Factors that affect compensation for minor car accidents
Minor car collisions typically involve an injured person filing an insurance claim to recover compensation for their out of pocket expenses and pain and suffering. Out of pocket expenses – such as medical bills and prescription costs – are usually the easy part. But proving pain and suffering in a minor auto accident can be challenging. How do you prove your level of pain and suffering? Is it possible to get a fair settlement in a minor crash without hiring an attorney?
This article discusses minor collisions, settlements, and how to obtain proper compensation for your damages and injuries.
Minor Car Accident Injuries
Car accidents are a top reason for injuries in the United States. There were 5.6 million car collisions reported in this country in 2012. There were 1.6 million injuries of various types, and 30,000 deaths.
While a ‘minor car accident’ may be relatively small in dollar terms, these events still can leave you with real injuries that take weeks or months of recovery. Some of the most common car accident injuries include the ones listed below.
- Head and back: Even in a minor accident, it is possible for drivers and passengers to hit their heads on the steering wheel or dashboard. This can cause anything from a minor concussion in fender bender with injury to a serious brain injury in more serious crashes. Back injuries can include pulled muscles, herniated discs or even a spinal cord injury in serious crashes.
- Neck and chest: The most well-known ‘minor’ car accident injury is whiplash. This is where a sudden neck and head movement, often in a rear end strike, causes damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck.
- Other damages: It also is common for there to be injuries to arms, feet, and legs in minor accidents.
- Emotional trauma: This type of accident can leave the victim with mental and emotional pain that makes living and working normally very challenging.
After a car accident, it is important to decide if you want to file an insurance claim on your own or hire an attorney. This topic is addressed further in this article. But it largely comes down to the extent of your injuries and the level of pain and suffering you endured.
The Legal Definition of Pain and Suffering
Pain and suffering is defined as the physical and/or emotional pain that you experience after a collision. For instance, if you suffer a broken arm in a car accident that another driver caused, you could receive compensation for the pain of the arm breaking, the treatments it required, the ongoing discomfort you felt, and the limitations that having a broken arm imposes on your life. If the broken arm leads to a long term injury that limits your activities, you may also be entitled to funds for being temporarily or permanently disabled.
Pain and Suffering for Minor Collisions in No Fault States
Most US states have a fault-based system for liability in minor car accidents. This means that the person who is responsible for the crash is found negligent. They are financially responsible for the damages and injuries caused by the incident.
However, there currently are some states that have a ‘no fault’ legal system. This means that you may not make a personal injury claim and get compensation for pain and suffering, unless the medical costs are above a certain level. This amount will vary by state. Other states can require the claim to be due to a ‘serious injury.’ That definition will be different by state.
Current no fault states are Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Utah. In these states, you are required to use your own auto insurance coverage to obtain compensation. For minor accident injuries, your claim is handled entirely with your own carrier. But you cannot obtain pain and suffering compensation in a no fault claim. If you want compensation for pain and suffering, you have to hire an attorney.
In other states, standard liability rules are in effect. This means that if you can prove that the other person caused your minor collision injuries and/or damages, you may receive compensation from that person. This compensation usually is from their auto insurance policy, including potential pain and suffering compensation.
How To Obtain a Pain and Suffering Amount
Pain and suffering is subjective in car accidents. Overestimating it is common. This can lead to your claim being denied. So it is important to make a rational estimate of the dollar amount of your pain and suffering.
Insurance companies are experts at making this calculation – and they are especially good at low balling the figure and getting you to accept it! The insurance adjuster will review how severe and permanent your injuries are and use that to determine how much pain and suffering compensation you deserve. This means you will get a higher level of compensation if you broke your leg rather than only bruised the knee.
The insurance company will probably multiply your medical bills by a figure from 1-5 to determine your pain and suffering compensation. The more serious your injuries, the bigger the multiplier that is used.
It is important to make a fair judgment about your pain and suffering. This is a judgment that is helped by having a minor car accident lawyer. Attorneys in these cases have a good feel for what your pain and suffering is worth, based upon prior case results in your area of the country.
Average Minor Collision Settlement Amounts
It is impossible to predict exactly what the settlement or verdict amount will be for your minor auto collision. But following are some recent examples of average minor collision settlements:
- A mother and two children were car passengers where they were rear ended by someone who they slid on ice. The wreck caused minor damage; the defense attorney hired an engineer who stated that the accident impact was only 4 MPH. Thus, they claimed that the plaintiffs could not be hurt. The insurance carrier offered only $61,000 but the jury returned a $315,000 verdict in this minor accident case.
- Client was rear ended with little property damage. The responsible driver’s insurance company denied the claim for property damage and injuries. The client was willing to settle for just $5000, but the adjuster offered a paltry $3000. The case went to trial and the man won a $224,000 verdict.
- Client was struck from the side as she was driving near a mall. She had $38,000 in chiropractor bills for a back injury. The other driver’s insurance company declined to make a settlement offer. Jury verdict was for $249,000.
- Client was hurt when her head hit the driver’s side window in a crash. She suffered a minor soft tissue injury in the neck, but she continued to have headaches for weeks. The insurance company denied responsibility. The arbitrator awarded $249,000.
All car accident cases are different. But these case examples show that sometimes insurance companies will offer as little as possible or nothing at all in a minor collision case. However, when the plaintiff hires an attorney and the case goes to trial, the result can be very different. Generally, juries can be more sympathetic to car accident victims, especially ones they feel are being short changed by the insurance company. Whether you should or should not hire an attorney for a minor accident is a judgment you need to make. It also is possible for the jury to award you nothing.
Should You Hire a Minor Car Accident Lawyer?
Some minor car collision cases may be tempting to handle on your own through the insurance company or small claims court. Other times, you may want to consult a minor car accident lawyer. But how do you know when? After all, trying to handle your own minor fender bender at first and then hiring a personal injury attorney later could complicate the case. Thus it is important to decide early on how you want to handle the case.
If the car accident has minor damages and no/very minor injuries, you may decide to file the claim with your or the other person’s insurance company. This can possibly work if you are comfortable negotiating with the insurance adjuster for your or the other person’s policy. But be aware that insurance adjusters are skilled in getting the layman to take as small a settlement as possible. For those who lack negotiating experience in an accident claim, legal representation is often helpful.
Also, if your minor car accident has substantial property damage, and your suffer injuries that go beyond a few doctors’ visits, it is frequently better to hire an experienced attorney to represent your legal rights. After all, attorneys for car accident cases handle the complex legal and negotiating aspects every day.
As you weigh whether or not to get an attorney, remember that most minor collision attorneys work on a contingency basis. This means that the attorney does not receive compensation unless they successfully settle your case. Therefore, there usually is no cost to have your car accident case reviewed by an experienced attorney. An attorney working on contingency will not accept the case unless they are highly confident they can obtain a fair settlement or verdict for your minor collision injuries.