The vast majority of car accident cases are resolved through settlement negotiations between the injured party and an insurance company. Only a tiny percentage of car accident cases reach the court for trial. This is because car accident claims can often be favorably resolved without filing a lawsuit.
If you've been involved in a car accident, read on to learn about the car accident settlement process and timeline.
Reporting Car Accidents
Most states require drivers to report car accidents to the local police department, county sheriff, or state highway patrol if there were injuries involved. Additionally, some states require a written police report of the accident if anyone was seriously injured, killed, or if there was severe property damage.
Check your state's law to find out the specific reporting requirements.
Car Insurance Laws
Almost all states (except Virginia and New Hampshire) require drivers to carry car insurance. Generally, there are two types of systems regarding car accident liability:
- At-fault system
- No-fault system
Your car accident settlement process will depend on which system your state follows.
At-Fault System (Traditional Insurance Coverage)
Most states follow the traditional fault system, In that system, the person who is at fault for a car accident is responsible for the resulting damages. Once it becomes clear that the other driver was at fault, you have the following options:
- File a claim with your own insurance company
- File a third-party claim with the other driver's insurance company
- File a lawsuit against that driver
Although you can file a lawsuit, keep in mind that choosing to file a suit opens the door for the other party to counter-sue you.
If your state follows the no-fault system, you can collect economic damages (e.g., medical expenses and lost wages) regardless of who caused the accident. Your insurance company is required to pay you for personal injuries up to your policy limit. Under this system, you cannot sue the other driver, but the other driver can't sue you either.
Car Accident Settlement Process
Settling your claim means resolving your dispute without going to trial, which is the way most car accident claims are resolved. Parties tend to settle before going to court because a favorable outcome isn't guaranteed in a jury trial. By filing an insurance claim, you can recover damages for any medical expenses, loss of income, and pain and suffering damages that resulted from your car accident.
First, you will need to gather the necessary information and evidence that will support your claim. You must support your claim with evidence, such as medical records, medication, and medical treatment receipts, witness testimony, and photos. After you've gathered the necessary information and documents, you'll need to draft a demand letter, stating your claim, explaining your injuries, and laying out the damages you'd like to recover.
Once you send the demand letter, the insurance company will investigate your case and determine whether to accept or deny it. If the insurance provider accepts your claim, it will make a settlement offer. At this point, both parties will negotiate to come to an agreement. If the company denies your claim, it will likely allow you to make an appeal to the claims adjuster. If you are suing the other driver, you will need to make an initial filing by drafting a complaint and submitting it to a county or district court.
Statutes of Limitations: Time Limit to File a Car Accident Claim
Every state has its own statutes of limitations, which are laws placing time limits on when you can file an injury claim. Depending on the state and whether the defendant was a government actor, you may have anywhere from less than a year up to six years to file a lawsuit against the other driver for car accident damages. The clock starts ticking from the moment of the accident. After the time limit expires, you won't be able to sue the other driver and recover the damages for what you have suffered.
These serious injury cases require time for the accident analysis, for insurance companies to review the claim, for insurance adjusters to offer damages, and for injury attorneys to discuss the injury settlement.
Learn More About the Car Accident Settlement Process: Call a Lawyer
Auto accidents are subject to many state-specific laws like car insurance policies, statutes of limitations, and damage caps for things like medical bills. As a result, it's easy to underestimate your damages or even overlook important factors in your case.
If you're considering filing a car accident claim or have received a settlement offer, an injury attorney at a personal injury law firm can help you make the right choices.