When a person is involved in a car accident that was not their fault, they have the right to pursue legal action for the damages they sustained in the wreck. The average car accident settlement can help victims pay for medical bills, recoup costs associated with the time taken off of work to recover from their injuries, and even compensate them for the pain and suffering they endured.
Unfortunately, though, the road to an auto accident settlement isn’t always easy. A personal injury attorney can help ensure the smoothest course forward for a car accident victim. While the average auto accident settlement is resolved fairly quickly, others can drag out for months and require multiple court dates. The vast majority of claims, however, settle out of court. Victims should seek advice from a personal injury attorney to ensure the best possible outcome for their case.
Depending on the state in which the accident occurred, the statute of limitations may be surprisingly short. Victims may have between one and six years to file a lawsuit against the person who caused their wreck, and that time begins the day the accident happens. Once the clock runs out, the victim will no longer be able to pursue compensation for the damages they suffered.
What to Expect from the Auto Accident Claim Process
The auto accident claim process involves multiple steps towards understanding exactly how the incident occurred and ensuring the victim is fairly compensated for their losses. Because every case is different, not every claim process works in exactly the same way. Still, victims of car accidents can generally expect the following steps to take place on their journey towards justice:
After an accident, multiple parties have stake in a complete investigation into what happened. The personal injury attorney working for the victim will seek information supporting their client’s claim that they were indeed not at fault in any way. The insurance company will search for reasons to deny a payout. The police, too, will perform a thorough investigation to ensure the person responsible for the wreck is appropriately charged.
The official police report is often the starting point for a car accident investigation. It should include basic information about what transpired, the number of passengers in the vehicles involved, witness statements and damages sustained in the wreck. Though not the final word on what actually occurred to cause the accident, the police report is an important document that can be used to support the victim’s claim.
Photographs taken at the scene of the accident can also be incredibly useful when pursuing a claim. Victims should try to snap photos of the damage done to their vehicle as well as images of the other cars involved. Forensics can determine a lot from the simple transfer of paint and the shape of the dents in a car.
Witness statements can be worth their weight in gold. Given how common smartphones are in today’s world, it behooves victims to seek out statements from witnesses and capture them on video. Whether the witnesses were there for the lead up to the wreck or simply saw the aftermath, their take on the incident can shed light on why it occurred in the first place. Taking their statement, full name and contact information is a good way for victims to advocate for themselves, but should not supersede the importance for victims to seek medical attention if they are injured.
When victims are indeed injured in an accident, they may opt to share their medical records with investigators. This process usually requires the injured victim to sign a release agreeing to share the private medical information. The records can provide valuable insight into the damage done in the accident. It can also give the insurance company an idea of the impact that the other driver’s negligence had on the victim’s life. When injuries are catastrophic, the resulting settlement should take the losses into account.
Investigators will be eager to get the negligent driver’s take on what led to the wreck. Their perspective can offer valuable insight even if it seemingly conflicts with the victim’s statement. As they say, there are two sides to every story. It’s up to investigators to determine the truth.
Finally, information about the area in which the accident occurred can be incredibly helpful for investigators. Details on the road’s traffic pattern, habits of motorists in the area and weather and visibility at the time of the wreck can provide investigators with much-needed context. Understanding how and why the incident occurred where it did can be the missing puzzle piece for investigators.
Seeking Expert Opinions
An investigation is not limited to just the people and places connected directly to the incident in question. Experts can offer different perspectives that can be used to support a victim’s claims. A personal injury attorney may connect a car accident victim with several different kinds of industry experts to gain even more information about the events that led to the wreck.
Doctors, of course, are the experts most traditionally thought of when a car accident investigation occurs. The personal physician attending to the victim can provide specific details about their injuries and offer opinions on how the wreck will impact them for the rest of their life. Their thoughts on the treatment process and ongoing needs of the victim can help inform settlement costs.
The attending physician of the victim isn’t the only medical expert with valuable insight into the case. Personal injury lawyers will frequently work with doctors who specialize in expert testimony for car accident cases. These doctors may never personally treat the victim, but can offer a comprehensive and holistic perspective with authority. Such medical experts can help attorneys ensure the full weight of the victim’s plight.
Other experts may be called in to help investigators understand exactly how the incident occurred. Accident reconstruction specialists recreate accidents digitally for unique insight into what happened. Their talents are especially useful in cases that are confusing or unclear. These specialists take a scientific approach to understanding what led to a wreck. Their blended knowledge of physics, engineering and law enforcement can help clarify both the cause and effect of the at-fault driver’s actions.
Similarly, civil and mechanical engineers can be called in for their specialist opinions on the car accident. In incidents where the vehicle malfunctioned or the road’s condition played a role in the wreck, these experts can help. Their ability to look at complex problems and explain the science behind the collision can clarify fault. Partially completed road construction, gravel-laden streets and brake failures can all contribute to a wreck and can all be explained by an expert engineer.
Understanding Insurance Policies
Depending on which state the crash occurred in, victims may be required to seek compensation for damages through the other driver’s insurance company. If the driver does not have car insurance, the victim is instead required to go through their own insurance company for compensation. This occurs in states with “at fault” car insurance requirements. In some cases, the victim may file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company, but the at-fault driver’s policy may not cover all of the damages sustained in the accident. At that point, it is up to the victim to seek additional compensation from their own insurance company to make up the difference between the coverage offered and their needs.
In “no fault” states, car accident victims must file their injury claim through their own car insurance company. Even when the other driver is completely to blame for the accident, victims may not file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. In some cases, this can causes the victim’s insurance rates to go up through no fault of their own.
A majority of car accident claims are settled without a lawsuit being filed. A personal injury lawyer can work with the insurance company to negotiate a settlement offer that is appropriate given the amount of damage done in the wreck. In some cases, no negotiation is needed and a lawyer can recommend taking the insurance company’s offer.
Many times, though, the insurance company will be eager to pay off an injured victim before they can seek the guidance of an attorney. Victims who agree to the first amount offered by the insurance company often regret their decision. Such compensation often comes with a binding agreement not to pursue any further payments related to the accident. Should injuries stemming from the crash worsen, for example, the victim will no longer be able to seek damages from the at-fault driver or their insurance company.
This highlights the importance of speaking with a lawyer after a car accident. Even if a victim does not want to sue the at-fault driver for the damage done in the wreck, an attorney should be consulted. Having a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer advocating for the victim’s legal right to compensation can be truly invaluable. They know the insurance company’s strategies and can serve as a savvy ally for the car accident victim.
Writing a Demand Letter
An attorney can help victims pen a demand letter outlining the damages they sustained in the accident. The letters often start by restating the facts surrounding the incident. Reminding the insurance company and the at-fault driver that the victim shares no blame in the incident is a good way to start advocating for an appropriate settlement. While it’s important to include all the facts in the demand letter, it’s crucial that the tone stays professional and does not exaggerate or include inflammatory language.
Information about the victim’s injuries, their prognosis and the repairs needed for their vehicle is usually included in this letter. In fact, including copies of the police report, medical bills and mechanic costs with the demand letter may be a good idea. By creating an itemized list of all of the costs associated with the wreck, victims and their lawyers outline the damage done. Everything from the cost of ambulance ride to the time off of work required to recuperate should be included on this list. Even the intangible losses like pain and suffering can be listed along with a requested amount of compensation.
Though some victims may be eager for their settlement, it’s important not to send a demand letter until they are near the end of their medical treatment. Waiting for a doctor to declare the victim stable is a good idea, as it is easy to underestimate the cost of future medical expenses before the victim is out of the woods. Known as maximum medical improvement, or MMI, this occurs when treatment is plateauing and improvements are no longer expected. Once a victim reaches MMI, they should then be prepared to send out their demand letter. Of course, victims should consult with an attorney before sending a demand letter.
The claims process can start long before MMI is reached, though. A car accident claim notification letter can be sent to the insurance company to let them know the victim intends to pursue an injury claim. While they recuperate, they are legally obligated to mitigate the damage done in the wreck, so victims should avoid activities that may make their injury worse. By following doctor’s orders and carefully tracking the care they receive, victims set themselves up for the best legal outcome possible.
Settlements are negotiated between the insurance company and the victim’s lawyer. In many cases, the insurance company will only negotiate with an attorney, making finding a lawyer of the utmost importance. The negotiation process can take several months, which may seem like a lifetime for some victims. Even in the face of negotiations that are dragging on seemingly forever, it’s important to keep things professional and to stay as calm as possible.
Though rare, it’s possible for insurance companies to reassign or misplace a claim. Victims waiting to hear about their settlements should keep a calendar of their communications with the company. Should they go more than a few weeks without being contacted, the victim should reach out for an update. By remaining patient but firm with the insurance company, victims ensure that their claim is being handled.
Accepting the Offer
Ultimately, it is up to the victim whether or not to accept the insurance company’s offer. To decide, they should look at how far apart the demand and the offer are and how likely it is that they would receive more in court. Keeping in mind the costs associated with filing a lawsuit, they may opt to accept the offer even if it is less than what they feel they deserve. The time it will take to go through this process, along with the uncertainty of the outcome should also be taken into account.
A good personal injury lawyer will offer their opinion on whether or not to accept an offer. Because they handle car accident claim settlements on a daily basis, they will have a good idea of how a lawsuit may or may not work out. At the end of the day, though, accepting an auto accident claim settlement is the decision of the victim.
Rejecting an Offer
If a victim decides the offer is simply too low to accept, their attorney can help them draft a letter demanding a higher amount. The letter should include reasons why a higher settlement is required and demand for a specific amount. Counter offers should be lower than the initial demand to indicate that the victim is willing to compromise. Still, it is important not to sacrifice too much in the name of flexibility. Reduce the settlement too much and the victim risks the insurance company quickly accepting the offer and refusing to continue negotiations.
If an insurance company refuses to settle on a fair amount, it may constitute bad faith insurance practices. The victim may choose to pursue legal action against the company. Contacting an attorney who specializes in litigating bad faith insurance claims is highly recommended.
Finding an Auto Accident Attorney
Whether you’re in need of some basic guidance from a car accident lawyer or need to pursue legal action after a bad faith insurance claim, Lawsuit Info Center can connect you with the top lawyers in the United States. Free, no risk legal consultations are just a phone call away, and there is never any obligation to hire an attorney. Call 877-205-4877 today to connect with a lawyer specializing in your area of need.