Are Car Accident Settlements Public Record?

There are few things as stressful as a car accident. Even if you’re not left with serious injuries after the car accident, the damage done to your vehicle and your psyche can linger for a long time. Stress doesn’t stop once you’ve finished up with the police as the scene of the accident, either. In many cases, car accidents are followed by weeks of paperwork, insurance claims, and meetings with attorneys. Most people are eager to put their accident behind them but find themselves asking one important question: are car accident settlements public record?

Car accidents are often stressful for all parties involved. For both parties, the primary concern is typically about moving forward with their lives as quickly as possible. In general, car accident settlements are only made public when they are contested or litigated in court. This allows both parties to confidentially hammer out the details of their agreement, while also preserving their privacy. However, if one of the parties decides not to settle privately, then the terms of the settlement may become part of a public record. Overall, though, most car accident settlements are kept confidential in order to protect all involved from unnecessary scrutiny and stress.

When a car accident claim is settled out of court, the details of the case, as well as the final car accident settlement amounts are kept private. Since most car accident claims are indeed settled out of court, accident victims don’t need to worry about the amount of their settlement or the details surrounding the case ending up in the public record. The only time your car accident settlement would be made public is if you opt to escalate your claim and file a lawsuit. The results of the case will be deemed public record if and when the case goes to court.

Thankfully, this is rare. Insurance companies, drivers and their attorneys are eager to negotiate outside the courtroom. It saves both sides valuable time and money. Generally, the only time you’d need to file a car accident lawsuit is when the other party refuses to agree upon a reasonable settlement amount. This can happen when the fault of the accident or the severity of the damages are in question.

Are Car Accident Settlements Required to be Confidential? 

In most auto accident cases, when the final settlement agreement is drafted there is language included that requires all parties to keep the details of the settlement confidential. This is know as a “confidentiality clause” or “non disclosure agreement (NDA)”. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. Most people don’t want their personal health information (i.e. types of injuries suffered in the crash, pre-existing injuries or conditions, etc) to be made public.
  2. Insurance companies don’t want plaintiffs and their attorneys to see how much was paid out in similar cases – for example, let’s say you were rear ended by a commercial vehicle that had Allstate as their insurance company. If your lawyer could easily see that Allstate had paid out $50,000 in a similar rear end collision settlement with a commercial vehicle, it would be hard for them to make you an offer for much less than that.

Filing a Car Accident Claim Is Private

After a car accident, you’ll want to file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Many victims opt to hire an experienced car accident attorney to represent them from the very beginning, while others feel confident they can settle their car accident claim without an attorney. If fault is clear and the damages you sustained are typical, the settlement process may be very easy. The insurance company will offer you a sum they feel is fair and you can accept if you find the number to be reasonable. You’ll be asked to sign forms waiving your right to ever pursue compensation related to the crash again. In such cases, the settlement you receive will be made privately, with no public record of the agreement.

In many cases, the insurance company will try to lowball accident victims into accepting less than they deserve. The less money they pay out in settlements, the more money they can pass along to their shareholders. With this in mind, you may want to negotiate a more appropriate car accident settlement amount. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you determine a fair amount and help you create a demand letter to send to the insurance company. The letter will outline your damages and explain how the settlement money will make you whole again.

Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit Is Public

Should you and the insurance company come to a stalemate, you may want to escalate your claim and file a lawsuit. Though less common, this option does offer some advantages. By filing a lawsuit, you show that you’re willing to go to court and risk your settlement on a judge’s decision. There are downsides to filing, of course – you’ll spend more money on legal fees and may not be able to convince the court to rule in your favor.

If privacy is a concern, a car accident lawsuit may not be a good option. Court rulings are a matter of public record. Everything submitted to the judge is made public, including witness testimony, details of the victim’s injuries and, of course, the verdict of the case. If you’re worried about the details of the crash or the amount you’re suing for becoming public, you may want to head back to the negotiating table instead.

Thankfully, car accident settlement negotiations can continue all the way up until a judgment has been made. If you’ve already begun filing a lawsuit and aren’t sure you want to risk leaving your settlement in the hands of a judge or jury, you can always go back to the negotiation table. This is incredibly common and is a good option if you don’t want details of your accident to become public record.

Explore Your Legal Options

After being involved in a serious car accident, life can feel out of control. It’s normal to want to settle your claim and put the whole thing behind you. Settle too soon, though, and you risk losing money to cover the costs of medical bills, repairs and paid time off of work to recuperate. If you’re eager to seize control over your legal options, consider meeting with a local car accident lawyer for guidance.

Because many car accident attorneys offer free initial consultations, you can seek out legal advice and opinions with little personal risk. By explaining your goals, your concerns and your story with a professional, you arm yourself with the information necessary to get a fair and private auto accident settlement.

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