If you have been involved in an auto accident resulting in physical injuries and/or property damage to your vehicle, you will most likely file a claim with the insurer of the party at fault (with some exceptions). Only a tiny percentage of car accident cases go to trial. They are typically settled among the insurance companies first.
This section focuses on car accident claims and personal injury settlements. It includes a basic overview of the personal injury claims process. Articles in this section cover such topics as:
- Pain and suffering damages
- The accuracy of online car accident settlement calculators
- Whether an uninsured driver can sue an insured driver who is at fault for an accident
The Basics of Car Accident Settlements
Most car accident cases don't go to trial. These claims are typically resolved out of court by car insurance companies and their insurance adjusters. Even if a claim is filed against an individual (not the insurer), it's most likely going to be settled without a trial. Therefore, it's important to have a general understanding of how motor vehicle accident claims and settlements typically are resolved.
A settlement is a compromise among the parties involved in a dispute, typically negotiated by car accident lawyers. After finalizing a settlement offer, the details of the settlement are sometimes kept confidential, depending on the terms agreed upon by both parties, and neither party typically admits wrongdoing. However, not all settlements are confidential; the specifics can vary case by case.
If you're not satisfied with the settlement amount provided by the opposing party's auto insurance carrier, you may write a "demand letter." This explains your damage and injuries resulting from the car crash in greater detail, along with a request for a fair settlement amount. The parties involved will review the demand letter and then move to the settlement negotiation phase, which often requires much back and forth before reaching a resolution.
Negotiations and Alternative Dispute Resolution
If there are disagreements or firm differences that prevent a satisfactory settlement agreement, you can always seek mediation or binding/non-binding arbitration by a disinterested party. Failing a resolution, however, the car accident lawsuit may proceed to trial.
A settlement can be reached at any point in the legal process, even after a jury has delivered its verdict. While many personal injury cases are settled before the jury delivers a verdict, it's not uncommon for parties to agree on a settlement post-verdict, as ongoing legal processes and potential appeals can prompt further negotiations.
Car Accident Insurance Claims at a Glance
When you are involved in an accident, it always helps to get a police report in order to have an official record of what happened and who is likely at fault. While there is no exact, universal time frame within which you have to report an accident after it occurs, you're better off doing it as soon as possible. Most insurance policies specifically establish a certain time frame within which a claim must be submitted.
Most insurance companies will not accept claims submitted after this "deadline." Filing a timely claim is essential to ensure consideration of your case. If it's the other motorist's fault, make sure you call their insurer the same day or soon thereafter (and always get this insurance information from the other party at the scene of the accident).
While it's natural for there to be "two sides" to the story, make sure you're as honest and accurate as possible. If you are caught lying about important details of the accident or damages, it will jeopardize your ability to collect a payout and, in some instances, could result in sanctions by the court.
It's crucial for car accident victims to prioritize immediate medical assistance following the incident. Not only is this vital for their health, but the medical records generated will serve as comprehensive documentation of their injuries.
While at the scene of the accident or shortly thereafter, it can be helpful to take detailed notes about the circumstances of the incident, such as weather conditions or specific events leading up to the accident. Any subsequent symptoms that emerge, such as signs of whiplash or a concussion, will be documented in follow-up medical records. Always ensure that you or your car accident attorney secure complete and accurate copies of all medical records related to any treatment you receive.
What Types of Medical Bills Can Be Covered by a Car Accident Settlement?
A car accident settlement can cover a wide range of medical expenses incurred as a direct result of an accident. This can include but is not limited to:
- The cost of ambulance services
- Emergency room visits
- Any necessary diagnostic tests
- Prescription medications
- Physical or occupational therapy
- Any follow-up appointments or long-term care required due to the sustained injuries, such as chiropractic treatments or mental health services
A settlement is intended to make the injured party "whole" again, so any medical expense directly related to the accident should be covered.
Can I Recover for Emotional Distress in a Car Accident Settlement?
Yes. Emotional distress is a valid concern after a car accident and can be included in a settlement claim. This is often categorized under "pain and suffering," which also includes the physical pain resulting from the accident. Emotional distress might include:
- Any other psychological effects of the accident
Because emotional distress is less tangible and more subjective than physical injuries, it can be more challenging to quantify. Still, a qualified attorney can help you gather the necessary evidence to support this aspect of your claim.
What Does "Bodily Injury" Mean in the Context of a Car Accident Claim?
In a car accident claim, "bodily injury" refers to any physical harm or injury suffered as a result of the accident. This can include:
- Minor injuries, such as cuts and bruises
- Moderate injuries, like fractures or dislocations
- Serious injuries, including internal injuries or spinal cord injuries
Bodily injury also covers any long-term or chronic conditions that result from the accident.
Can I Recover for Disfigurement in a Car Accident Settlement?
Absolutely. If a car accident has resulted in any form of disfigurement, you can seek compensation for this in your settlement. Disfigurement can have significant psychological and emotional impacts. It can hinder daily activities or future employment opportunities. Your claim might include compensation for any necessary reconstructive or cosmetic surgeries, as well as the psychological trauma associated with the disfigurement.
How Is Lost Income Calculated in a Car Accident Settlement?
Lost income is calculated based on the earnings you have missed out on due to your inability to work while recovering from your injuries. This includes wages or salary from your regular employment, bonuses, and other benefits.
If your injuries prevent you from returning to your previous job or limit your ability to earn in the future (known as "loss of earning capacity"), this, too, can be included in your claim. Detailed documentation, such as pay stubs and tax returns, will be necessary to calculate lost income accurately.
What Are Policy Limits and How Do They Impact My Settlement?
Policy limits are the maximum amounts that an insurance company is obligated to pay out for a particular claim, as specified in the insurance policy. These limits can affect your settlement. They might limit the amount you can recover from an at-fault driver's insurance company.
If your damages exceed the policy limits, you may need to investigate other sources of potential compensation. Check to see if the at-fault driver has umbrella insurance or insurance on other vehicles they own or within the household. Additionally, you can pursue a claim against your own insurance company for the difference under your underinsured motorist policy. Lastly, consider a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver as another avenue to recover your losses.
Can I Receive Compensation for Physical Therapy Costs?
Yes, physical therapy is often a part of recovery after a car accident. Its costs are usually included in a car accident settlement. This can include:
- Rehabilitation exercises to help regain strength and mobility
- Ongoing therapy for more serious or permanent injuries
- Follow-up medical consultations to monitor recovery and adjust treatment plans
Keep detailed records of all physical therapy costs to ensure they are accurately reflected in your claim.
What Are Punitive Damages in a Car Accident Claim?
Punitive damages are awarded in some car accident cases where the actions of the at-fault party were particularly:
Punitive damages intend to punish the wrongdoer and deter others from engaging in similar behavior in the future. Not all cases will qualify for punitive damages. The standard for awarding them is generally high and varies by jurisdiction.
How Is the Settlement Value Determined in a Car Accident Claim?
The settlement value in a car accident claim is determined by:
- The severity of your injuries
- The extent of your medical expenses
- Any income you've lost as a result of being unable to work
- The degree of the at-fault party's negligence
- The impact of the accident on your quality of life (i.e., permanent disability)
- Future expenses, such as ongoing medical treatment or long-term care
The goal is to adequately compensate you for all the losses you've suffered as a result of the accident.
What Is the Average Car Accident Settlement?
The average car accident settlement depends on the specific details of each case. Factors that can influence the amount of compensation include:
- The severity of the injuries
- The degree of property damage
- The policy limits of the insurance coverage involved
- Additionally, each case has unique factors, such as:
- The specific jurisdiction's laws
- The level of evidence available
- The negotiation skills of the involved attorneys
Consult with a personal injury attorney to get an estimate based on your circumstances.
Speak to a Personal Injury Lawyer About Car Accident Claims and Settlements
This article provides helpful information on some common questions and topics related to the value of your case. Speak with a personal injury attorney to learn more about car accident injuries and car accident settlement amounts.
Many attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means injured people won't pay any attorney's fees unless their personal injury lawsuit is successful. You won't have to worry about paying anything out of pocket.