer a broken arm in a crash without suffering other injuries as well. It doesn’t matter, though, what the injury happens to be. The process is the same.
The first step is informing ICBC about your claim, which is commonly done through the “Dial-A-Claim” system. An initial appointment will be set up with an insurance adjuster. The adjuster will interview you at some length and will prepare quite a detailed statement for you to sign. You will also be asked to sign a claim form and forms that authorize your doctor and employer to discuss your confidential medical and employment information with the adjuster.
Let’s assume that you have the common, every day, garden variety broken arm. It sits in a cast for six weeks and then you regain the full use of your arm with no lasting ill effects in short order. Let’s also assume that you did not lose any wages because you work as a one armed paper hanger. Do you have any idea what that means? Google it.
Imagine hanging wall paper with one arm. I will also assume that you did not incur any expenses because physiotherapy was not required and you suffered through the pain with no medication. You haven’t lost any money as a result of the crash. Your losses have been the pain and the loss of some enjoyment of your life for a couple or so months. That’s the “pain and suffering money” that the reader was asking about.
At some point, the adjuster will approach you to see about settling your claim. Typically, the adjuster will ask you to make the ¬ first move and will ask you what you want to be paid in settlement of your claim. That’s about the most basic of negotiating strategies. You need not take the bait. The adjuster will make you an offer if you don’t come up with one. I can almost guarantee you that ICBC’s ¬first offer will not be their last. If you refuse it, you will be invited to make a counter-offer.
The adjuster will then typically come back to you with ICBC’s “bottom line,” explaining that it took going to his or her boss to get that offer, and that it is as much as he or she is authorized to pay on the claim. In order to convince you of the fairness of the offer, the adjuster may tell you that it is at the top end of the range that ICBC pays for such claims.
There will be no recommendation that you consult a lawyer to get a few minutes of legal advice to ensure that the offer is fair, even though the adjuster knows that most lawyers will provide that advice free of charge. If you choose to accept the offer, you will be presented with a cheque and a release so quickly that your head will spin. How’s that for easy peasy!
I invite you to follow that exact scenario with two exceptions. One, meet with a personal injury lawyer for a free initial consultation before your first meeting with the adjuster so that you can bene¬fit from important advice at the very beginning of the claim process, advice that should maximize your potential for a fair result. Two, meet with a different personal injury lawyer for another free initial consultation (assuming the ¬first one is tired of giving free legal advice), to ¬ find out whether or not ICBC’s offer is fair.
Without legal advice, how would you know if fair compensation is $5,000 or $50,000? Is it cheating to ask for a free consultation if you have no intention of retaining the lawyer? I don’t think so. In fact, I encourage you to go to a couple of personal injury lawyers each time so that you get well rounded advice.
Lawyers offer that service because of our experience that when people find out how badly they are being screwed, they often decide to get a lawyer on board to make things fair. Do you have to worry about stepping onto the lawyer’s sticky web, with the lawyer poised to pounce and wrap you up in his or her silken rope, only to let you free when you sign up a retainer agreement? I wouldn’t permit you to sign a retainer agreement without first taking it away from my office so that you could carefully consider your options.
I doubt that I am unique.
Published February 8, 2009 in the Kelowna Capital News