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Car Accident Settlement Guide
Car Accident Settlements: Everything You Need to Know
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Car accidents are stressful. Even when you’re not at fault, the aftermath of a collision on the road can be trying. Whether you’ve suffered serious injuries, damage to your vehicle, or psychological trauma, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Often, there needs to be a discussion about a car accident settlement.
Here is our comprehensive guide to Car Accident Settlements. We aim to help you:
- Determine what damages can be included in your auto accident settlement.
- Collect and document evidence in your favor.
- Acknowledge any contributory negligence.
- Understand the ways in which insurance companies frequently negotiate down car accident settlements.
- Learn about average car accident settlements by injury, car accident type, and more.
While conversations with insurance claims adjusters may seem difficult, it’s important not to back down on what you feel you’re owed. They say knowledge is power, and that’s especially true when your health, safety, and finances are on the line. It may be tempting to take the first offer that an insurance company sends your way. Do so, and you’ll likely never be able to pursue a personal injury claim for the damages you suffered ever again.
By understanding the Car Accident Settlement process, you’ll prevent this kind of mistake and ensure your damages are covered. Whether you take on the insurance company with an injury attorney or by yourself, it pays to know what you’re up against.
How Can I Maximize My Car Accident Settlement?
The day after a car accident can be nearly as shocking as the collision itself. Depending on the severity of the crash, you may awaken to broken bones, contusions, damage to your car and more. While the previous day might have felt like a bad dream, awakening the morning after can feel like you’re stuck in a nightmare.
Insurance companies know how stressful the days and weeks following a wreck can be for people, and they use this knowledge to their benefit. When all you want is for things to go back to normal, the insurance company may offer up what feels like relief on a silver platter. It may be incredibly tempting, but we urge all accident victims to give the settlement a second glance before accepting.
Here are a few checkpoints to reach on the road to a fair auto accident settlement:
It is always wise to take photographs of the scene of the accident and your injuries. If you can, take pictures of where the cars ended up after the crash, as well as the damages to both cars at the scene.
Good photographs are an excellent piece of evidence that your lawyer can use in negotiating a better car accident settlement. If the case goes to trial, having good photographs will act as a strong visual for the jury.
Reaching Maximum Medical Improvement
Once you’ve signed for a cash settlement for your car accident, you’ll never again be able to pursue compensation for your damages. You may not even realize the full extent of your injuries before you’re offered a settlement. While it’s reasonable to want to settle and put the whole thing behind you, taking the first offer extended to you isn’t always the best course of action. Most attorneys will advise you to wait until you’ve reached something called Maximum Medical Improvement, or MMI, before accepting a car accident settlement.
Should you sustain a traumatic brain injury in the wreck, for example, you’ll want to take your time healing. It can take many months to see specialists, have surgery, take medication and get physical therapy before you have a true idea of what a life post-accident will cost. While it’s impossible to predict the future, you’ll have a much clearer picture once the dust of the collision has settled.
Maintain Accurate Records
If you were in a collision it is important to keep accurate records of the accident. You need to collect police reports. Also important are your medical treatment documents and witness statements.
The other driver’s auto insurance company will try to collect information to use against you. This would leave you at a major disadvantage if you failed to keep correct documentation.
When you hire your lawyer, she will finish this key investigation for you. Your lawyer will gather and present all necessary records when you go to settlement.
Get A Good Personal Injury Attorney
After an auto accident resulting in injuries, it is important to immediately get in touch with a good personal injury attorney. Also, never speak to the other person’s auto insurance company until you have an attorney. If you say the wrong thing to the adjuster, you could end up losing much of the compensation you deserve.
A skilled attorney will handle the complex negotiations with insurance adjusters, ensuring that you receive proper compensation.
If you do not yet have an attorney, use our website to help you find a good personal injury attorney in your state.
File the Case Quickly
Every state has a statute of limitations for when you can file a personal injury claim. This can range from one to four years from the date of the accident. But the sooner you file the better. Some of the strength of your claim could be from the testimony of witnesses. The sooner that you get the case filed with the evidence fresh, the more likely you can get a good car accident settlement.
You also should give your attorney plenty of time to build your case.
Create a Demand Letter
Once you have a good idea of what your accident has cost you, it’s time to create a car accident settlement demand letter. Typically, this kind of document is created by an experienced car accident attorney. It represents the best chance – outside of a courtroom – for a victim to advocate for themselves. Demand letters allow you to set the stage for negotiations.
In the letter, you’ll outline the precise events immediately before, during and after the accident. You’ll want to point out the mistakes made by the at-fault driver, any actions you tried to use in preventing a collision, and a detailed account of the crash itself. Then, you’ll list out your damages, including medical bills and lost wages. An attorney can recommend the best place to begin negotiations; in many cases, the first figure offered by a car accident lawyer is much higher than is reasonably expected for the settlement. Starting high allows room for negotiation.
Negotiate an Offer
Don’t be surprised if your initial demands are met with a lowball offer. Insurance companies exist, first and foremost, to create profits for shareholders. They will do everything they can to save money paying out claims and settlements. Thankfully, a good lawyer will be skilled in negotiation and help you get the largest settlement possible.
While there may be some back and forth during this process, it’s important to be patient. Should negotiations stall, you may want to seek additional evidence of the impact your injuries have had on your life. A letter from a doctor or photos of your injuries may bolster your argument. A polite response with additional evidence advocating for why additional compensation is needed can go a long way!
Accept the Offer – Or Go to Court
In most cases, accident victims and insurance companies find a number they can agree upon and settle out of court. Before signing any kind of offer, be sure to go over your medical bills and be sure that the settlement will cover them, along with any future costs you might incur in your continued recovery. Make sure the offer is large enough for you to pay for attorney’s fees and any wages you lost out on because of the wreck.
Should you fail to reach an agreement, you’ll need to escalate your claim and file a car accident lawsuit. In many cases, negotiations continue all the way up until the day of court. In most cases, insurance companies will do all they can to prevent a lawsuit. It behooves both parties to come to a mutual agreement about compensation. While you can certainly have your day in court if necessary, you risk a judge ruling in favor of the insurance company. Only an accident lawyer familiar with your case can recommend whether or not to accept a settlement offer.
After collecting the contact information of the other driver and seeking medical attention, it can be difficult to know where to turn for justice and the compensation you deserve. An offer letter detailing how much your car accident settlement is worth may help clarify your situation.
Even with money on the table it can be difficult to know if you’re being treated justly. Many times, insurance adjusters will lowball accident victims, offering them far less than what they deserve. These companies know that many car wreck victims are unfamiliar with the negotiation process that comes after a wreck.
Learn more about the calculation of car accident payouts. You should also know how you can improve your chances of getting financial compensation and increase the payout for your injuries, vehicle damage, and lost wages.
How Much Is Your Car Accident Settlement Worth?
Find out the maximum compensation you could receive.
- How Much Is My Car Accident Settlement Worth?
Most Common Mistakes During an Auto Accident Settlement
People respond to traumatic events in a variety of ways. Some people compartmentalize and handle decision-making in a logical way. Others go into survival mode. When your adrenaline is pumping, it can be difficult to make smart choices. Even after a traumatic car crash, victims can feel paralyzed by their options. This can often lead to errors that lower the car accident settlement offer in the end.
The days and weeks following a crash can be overwhelming for even the most cool-headed of people. If you’re hoping to avoid many of these common post-accident mistakes, follow this guide.
The first thing to remember is to not say anything at the accident scene that will negatively affect a claim later. This is generally called ‘admissions against interest.’ They are unsolicited statements made by a plaintiff. Some of the most common admissions that people make in the wake of an accident are:
- Sorry, I did not see you.
- I was on the phone, or I was texting.
- I was talking to someone in the car.
- My tires are old and I could not stop in time.
- I just looked down to change the radio station.
- I am not injured.
Any of these statements can lead to very serious problems when you and your personal injury attorney are negotiating a car accident settlement with the insurance company.
Another one that can trip you up is if the insurance adjuster for the other party calls you. Even if you just say ‘I am fine’ after she asks ‘how are you?’, this can damage your claim.
Skipping a Medical Exam
When you’re involved in a crash, it’s tempting to do anything in your power to put it behind you. After all, car wrecks are stressful. If you don’t notice an injury immediately after a collision, you may consider skipping out on a medical exam. If you’ve declined medical care, you could be making a big mistake.
The human body responds to trauma in curious ways. Many crash victims don’t realize they have suffered an injury until after they’ve left the scene of the crash. In some cases, it may take weeks for the body to show signs of common accident injuries like whiplash. Not seeking medical attention could result in difficulty connecting your injury to your accident.
For this reason, it’s important to get checked out after a crash even if you don’t think you’re hurt. The better you document your injuries, prognosis, and treatment, the more likely you’ll receive compensation. Early examinations can also help mitigate the impact the injury has on your overall health.
Forgetting to Collect Evidence
It can be difficult to remember the steps necessary to maximize your car accident settlement after the crash. Failure to collect vital evidence can limit the settlement amount. Of course, medical attention should take priority over evidence collection. After clearance by the paramedics, though, it’s important to take action.
You will need the contact and insurance information of the other driver involved. Also, be sure to collect official report details from the police officer on scene. Snap a few photos of the damage, your injuries, and the intersection where the incident occurred. If witnesses observed the crash, write down their names and contact information, too. By gathering initial evidence, you have a head start for your lawyer’s investigation.
Posting About Your Accident on Social Media
If the idea that your social media is being scrutinized by people you don’t know troubles you, you may need further insight on what not to do online following your accident. The truth is, insurance adjusters will look at your social media profiles, and what you post on social media about your car accident can and will be used against you. In many cases, your first instinct might be to delete your profiles altogether, but that tops the list of what not to do following an accident. Consider how deleting your online presence looks to investigators: you’ll likely come off as trying to hide something, which only encourages them to dig deeper into your personal life. Instead, take a break from social media while you’re sorting out your accident claim. This should extend to your presence on your friends’ feeds, too. Ask them not to post any photos of you or tag you in posts mentioning your presence at events or activities. In short, minimize your appearance online across your profiles and the profiles of your friends.
If you opt not to take a complete break from social media, resist the urge to post about the accident altogether. While you may see your social media accounts as your way to stay connected with friends and family and loop them in on your major life changes, writing publicly about your experiences may come back to haunt you in court. Statements made online can be used as admissions and used to argue against your claims. For example, if you mention online that you were distracted by the radio at the time of the wreck, the defense could argue that you contributed to the accident by your negligence.
Even if you’re careful not to post about the accident on Facebook or Twitter, your presence on review sites like Yelp could be scrutinized by investigators. A review of a go-kart track a week after your wreck could cast doubt on the severity of your injuries, and reviews of a restaurant that mentions celebrating a friend’s birthday could be used as evidence that you’re not as emotionally impacted by your collision as you said you were.
Trusting the Insurance Company
It’s tempting to take the insurance company’s word when they say they’ll take care of everything. After all, you pay monthly premiums for this exact situation, right? While it’s easy to sit back and trust that the insurance company has your best interests at heart, it’s a mistake to do so. Insurers work to turn a profit. They’ll do everything they can to get out of paying accident victims what they’re owed.
While it’s important to be polite when working with a claims adjuster, it’s also important to be your own advocate. Talk to a car accident lawyer about what your claim is worth. Don’t be afraid to reject lowball offers from the insurance company. Even if they try to make their offer out to be significant, it’s worth doing your research.
Any phone call the insurance adjuster has with you will be recorded unless you say no. You should not allow the phone call to be recorded unless your attorney is on the phone with you. A recorded statement will set the limits for the case going forward, and this is not a good idea. Only the insurance company benefits from the recorded statement.
Every insurance adjuster has been trained to get you to talk informally and to take down your guard. They attempt to get you to relax so that you will say things that harm the case. If you are too relaxed, it is much easier for the adjuster to get admissions out of you.
When you are first talking to the adjuster about the accident, all you should talk about are the facts, such as when/where of the crash; your contact information and personal details; and location of your vehicle.
You only should get into more detailed facts of the case later, and ideally when you are represented by an attorney.
Often, accident victims are more concerned with when they will receive their settlement, rather than how much it will be. Car wrecks can be expensive, after all. You may be facing expensive repair and hospital bills. You may question how you’ll ever be able to afford the unexpected upfront costs associated with the wreck. It’s difficult to resist taking the first settlement offered.
An insurance company will rarely offer their best settlement up front. Even if you’re in a tough financial spot, focus on the big picture of negotiation. If you’re serious about getting a fair offer, patience is key. Take time to build your case, and you’re more likely to see a higher car accident settlement offer.
No matter the circumstances surrounding your accident, it’s worth talking to an attorney about your legal options. It can be difficult for crash victims to know the value of their case, which is why we offer a free car accident settlement calculator on our website. Whether you opt to represent yourself or hire a lawyer, the resources available from Lawsuit Info Center can prepare you to face the insurance company.
What is a Typical Car Accident Settlement Timeline?
Most accident cases never go to trial and resolve through the car accident settlement process. Only a small percentage of car crash cases go to court for trial. This is because most car accident claims resolve with a settlement.
How long the case will take to settle depends on many things, including these factors:
- Whether you hire a lawyer: Auto insurance companies prefer that accident victims handle the case themselves. They will usually offer a low-ball settlement right after they get the claim. The insurance company wants to settle it fast and for as little money as possible. Hiring an attorney will cause the negotiations to go longer but you are almost guaranteed more money.
- The facts of the case: If fault for the accident is clear, the insurance company for the at-fault driver will want to settle fast. But if there is any dispute about fault, you can expect negotiations to take much longer. There will need to be a complete investigation of the crash, and this could take months.
- Extent of your injuries: If you have suffered major injuries it could take much longer to settle the case. The insurance company will want to see detailed documentation of your injuries and treatments before they give you a settlement offer.
- The ability of the court to schedule a hearing and trial: If you go to court, the court’s calendar will affect the timing of your settlement. If the court backs up with cases, hearing and trial dates can get pushed back by months. These types of delays can lead to one party getting tired of waiting and a settlement may be offered or taken.
Much of the timing involved in settling an auto accident claim comes down to you. If you need money for medical bills, lost wages, etc., you may decide to take less money with a quick settlement. There are cases where the at-fault insurance company can make a low-ball offer in a matter of days or a week or two. But you should be cautious about taking a low offer if you have more than minor injuries. Once you have signed the release waiver with a settlement, you cannot seek more money later.
If you have more serious injuries, you should consider delaying the settlement. You could have injuries that affect you for months or years, and you may need more medical treatment. Contact a personal injury attorney, who will know whether it is advisable to take a lower settlement or try to get the max compensation.
Should I Accept the Auto Accident Settlement Offer?
A car crash can throw your life into chaos. It can be tempting to take the first offer the insurance company gives you and get back to your life. But before you accept a settlement offer, consider the following:
First, know that you can reject any settlement offer from the insurance company and still get compensation. Insurance companies like to tell you that their settlement offer is non-negotiable. An attorney can tell you that the first offer is the beginning of the negotiation process. Insurance companies want you to accept a settlement before hiring an attorney.
In most cases, you are wise to reject the first accident settlement offer. The company knows if the case goes to trial, they will likely pay more, so use that to your advantage.
How Much Is Your Car Accident Settlement Worth?
Find out the maximum compensation you could receive.
- How Much Is My Car Accident Settlement Worth?
That is true even if you discover later that your injuries are far worse than you thought. You should not consider settling until you completely recover from the wreck.
Third, your injuries could be worse than they first appear. You might think that you only have a sore neck the day after the accident. But a week later, the pain has gotten worse. It could turn out you have a ruptured disc in your neck. Because you took the quick settlement, you are stuck with the extra expenses..
Before you accept a settlement, you should know how your injuries will affect your future. You also need to understand what level of ongoing care you will need because of the accident. Do not accept an offer before you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI), which only your doctor can determine.
Fourth, the total cost of your accident is more than your out-of-pocket expenses. Many offers only include money for repairs, immediate lost wages, and medical costs not covered by your health insurance. They rarely cover the full cost of your accident. There are many other things you could need compensation for:
- Vehicle repairs
- Hired services for duties in the house you cannot perform, such as shopping, cooking, cleaning up the yard, caring for children, etc.
- Medical costs in the future
- Lost earnings in the future
- Mental health treatment for serious accident trauma
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Before you consider a car accident settlement offer it is important that you understand the value of everything that accident compensation should cover.
Settle the Claim or File a Lawsuit?
If you sustain an injury in a car crash, you may be thinking about filing a car accident lawsuit. It is possible that the courtroom is where the case ends up. That said, plaintiffs should know going in that most car accident injury claims result in a settlement before trial. Also, many accident insurance claims resolve via settlement before a lawsuit is filed.
Yet, there are cases where going to court is necessary, and there are advantages in doing so. There are various factors to consider before actually going through with a lawsuit.
Settling Before a Car Accident Lawsuit
Many injured parties will settle their claim before filing suit. Here is why you might want to consider this:
- You get paid faster
- You avoid paying attorney fees
- Avoid going to court; lawsuits may require several hearings
- You avoid relying on an unpredictable jury for compensation
- Going to court is not a guarantee of more money (or any money) in your pocket
The question you need to ask is this: Is it worth the risk of going to trial and getting nothing? It depends on what type of settlement offer you have in hand. If the insurance company is low-balling you or offers nothing, you may have no choice but to file a lawsuit.
Going to Court
It is usually best to try to settle your car accident claim out of court. But settlement may not be in the cards in your case. Here are the typical steps in the lawsuit process:
- Your attorney files your auto accident lawsuit in court by drafting a legal complaint and sending it to the court. You also have to serve the other driver using a police officer, sheriff or process server. The other driver has 20 days usually to answer.
- You next take part in the ‘discovery’ process. You will ask for information from the other driver and he will ask for information from you. Information is obtained by exchanging written documentation. Or, you can request that your attorney depose the other driver.
- Trial is the final stage of the car accident lawsuit process. During the trial, the judge or jury will hear all the evidence from both sides and render a decision. The time it takes to prepare and represent you at trial can accumulate very expensive legal fees. It is important that you be sure that it is worth going to trial to resolve your case.
Remember you can settle the case at any point during the lawsuit process. The other side may decide to up their settlement offer once they see you are willing to go to trial. The mere threat of a lawsuit going forward could be all you need to get the settlement you want.
Did I Receive An Average Car Crash Settlement?
After a crash, you may decide to file a car accident claim or lawsuit against the other driver. Many people suffer injuries that leave them with medical bills and lost work time. But after you have gotten your settlement, you might wonder if you received an average or fair amount of compensation. How do you know?
The first thing to realize is the value of the claim is dependent on many factors. The average car accident settlement depends on things such as: how severe your injuries are, how long you need medical treatments and rehabilitation, required surgeries, physical damage to your vehicle, medical bills, lost earnings, and more.
How Car Accident Claims Are Valued
There is no one-size-fits-all way that insurance companies value car accident claims and injuries. A common tool insurance adjusters use is a multiplier. The adjuster will multiply your special damages by a certain number. Generally, special damages are your financial losses from the accident, such as hospital bills, doctor bills, lost wages, and costs to repair your car.
Many insurance companies will add up your special damages and then multiply it by a number from 1 to 5. The basis is how severe your pain and suffering is.
For example, assume the total of your medical costs and lost earnings from your accident is $10,000. If the insurance company multiplies your special damages by 2 then your claim is worth $20,000. If you had worse injuries and pain and suffering and the adjuster used a 4, your claim would be worth $40,000.
How Much Is Your Car Accident Settlement Worth?
Find out the maximum compensation you could receive.
- How Much Is My Car Accident Settlement Worth?
Compensation For Pain and Suffering In Car Accident Settlements
On average, insurance companies will multiply your special damages by 2 or 3 to determine your settlement. How the insurance company determines your multiplier will be what determines if you got a fair car accident settlement.
For many auto accidents, injuries are minor to moderate and take minimal time to recover from. Those types of accidents are ones where a 2 or 3 multiplier may be appropriate. Car crashes with more severe injuries warrant a 4 or 5 multiplier.
But there is no simple answer for which multiplier the insurance company will use in a specific case. It depends on many things. Generally, lower medical bills and lost wages indicates that a 1-3 multiplier. If your medical costs are only a few hundred dollars, this suggests that your injuries resolved in one or two medical visits. If you only had one medical treatment, the insurance company might conclude that your pain and suffering was minor.
Yet, if your medical expenses were $50,000, the insurance company knows you were likely in the hospital and/or had many medical treatments. A hospital stay generally indicates more pain and suffering. In this case, a 4 or 5 multiplier might be applicable.
It is no surprise that auto insurance companies try to pay out as little claims as they can. Negotiating with the auto insurance company can be challenging. That is what your personal injury attorney is for.
How to Pick the Right Lawyer after a Car Crash
Selecting the right attorney to handle your claim is an important part of the car accident lawsuit process. Hiring the best lawyer for your particular case can ensure a successful outcome. While the process can be straightforward, there are many things to consider. Here are a few guidelines to help you determine if a certain attorney is right for your situation:
Select the Right Kind of Attorney
Those who have not faced legal challenges in the past may not realize that there is more than one type of lawyer. There is a wide variety of legal professionals who can help with things ranging from medical malpractice to entertainment law. It’s important to work with a lawyer who specializes in your particular area of need. A consultation with a divorce lawyer won’t get you very far in your whiplash settlement.
If you’re not sure which kind of attorney you need, do some searching online. A few simple keywords can often lead you in the right direction. Web search results can often point you to the kind of lawyer you need. This kind of narrowing of the field of choices can ensure you’re on track to find the attorney that’s right for your case.
Do Your Research
Once you’ve determined which kind of attorney you’ll need, you can decide on a professional who is a good match. Family and friends may give recommendations about attorneys they have used. Assembling a list of names can help guide your research.
Lawsuit Info Center also offers help in connecting people with the personal injury attorney that’s right. We can help those who have suffered injuries in car accidents connect with lawyers in their area. By calling our phone number and discussing your case, you’ll receive professional advice about the type of lawyer that’s right for you. Our unbiased opinions can give you the guidance you need.
Take Advantage of Consultations
Many attorneys offer free consultation appointments for prospective clients. These appointments serve as introductory meetings to explain your case and get insight. They also give you an opportunity to interview the attorney and get a feel for their experience. During a consultation, don’t be shy to ask about their past cases and their outcomes. How an attorney replies can give you a good idea of their success rate.
Consultation appointments can determine how comfortable you feel with a particular lawyer. Trust between a client and their attorney is paramount. If any of the answers to your questions make you feel uncomfortable or if you don’t trust their opinion, look elsewhere for representation. Only when you feel comfortable with a lawyer should you make the choice to hire them.
Consider the Merits of Your Case
Once you’ve found an attorney you like, ask about how they plan to handle your case. Is the person likely to settle out of court, or do they feel comfortable pursuing a trial in front of a judge and jury? Consider their communication style. Some attorneys handle everything on your behalf and notify you of important updates. But you may prefer regular updates of the progress of your case. Discuss these things with your potential attorney before you decide to hire them.
It’s also important to ask about the anticipated outcome of your case. Lawyers who promise large sums of money for a car crash, for example, could be cause for concern. Because every case is different, it’s difficult to anticipate the exact outcome of a specific situation. Attorneys should give ballpark figures instead of precise settlement amounts. When someone assures you a specific dollar amount, consider it a red flag.
Discuss Payment Options
Most car crash attorneys work on contingency. This means that no money is due until the case closes. At this point the attorney gets paid a percentage (typically 33%) of the final payout. This kind of fee structure is helpful for those short on cash. Still, it’s important to ask about the percentage of payment they expect for their services. Failure to do so could result in unfortunate and costly mistakes.
Some lawyers charge more than others. Lawyers base their fees on their experience, education and success rate. A high fee doesn’t necessarily indicate a better chance of success. It’s important to weigh your options before opting for one attorney over another.
What kind of payout should I expect from a car accident?
A variety of factors go into deciding the average payout for a car accident. A judge or jury who hears your case will take into account:
- The types of injuries
- Treatment plan
- Length of therapy
- Loss of income
- Severity of the wreck
- Other factors
In most cases, a payout is only offered when the medical treatment is complete. Permanent injuries will influence the amount of compensation that you receive. If you’re working with an insurance company after a car wreck, let them know if you’re still going through medical treatment.
How Are Car Accident Payouts Calculated?
Calculating a car accident payout is not an exact science. There are many factors that make your case different from others, even if they seem similar at first glance. A lawyer, the insurance company, and possibly the courts will need to look over the facts of your accident to make a fair determination of what your car accident payout will look like.
If your accident only resulted in damage to your vehicle, the policy limits of the at-fault driver (or your insurance) limits your reimbursement.
Damages for pain and suffering are only awarded if you have sustained physical injuries. You will need to be examined by a medical professional after your accident to document your injuries. You should seek medical attention even if the accident isn’t severe. In many cases, injuries are not obvious right away and can develop days later. Get a medical assessment to check for internal or developing injuries.
One example of trauma that may not be immediately obvious is whiplash. You may be a little sore right after the car crash, but there are more serious problems that may not be obvious until a couple of days later. If you skip medical care or wait too long, it could have a negative impact on your settlement. You may not receive compensation to cover your medical expenses or your pain and suffering.
Get a Rough Estimate
If you are wanting a rough estimate of how much your car accident settlement may be,
- Add up your expenses for medical bills and lost wages.
- Multiply that total by three for an average.
Let’s say that you have injuries after a car crash and ended up with a total of $5,000 in hospital bills. Your accident made you miss one week of work, which lost you $1,000 in wages. That is $6,000 in expenses. Multipliers for a personal injury settlement vary from 1.5 to 5. What that multiplier actually is depends on the severity of your case. A high multiplier is not common. But you can get a range of what your settlement may be. Using these numbers, your payout will likely be between $9,000 and $30,000.
Obviously, that is a big range. Talking to a car accident lawyer will help you narrow that range and get a more exact idea of what you should expect. If you suffered more serious injuries, permanent disabilities, or the at-fault driver acted grossly negligent, you will get a higher payout.
If you are pursuing a claim through the at-fault driver’s insurance company, your payout will be limited by their policy limits. For instance, let’s say you have $20,000 in property damage due to the accident. But the other driver’s policy has a limit of $10,000. In order to get that other $10,000, you would have to file a lawsuit against them. Another option is to turn to your own insurance company and file a claim for underinsured coverage – if your own policy includes this.
Who pays my auto accident settlement?
If you have collision coverage and the crash was your fault, your insurance company will pay a certain amount to fix your car. If the cost to repair the damages is more than the value of your vehicle, the insurance company may consider your car totaled and give you a lump sum based on how much it’s worth.
Moreover, if another driver’s negligence caused the wreck, his or her insurance company should compensate you. The sum that the company offers may be much lower than you expect. It’s easy to get reimbursed for funds that you’ve paid out. It’s challenging to put a fair price on pain and suffering.
What should I expect after a head on collision?
A head-on crash is one of the worst car wrecks there is. If you sustain injuries in a head-on crash, you will need compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages.
Head-on crash cases are usually easier to prove than other car crashes. This is because there is often a lot of physical evidence available. Attorneys can look at braking times, skid marks, black box data, and more to prove who caused the accident. With these accidents, it is usually not difficult to show the jury what happened and why. For this reason, most head-on accident cases settle before trial.
Head-On Crash Accident Settlements
But what are head-on crashes worth at the settlement table? Research indicates the median award in head-on crashes is approximately $30,000. But this is misleading. Many frontal crash cases settle without a trial, and many of the cases reported involve back strains. Such accidents are usually minor parking lot incidents with little damage.
But there are many other examples of major head-on crashes that involve severe injury. These injuries are usually worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. In some of the worst head-on crash cases, the only reason the case did not settle for more was that the insurance coverage ran out.
Below are some sample head-on crash settlements that have been published online:
- 2014: $96,500 – A 21-year-old male filed a personal injury lawsuit after suffering severe injuries in a head-on crash where the other driver crossed the median. The plaintiff suffered a major ankle fracture and had to have two screws implanted. He was left with a permanent limp and could no longer work as a waiter. He claimed $34,100 in medical costs and $12,600 in lost earnings. The jury also awarded him $50,000 for pain and suffering.
- 2012: $950,000 – A driver was hit head-on by another vehicle that crossed the median. He suffered humorous, hip, and thoracic spine fractures. The gentleman had to have several surgeries to repair the humerus fracture and a right hip replacement. He had permanent scarring on his arms and legs. He received $600,000 for medical bills, $300,000 for future medical costs, $25,000 in lost earnings, and $25,000 in future earnings.
- 2013: $20,000 – A nursing assistant was injured when she was involved in a head-on crash. She suffered soft tissue injuries in the cervical and lumbar areas that required physical therapy. The total claim was $9,600 in medical bills and $2,040 in lost earnings. She was awarded $20,000 for medical bills and lost earnings and $8,200 in pain and suffering.
The above examples are to give you an idea of what similar cases might be worth. You should talk to an experienced head on accident injury attorney to learn more.
What Is Pain and Suffering?
In a car accident lawsuit, pain and suffering is the emotional distress and mental anguish that you have after the accident. Pain and suffering may result from:
- Physical pain and discomfort, whether it is permanent or temporary.
- Anxiety, memory loss, depression, insomnia, or other mental health issues
- Physical limitations, such as inability to hug your children or play with them.
- Loss of consortium with your loved ones
How Pain and Suffering Is Calculated in a Settlement
There are two ways that pain and suffering compensation can be determined..
The first is the per diem method. This method assigns a dollar value for a single day (based on your daily wages), then multiplies it by the days affected by the injury. This method is rarely used by insurance companies to calculate pain and suffering..
The other way to determine pain and suffering is the multiplier method. This is most often used by insurance companies to calculate pain and suffering. This calculation adds up your economic damages and then multiplies them by a number from 1 to 5.
The tricky part with the multiplier method is figuring out whether your pain and suffering is worth a 1 or 5. You cannot tell the insurance adjuster that your pain and suffering is worth a 5. You have to provide documentation that justifies the multiplier you are claiming.
The only time you can claim a 4 or 5 for your pain and suffering is if the injury leaves you critically or permanently injured. For example, if the accident caused spinal fractures that caused you permanent pain, you may be entitled to the maximum amount of pain and suffering compensation (5). But, if your injury involves only a temporary sprain, you can only use a 1 or 2 as the multiplier.
When negotiating a settlement, most insurance adjusters will add a small amount on top of your economic damages to cover your pain and suffering. You should talk to your personal injury attorney to determine if the settlement is fair.
You can expect more compensation for pain and suffering if you experience permanent disability and/or inability to work.
What is the Average Settlement Amount for Pain and Suffering?
This is a difficult question, and one that doesn’t have a universal answer. While you can attempt to use a settlement calculator, they are often not comprehensive enough to provide an accurate answer. As always, it’s best to talk to a professional.
Yet, we can talk a little about how to calculate the value of pain and suffering. The answers to the following questions may help you determine an amount.
What kind of injury did you sustain? A good lawyer will use the average number from the type of injury to help calculate pain and suffering.
What was your economic loss? How long were you out of work? Did you have to quit?
What are your noneconomic damages? Noneconomic damages include the following.
- Emotional distress (lost enjoyment of life, distress over a disability, humiliation, psychological trauma, PTSD)
- Loss of consortium (love and affection, care, companionship, spousal intimacy)
- Physical pain and suffering (slipped disk, necked pain, pulled muscles, to name a few).
How much of the fault was yours? Sometimes this number is 0%, and sometimes it is not. In a few states, being even partially at fault will entirely negate your claim, so it’s important to know.
The average amount from a pain and suffering case is between $15,000 – $35,000 when settled out of court. Generally, pain and suffering claims involve minor injuries so the settlement amounts are not as high when involving serious injuries.
If serious injuries accompany a pain and suffering case, payouts can be much higher.. The severity of an injury will almost always be the largest factor in determining a settlement’s value.
Talking to someone experienced will give you the best range you can expect in a pain and suffering claim.
Do I Need a Lawyer for My Pain and Suffering Case?
It is not necessary for you to have a lawyer to go to court or send a demand letter for a settlement. However, there are cases in which pain and suffering would not pay out without proper legal representation.
A woman’s daughter had an accident in a rental car that resulted in pain and suffering as well as broken bones. Her daughter needed to have surgery to repair her arm. While the insurance company did cover the economic losses, they did not pay for pain and suffering.
Try as she might, the woman was unable to get help from the rental car’s claim company. They refused to answer her inquiries until she involved a professional lawyer. This was not because her daughter did not deserve a pain and suffering settlement. Rather, sometimes an insurance company can get away with inaction without proper legal pressure.
In the end, a very seasoned adjuster had taken on this case and the claim settled for over $150,000. This would not have happened without legal representation.
Nearly 100% of the $150,000 was for pain and suffering; less than $100 was for out of pocket medical bills. Without legal representation, the total payout for this claim would have been $43.
Negotiating a Car Accident Settlement
Car crashes are scary. Even if you end up with few to no injuries, the loss of control over your personal safety can be rattling. This is especially true when you’ve suffered serious damage to your vehicle, your health, or your personal property. After you’ve been in a wreck caused by a negligent driver, it can feel like your fate is out of your hands.
That sense of frustration continues as you navigate the requests of the insurance company. While we like to think of insurers as working for us, the truth is far less affirming. Insurance companies are out to make money for their shareholders. They’re looking to deny claims whenever they can. When they can’t, they offer the smallest settlements possible. For many accident victims their experience with the insurance company can be maddening. It leads many people to wonder: can I negotiate my car accident settlement?
Accident victims can negotiate the terms of their case and payout. Though easier with an attorney representing you, the process is possible independently. Keep reading to learn more about the best strategy to use to get the compensation you deserve.
How the Car Accident Settlement Negotiation Process Works
When you inform the insurance company of your accident, the adjuster may make arguments against your claim. They may point out reasons why the incident wasn’t as devastating as you claim. In some cases, they’ll look for any reason possible to deny coverage. Often, they’ll offer an initial settlement amount that feels too low for your needs. You can counter or take time to think about the offer. Accident victims frequently turn to an experienced car crash lawyer for guidance.
An attorney can help you create a demand letter outlining your needs. In such a letter, you can list out your expenses associated with the wreck and how best to make you whole again. Medical costs, car repairs, lost wages, and even the pain and suffering you endured can be assigned a dollar amount. Demand letters provide a helpful starting point for negotiations.
Writing a Demand Letter
When creating your demand letter, have a lump sum in mind for understanding what your claim is worth. From there, consider how low you are willing to go in negotiations. Having a floor and a ceiling for negotiations is important – a good car accident lawyer can help you understand this strategy. This range is for you to keep in mind when negotiations begin in earnest. Keep your bottom line in mind when the insurance company pressures you to settle. You are under no obligation to share this information with the claims adjuster.
Instead, make sure your demand letter reflects the truth about your incident. Be clear in your demands and present evidence to back up your claims. Medical bills, reports from the doctor, pay stubs reflecting the work you missed and other documents can help bolster your claim. The more support you have in your demand letter, the better your odds of getting the settlement you deserve.
Resisting Low Offers
After the insurance company receives your demand letter, they’ll likely offer you a small auto accident settlement. While it’s tempting to put the whole thing behind you, taking the first offer is typically a bad idea. The initial offer should be the base from which you negotiate upwards. If they offer you a reasonable amount, make a counteroffer that is a little lower than the figure you requested in your demand letter. This signifies to the claims adjuster that you’re willing to compromise. A little more effort when bargaining should get you to a number you feel good about.
Another strategy to consider when low offers are in play? Ask the claims adjuster to justify their low-ball offer. Ask for specific reasons why the number is so low when compared to the costs you’ve incurred. Make note of their explanation and write a short letter responding to their argument. Depending on the strength of their logic, you may want to lower your demand amount. Wait until after the claims adjuster has received your letter to lower that amount. Ask for a response to your letter and see if anything has changed in their mind.
Get it in Writing
As negotiations continue, emphasize the emotional weight of your argument.. No dollar amount can be assigned to the emotional impact the crash has had on you . The weight of sharing an upsetting accident scene photo or a story of the impact the accident had on your child can sway even the most experienced of claims adjuster. Don’t stray from the facts, but don’t be afraid to appeal to the human nature of the person on the end of the line, either.
Once you get to a number you feel good about, be sure to get the agreement in writing. Outline the settlement you’ve agreed upon in a short letter to the adjuster. Include details about how much you’ve settled on, what the money covers, and the date you expect to receive compensation.
How are Car Accident Settlements Paid?
Once you have settled the claim, it may take some time to actually get paid. For large settlements, you may see the lump sum broken up into several payments paid out over a few years. If you need the entire settlement upfront, be sure your lawyer negotiates this arrangement ahead of time.
Upon receipt of your settlement, your lawyer will deposit the money into an escrow account or trust. This is mandatory in most states. Once the check clears, your attorney will distribute the cash. You may want to have them send portions of your settlement to pay off any accident related debts. Failure to resolve these liens may result in expensive penalties.
Before you spend any of your settlement money, create a list of outstanding debts. From your settlement, you’ll need to pay off any medical debt you owe because of the accident. Make out payments to any mechanics or body shops. Your attorney will also require payment. In many cases, their payment structure demands a certain percentage of your settlement. If you have questions or concerns about your legal fees, ask your attorney for clarification.
When creating this list of liens, it also helps to plan for tax season. It is a requirement that you pay taxes on the money you received for lost wages and emotional distress. On the other hand, you won’t owe taxes on medical expenses or for crash related pain and suffering. Work with an accountant to better understand your tax situation.
The settlement process isn’t as straightforward as the insurer simply dropping a check in the mail, though. Typically, insurance companies will pay out car accident settlements in about six weeks. Understanding what to expect helps you’ll be better prepared to handle the claims process and get the settlement you deserve.
How are Auto Accident Settlement Amounts Determined?
If you find yourself injured after an accident, it is natural to ask what the value of your car accident settlement might be. Many assume that the auto insurance industry has devised a standard formula to determine the value of a personal injury claim. This is not so.
There are statistics compiled by auto insurance companies that suggest an average value for certain types of car accident claims. But it is rare for a particular claim to fit the exact profile of an average claim. The value of your claim depends upon many factors. Below is more information about some of the larger variables and how they can affect your auto accident claim.
A common way that auto insurance adjusters determine the value of an injury claim is to multiply your special damages by a certain number. Special damages are your financial losses from the accident. They include medical bills, lost earnings, out of pocket expenses, etc.
Using a Multiplier
A multiplier gets a rough estimate of what your total claim could be worth, including your pain and suffering.
In many auto accident claims, the adjuster may use a multiplier of 2 or 3 to come up with an estimated value. For example, let’s say that the total of your medical bills and lost earnings from your car accident is $5,000. If the auto insurance adjuster multiplied the sum by 2, then the claim would be worth $10,000. But if your pain and suffering is worse, they might multiply the $5,000 by 3, so you would get $15,000.
You may wonder why the auto insurance company is multiplying your special damages by 2 or 3. They are trying to guess what the jury might award you if the auto accident case goes to trial.
A multiplier of 2 or 3 is often used for a moderate or average amount of pain and suffering in a car accident case. If you suffered minor injuries, the multiplier might only be 1 or 1.5. Only people who have suffered long term or even permanent injuries would induce a multiplier of 4 or 5. You also would see the higher multiplier if you have much more in medical bills, such as $50,000 or more. This would indicate a serious level of personal injury that could take years to recover from and might result in a disability.
Keep in mind that once the auto insurance company arbitration process comes up with a value for your claim, that does not mean you must accept it. You can continue to negotiate with the insurance company. You may decide to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person who injured you. Speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in your area to raise your car accident settlement amount.
Does Totaling my Car Mean Insurers Will Pay More for My Settlement?
It is likely that your settlement will be higher if your car accident resulted in a totaled car. Since totaled cars and soft tissue injuries or whiplash often go hand in hand, a higher settlement amount is common.
Sometimes, a totaled car can be strong evidence of economic injury. This is especially true if the car was used for commuting or for work. Damage to a car can increase the amount of a settlement all on its own with the right lawyer.
How Are Damages Paid After a Car Accident?
When someone hits your car, your first thought likely is “What just happened?” Your second thought then becomes “Am I okay?” Regardless, your third thought might be “Who’s going to pay for this?”
Unfortunately, you can expect to sustain some sort of damages in any car accident. At the very least, your car is likely damaged. At worst, you may have received injuries that could result in any or all of the following:
- Ambulance bills
- Hospital bills
- Prescription drug bills
- Physical therapy bills
- Rehabilitation bills
- Nursing home or assisted living bills
- In-home care bills
All these and more represent your damages arising out of your car crash. If you’ve ever wondered how car accident settlements pay out, the surprising answer is: It depends. While you may assume that the person who caused the accident pays, his or her insurance company will likely be the one signing the check.
Insurance Company Tactics
Insurance companies like to collect premiums and don’t like to pay claims. Consequently, a representative from the other driver’s insurance company will offer you a “quick and easy” settlement for your car accident. Your best interests dictate that you decline this settlement offer. This represents the least amount of money the insurance company thinks it can pay you. When you accept a settlement, you sign a release absolving the insurance company from further liability. It also eliminates the possibility of you bringing a lawsuit against its policyholder.
Your better course of action is to contact an experienced personal injury attorney. You always have the legal right to sue the driver whose negligence caused the accident. You never have any obligation to accept an insurance company’s settlement offer. Your attorney will have experience in negotiating with insurance companies. In most cases the attorney can get you a better car accident settlement than you could get for yourself. Also, the attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf against the other driver and pursue your damage claims in court if it does come to that.
Policy Limits and Personal Liability
Keep in mind that no insurance company will pay any amount above the limits of the policyholder’s policy. Should you win a court judgment more than this amount, the policyholder becomes liable for the balance. Collecting that judgment may well be easier said than done.
Few people have the assets available to pay a large money judgment, especially all at once. Some people may think that if they ignore you long enough, you’ll go away. Depending on which state you live in, you may be able to incentivize the person to pay your judgment by notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles. This causes the person’s driver’s license to become suspended until he or she pays you in full.
The Types of Damages in a Car Accident Settlement
No one plans for a car crash, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. The severity of the accident may range from no damage to a serious wreck. It is the latter that usually leads to a mountain of bills, pain and long-term recovery. A car accident claim falls under personal injury tort. Compensation under this type of legal matter is a financial award called damages. These are compensatory in nature because they make up for what a plaintiff lost because of the crash.
Take a closer look at some of the most common types of compensation in a car accident case.
Getting injured as a result of someone else’s carelessness can spell financial disaster. Depending on the extent of the injuries, medical bills may pile up. If long-term medical care and treatment are necessary, who pays? In the case of a lawsuit, there is a fair chance that the court will award damages for medical bills. Ongoing medical care may also be part of a compensatory damages award.
Being out of work for any length of time can send even diligent households into a tailspin. Savings may run out after a prolonged work absence and bills resulting from the incident. Getting reimbursed for missed income is common in car accident claims. Physical limitations caused by the injury may also force a change of jobs or a premature exit of the workforce . Consequently, a court may consider awarding damages for the loss of future earnings.
Pain and Suffering
The plaintiff, or victim in the accident, most likely experienced a significant level of pain due to the injuries. Pain and suffering are subjective and not easily proven. Some injuries are serious enough that it is a reasonable assumption that there was a significant amount of mental anguish and physical pain. Doctors can testify on the level of pain and suffering associated with similar injuries to help make the case.
Loss of Consortium
One unique type of compensation in a car crash case is the loss of consortium claim. This claim requests compensation for the losses associated with a personal relationship such as:
- Future endeavors
For example, if a spinal cord injury rendered the plaintiff paralyzed, this will have significant effects on a relationship. The spouse or partner may file a loss of consortium for the impact this medical issue has on them. This type of compensation request can only be in addition to other damages.
An attorney can best supply further guidance on the types of compensation in a car accident case. There are services that provide attorneys with leads to help them reach out to victims.
Can I Get Compensation for My Child Being Injured in a Car Accident?
Most parents dread the thought of their children injured in a car crash. You can get car accident claim compensation for your child’s injuries after a crash, as with any other passenger.
The first thing to understand in such accidents is that a person under 18 cannot legally file a claim. A person known legally as a “next friend” can file a claim on the child’s behalf. The parent is usually the “next friend” who files the legal claim. There are no requirements for a legal proceeding to occur to state the person named a next friend.
When it comes to filing a personal injury lawsuit, most states have a statute of limitations of two or three years from the date of injury. But many states’ statute of limitations does not begin until the child turns 18. Thus, a person injured in a car accident as a minor generally has until age 20 or 21 to file a lawsuit.
When a child is injured in a wreck, they can be entitled to the following damages:
- Medical bills
- Ongoing medical care
- Therapy and rehabilitation services
- Loss of ability to earn a living in the future
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
The parents may get compensation for the financial losses they incurred, such as the child’s ongoing medical costs. Depending on the case, auto accident victims and their family may get punitive damages. These damages are only for very serious accidents. Punitive damages aim to punish defendants.
A car accident claim involving an injured child usually needs approval by the court. In Virginia, for example, a circuit court judge typically will approve the child injury settlement.
During a hearing, the judge will determine if the car accident settlement for the child is fair. To decide this matter, the court could appoint a guardian ad litem to aid in the process. To help make the decision, the judge may ask questions to stakeholders in the case, such as the parents of the child:
- Extent of injuries to the child
- Current health status
- Education status
- Disabilities that were caused by the accident
- Medical needs and rehabilitation needed in the future
Once the court approves the settlement, the next friend will sign off on it. The child is bound by the settlement decision.
After approval of the auto accident settlement, the court has latitude on disbursement of the funds. Depending on the case, minors may receive all the settlement funds when they turn 18. In other cases, settlements are set up to pay a certain amount of damages per year for a certain period. After approval of this sort of payout, the court places the funds in a trust. Funds distribute per the settlement structure, beginning after the child turns 18.
What Are Compensatory Damages From a Car Accident?
If you become involved in a car wreck, you may well suffer injuries, some of which could be catastrophic. When you file a personal injury lawsuit, you are seeking compensatory damages. If successful in your suit, the judge or jury will award you these damages. This is an attempt to reimburse you for your expenses and make you as whole as possible. Keep in mind that compensatory damages from a car accident come in two types, general and special.
General Compensatory Damages
General compensatory damages are non-economic in nature and can cover such things as the following:
- The pain and suffering you experienced or will experience in the future as a result of the accident
- The mental and emotional anguish and distress you suffered or will suffer
- Any disfigurement you suffered
- Your loss of consortium with your spouse, children, parents, and/or other family members
- The loss of your enjoyment of life
- The loss of any opportunities you had to forego
Special Compensatory Damages
Conversely, special compensatory damages represent economic damages that you have already sustained or will sustain in the future:
- Your ambulance and medical bills related to the car crash, both now and in the future
- Any hospital, nursing home, or rehabilitation facility expenses you have already incurred or will incur in the future
- Physical or occupational therapy expenses you have already incurred or will incur in the future
- Household expenses you have incurred as a result of your injuries or will incur in the future for such things as medical equipment, in-home care, etc.
- Earnings you have already lost and will lose in the future from being injured and unable to work
- Any costs associated with plans you had to alter or trips you had to cancel as a result of your car crash injuries
- Your property damage, such as the damage to your vehicle
- Your legal fees associated with bringing and pursuing your personal injury lawsuit, including attorneys’ fees, court costs, transportation costs, etc.
Compensatory Damage Caps and Reductions
Depending on the state in which you live, you may be limited by statute as to the amount of compensatory damages you can receive. Your damage award may likewise be diminished if you live in a contributory negligence state where the jury can attribute a percentage of fault to each driver involved in the accident and reduce your damage award accordingly. For instance, should the jury determine that you were 25% responsible for the accident while the person you are suing was 75% responsible, it can reduce any compensatory damage award that it would otherwise have given you by 25%.
In addition to compensatory damages, you may be entitled to punitive damages. These are damages over and above your compensatory damages. The judge or jury awards you in situations where the at-fault driver acted in a particularly egregious manner. Punitive damages often result from driving drunk or where the driver otherwise showed a reckless disregard for your life.
Can I Get Punitive Damages for a Car Accident?
Plaintiffs who file a personal injury lawsuit usually have suffered a measurable loss. In some instances, the medical bills and wage loss is significant enough to justify compensatory damages. These financial awards serve to help the plaintiff recover tangible money losses.
But, a plaintiff may move for further monetary awards that are more subjective. These damages include pain, suffering, and other emotional losses due to the injuries. The court may even award damages above and beyond what the plaintiff requested.
Let’s explore how the courts may award punitive damages from auto accidents with significant injuries.
Common Damages Awarded in a Car Accident Claim
A plaintiff files a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver and the relevant insurance company. In this tort action, the plaintiff alleges the defendant exhibited a measure of negligence in the way he or she operated the vehicle. These are all examples of negligent driving:
- Running a stop sign or red light
- Excessive speed
- Dangerous lane shifting
- Distracted driving
- Driving under the influence
Since the at-fault driver’s behavior was contrary to safe driving practices and led to an accident, he or she is negligent. Once established, the plaintiff needs to show how the accident affected his or her life. Compensatory damages are awarded when the plaintiff proves that the injuries led to losses. General damages get awarded when the plaintiff can show a measure of the suffering caused by the injury. These are the common damages courts award.
Basic Information About Punitive Damages
The basis for punitive damages from a car accident are a much different standard. In personal injury tort, the court hears the evidence and determines the damages the plaintiff receives. Punitive damages are unique in that this award is not meant to compensate the driver for losses. Instead, punitive damages punish the defendant and discourage others from acting similarly.
A personal injury lawsuit goes through the civil court system and cannot result in jail time. The court’s recourse when it deems the defendant’s behavior negligent is to hand down a punitive damages award. The sum of this award typically does not exceed four times the amount of compensatory damages.
Required Findings for a Punitive Award
When the judge orders punitive damages, it means to dissuade the defendant and anyone else from ever acting similarly negligent. There are a few key factors the court may use to determine if the defendant’s actions warrant a punitive award:
- The intent behind the act that led to the crash
- The level of disregard for the safety of the public
- The severity of the injuries the plaintiff suffered
The judge may also seek legal precedence in awarding punitive damages. If similar cases resulted in an extraordinary award, the court might follow suit.
Punitive damages from a car crash are not the most common type of award, but they do occur.
Find an Auto Accident Attorney
Our website is a veritable treasure trove of resources for those who have been in car accidents. Start by plugging in a few facts about your collision into our car accident settlement calculator. It’s a great starting point for those curious about how much their case might be worth.
Should you decide to work with a lawyer, we’ve got you covered there, too. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can connect with quality attorneys in your area. Prefer to chat on the phone? Call 877-810-4067 to talk to our helpful team. No matter the circumstances surrounding your crash, Lawsuit Info Center has the resources you need to make the best of a bad situation.
The good thing about auto accident attorneys is they only get paid if they win. Their fee is a percentage of the amount of the money they recover for you, known as a “contingency fee”.
Think of a contingency fee like a commission. Just like a salesperson only gets paid if they close a deal, and then gets a percentage of the sale they made, contingency fee lawyers collect their fees as a percentage of the settlement.
This allows you to select the best car accident attorney for your case without worrying about upfront fees. This also ensures that the lawyer is incentivized to settle the car accident claim quickly and for as much money as possible. This stands in stark contrast to many attorneys who get paid high hourly rates, who become incentivized to work slowly and let things drag our while they bill their clients hundreds of dollars per hour.
Contingency fees can range from 25%-40% of your settlement, with average contingency fees for personal injury attorneys usually falling in the 33%-35% range. This may seem high, and in some cases it might be easier and more lucrative to settle the car accident claim yourself. However there are 2 very important considerations when deciding whether to hire an attorney for your car accident settlement or negotiate yourself:
- Will the attorney’s expertise and experience in negotiating car accident settlements with insurance companies result in a settlement that’s at least 30% higher than what I’d be able to negotiate myself?
- How much time am I willing to put into writing car accident settlement demand letters, sitting on hold with the insurance company, getting frustrated about lowball settlement offers, etc.
Depending on your faith in your negotiating skills and the amount of free time on your hands, you may or may not decide hiring an attorney for your auto accident settlement is a good idea. In smaller claims where there aren’t a lot of damages or serious injuries, saving on the legal fees might be the better option. However in more complex car accidents, commercial vehicle accidents, or motorcycle accident settlements where there are usually more serious injuries and higher insurance limits, the attorney fee usually pays for itself and then some, while saving you a lot of time and headache.
If you were in a car accident, you probably have a stack of medical bills, lost earnings, and emotional distress. Should you file a claim and try to get a car accident settlement?
Below are some of the factors to consider if a car accident settlement is worth it:
- How serious was the accident? If it was a fender bender with no injuries, filing a claim and getting a settlement may not be worth it. If your damages are more serious and you have injuries, you may want to negotiate a car accident settlement, especially if the other driver was at fault.
- Who was at fault for the accident? If you were entirely or mostly at fault, you probably will not be able to collect money for your damages and injuries from the other driver’s insurance policy. Your own insurer will repair damages to your vehicle, and it may cover some of your healthcare expenses.
- Was your injury entirely new and due to the crash, or did it aggravate a previous injury?
- Was your treatment excessive? An auto insurance company will not give you the full value of your medical expenses if they determine the treatment was too expensive, especially if the care was physical therapy or chiropractic in nature.
- Did you seek medical treatment right away? This is important so the insurance company knows that your injuries are related to the accident itself.
In a car accident case, there are two types of damages available to the injured party. These are economic (special) and non-economic (general) damages.
Special damages are simple to calculate because they involve your property damage, medical bills, and lost earnings. They are easy to calculate. General damages refer to pain and suffering, which means physical pain and discomfort, but also emotional stress and anxiety.
It is hard to determine what pain and suffering is worth. But insurance companies usually rely on one of two approaches.
The first is the multiplier method. This is where the company adds up your economic damages, and multiplies then by 1.5 to 5, depending on the severity of your injuries, recovery time and whether the driver was clearly in the wrong.
Other insurers may use the daily rate or per diem approach. This method assigns a certain dollar amount for each day you have to live with the pain of the accident. You can ensure your per diem rate is ‘reasonable’ by comparing it to what you earn in your job each day.
If you are trying to negotiate your own settlement, use both the multiplier and per diem approaches and see what you come up with. If they are very different, that is fine. At the end of it all, you will need to negotiate that number with the insurance company. At least you have a ballpark range of what you should settle for. If you have questions or are feeling uncertain, have a personal injury attorney represent you.
If a car accident case is settled out of court, the amount of the settlement and case details are not public record. Most car accident claims are settled out of court, so odds are that your case is not public record.
However, cases arise where the plaintiff and defendant cannot agree on a settlement, and the case goes to court. If you file a personal injury lawsuit in court and the case is decided by a judge or jury, the results ARE public record.
Whether the result of your case will be private or public record can be a factor when you are thinking about settling or filing a lawsuit. Most insurance companies and plaintiffs want to settle out of court. This can happen in arbitration or mediation, rather than going to court because more flexibility is allowed and costs less. Settling also keeps your name out of the public record.
Your attorney can advise you on whether to file a lawsuit or not. If you want to keep the details of the case and settlement private, filing a lawsuit may not be a good choice for you. Your attorney also can rely on his previous litigation in car accidents and determine whether it is likely you could prevail in a trial.
If you were in a car accident and you think you want to settle it yourself, below are the steps to follow.
But you should first consider how badly you were hurt, and whether the other driver clearly was at fault. If your injuries run into the thousands of dollars and/or fault is questionable, you may want to hire a personal injury attorney.
That said, here are the steps to follow to settle your car accident case:
- Take photos of the property damage, scene of the crash, and your injuries.
- Obtain a copy of the police report.
- Get the medical treatment you need as soon as you can
- Do not provide a recorded statement to the other driver’s insurance company.
- Do not use social media to talk about your accident.
- Calculate your ‘special damages,’ which are your medical bills and lost work time.
- Calculate your ‘general damages,’ which refers to your pain and suffering. Pain and suffering is often calculated using a multiplier between 1-5. One is for minor injuries, and 5 is for serious and even permanent injuries. Most pain and suffering injuries in car accidents are valued at 2 or 3. That number is then multiplied by your special damages.
Once you have completed the above steps, you will send a demand letter to the other driver’s insurance company. Your demand letter should include:
- Why the defendant is liable for your injuries.
- The nature and extent of your injuries and the medical treatment you had.
- Financial losses caused by the accident.
- Pain and suffering.
The insurance company may respond with a low offer, but do not take it. This is the starting point for negotiations. Make a counteroffer and continue to negotiate until you get what you think is a fair settlement. If you feel the insurer is offering too little, consider hiring a personal injury attorney.
In a best-case scenario, a car accident settlement will take a few weeks. This however, rarely happens. Insurance companies are known to try and offer lowball initial settlement offers to save money. Adjusters will often play on the lack of knowledge of most people injured in car accidents, and the desire of the plaintiff to get the situation resolved quickly, to get away without paying the total amount of damages.
This is why it’s so important to take pictures, talk to witnesses, and hire a good car accident lawyer. In most cases, the initial offer is just a starting point for negotiations… then it’s up to the plaintiff to document medical bills, lost wages, and lifestyle adjustments made due to the injuries caused as a means of proving the monetary value of their claims.
As the evidence gathering, witness statements, and back & forth negotiations all take time, the car accident settlement process can take many months and in some cases years, to reach a fair settlement.
The car accident settlement process can range from quick & painless, to long and drawn out, depending on the details of the accident, the complexities of the case, and the insurance companies & attorneys involved. In general, here is the timeline for the car accident settlement process:
- Claim gets filed with the “at fault” party’s insurance company
- Insurance company investigates the claim, gathers evidence, and speaks to witnesses & experts, etc.
- Initial settlement offer is made to the plaintiff
- If satisfactory, the settlement is reached and the matter is closed. However this is usually not the case, as insurance companies will often times try to lowball the initial car accident settlement offer.
- If the initial settlement offer is not satisfactory to the injured party, there is a negotiation process that can involve many rounds of back & forth, usually with both parties presenting evidence and arguments as to why their position is correct.
- If a settlement amount that works for everyone is reached, the process is over. If not…
- The process of filing a car accident lawsuit can follow, which will then take many more months, if not years, to litigate. As such, it’s usually in everyone’s best interest to reach a fair settlement for the car accident.
While many factors along the way can affect the time and outcome of a car accident settlement, documenting everything, knowing how to deal with insurance companies, and hiring a good car accident attorney can all help make the process smoother and faster.
The simple as yes, you can negotiate a car accident settlement. In fact, most car accident injury lawsuits are settled by the parties before a trial is held. Only a small fraction of court cases ever go before a jury. Instead, the parties to the case most often agree to settle the case and avoid the need for a jury trial.
In most cases, an insurance company can save thousands of dollars by negotiating a settlement to a car accident case, rather than going to trial and letting a judge or jury decide how much an injured party should get. For an injured party, negotiating a car accident settlement can provide a faster way to receive financial compensation they are entitled to without risking a long and expensive trial, which may not come out in their favor.
For these reasons, negotiating a car accident settlement is a common practice.
Negotiating your car accident settlement may be common, but it can be complicated. Most of the time, you’ll want a qualified motor vehicle accident attorney on your side, helping make sure that your legal rights are upheld while you negotiate your car accident settlement. Your attorney can help make sure that you are fairly compensated for your injuries, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages.
How your car accident settlement will be paid out depends in part on the status of the other driver who hit you. If the person you are settling with is uninsured, make sure your agreement is in writing and signed by both parties, not just a verbal agreement between you and the other driver, which may not stand up in court.
Depending on the laws in your state, you may be able to file a lien on the at-fault party’s property or pursue a judgment against the driver either through small claims court or local civil court.
If you are dealing with the other driver’s insurance company, it’s a more straight-forward process. Typically, once you’ve agreed to a settlement amount, the other driver’s insurance company will send you or your attorney a “release” for your signature. In this legally binding document, the insurance company agrees to pay you a stated amount in exchange for your giving up the right to pursue the insurer, or the insured other driver, for any future damages arising out of this particular car accident. In most cases, the insurer will not pay you the amount until it has received back the signed release. But once the release is returned, the insurer will send a settlement check.
If you are represented by an attorney, the check from the insurance company will usually be made out to you and your attorney. Your attorney will deposit the check in a law firm account and will write you a separate check after taking out any of his or her attorney fees and costs.
It’s important to note that in most states, lawyers, doctors and others who are owed money for working on your case get paid first before the balance of the settlement amount is paid to you, the injured party.
Here are some ways you can maximize the compensation you receive for your car accident settlement:
Take pictures: They say a picture is worth 1000 words – never is that more true than when negotiating a car accident settlement. Make sure to get pictures of everything you can – your car, their car, road conditions, traffic signs, etc.
Watch what you say: Sometimes a simple explanation or apology can be misconstrued as an admission of guilt. Don’t say you’re sorry, or you should have been paying more attention, or say you were distracted. Your words can and will be used against you.
Get help: It’s always a good idea to speak to a lawyer who can help you better understand your situation, potential damages, and other ways to maximize your auto accident settlement. Almost all personal injury attorneys will give a free consultation, so there is no harm in getting an expert opinion or two.
In the US, the average settlement for a car accident is somewhere around $20,000, maybe $25,000, depending on who’s stats you go by. One thing to keep in mind about averages, is that they’re often skewed by a few outliers, and this is certainly the case with car accident settlements. Just like if Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos walked into a room, the average net worth in that room would instantly go up by millions, a handful of multi-million dollar settlements bring the average number up quite a bit… so when factoring that in, the average “average car accident” settlement is probably closer to $15,000 or so.
There are 2 parts to this – the negotiation, and the process of getting your check. Once the settlement is agreed upon, the process usually takes 2-3 weeks for the insurance company to issue a check. However the negotiation prior to the agreement can take months, sometimes years, depending on the severity of the auto accident and the amount of ongoing medical treatment associated with the injuries.
The decision to hire a lawyer for a car accident settlement depends on a number of things. Mostly, it comes down to the severity of the accident and related injuries, as well as your faith in your ability to negotiate & desire to deal directly with insurance companies. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to determine the answer to this question:
- How serious was the accident, injuries, and impact on my life (i.e. ability to work, enjoy normal activities, etc)?
- Do I have the time and/or desire to deal with both parties’ insurance companies, possibly for months?
- Do I know enough to negotiate a fair car accident settlement for myself? Or…
- Do I think a lawyer will get me substantially more money that I would get on my own?
Once you have honestly answered these questions, you should have a good idea which direction to go. IAs a general rule, the more serious the accident and injuries, the more likely it’s in your best interest to hire an attorney – their experience in knowing what damages to ask for and how to talk to the insurance company can make a big difference in negotiating the highest car accident settlement possible, which can often pay for itself even after attorney fees, and save you a lot of time & stress in the process.
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