People who suffer injuries in car accidents can contend with significant financial strain in addition to the injuries themselves. Even if their insurance pays for some of their expenses from getting hurt in a crash, they often end up with stacks of medical bills and other invoices they can’t afford, while also needing to take time off work to recover.
The law entitles many car accident victims to seek compensation for their injuries by taking legal action against the party at fault for the crash. An experienced car accident injury attorney can often recover money to pay for the victim’s expenses and for the pain, suffering, and difficulty they endured.
Victims entitled to receive compensation often want to know how much money they can expect. We explore the more-complicated-than-you-might-expect answer to that question below.
Car Accident Settlements Explained
People may hear the word settlement after a car accident, but don’t know what that means. Let’s take a closer look.
A settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal claim for damages. In the typical car accident settlement, the injured victim agrees not to sue for damages, or to end any lawsuit that has already been filed, in exchange for a payment from the party who has legal liability for the victim’s injuries. The vast majority of car accident injury legal claims get resolved through settlements instead of a trial.
Lawyers representing an injured victim and the party with legal liability negotiate settlements. Typically, the victim’s lawyer asks for one amount of money, the liable party’s lawyer proposes another, lower amount, and they go back and forth trying to convince each other that their amount is the right one, often narrowing the distance between the two numbers in the process until they reach common ground.
This negotiation can take place by phone, email, letters, text, or in-person. The process can take just a few hours in one go, or may last longer and take place during a series of stop-and-start conversations. Sometimes, a trained mediator helps negotiate a middle ground.
In many car accident cases, the settlement payment comes from an insurance company that issued liability insurance to the liable party. In those cases, an insurance company representative may participate in or take over negotiations. While the lawyers negotiate settlements, their clients decide whether to agree to them.
In almost all cases, the injured victim and the liable party sign a written settlement agreement that spells out (among other details):
- The amount and timing of the payment;
- The legal rights the victim gives up by agreeing to the payment; and
- Any other actions the parties agree to take to resolve the legal claim.
Once the parties have signed the agreement and fulfilled its requirements, there is usually no turning back. Settlements are final. They almost always terminate all rights the victim has to seek additional money. The case is over.
For that reason, victims should only accept a settlement that pays them fair and reasonable compensation. Victims who agree to a settlement, only to discover later that it was for too little to cover their expenses, cannot get a do-over. They’re stuck with what they agreed to. That’s why you need an experienced car accident lawyer to evaluate your case and negotiate an adequate settlement.
Car Accident Settlement Amounts
So, how much is a car accident settlement? There is no single answer to that question. Every car accident involves unique facts and circumstances that determine the amount of money the victim has a legal right to receive, and the amount of money the victim can realistically expect to get in a settlement. Let’s take a look at each.
Rights to Damages
Generally speaking, someone whose unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions cause a car accident that injures someone else will have a legal liability to pay for that accident victim’s damages. One or more individuals, companies, or government entities can bear liability to the victim.
The law broadly entitles car accident victims to demand payment from any liable party for all of the victims’ injuries and monetary and non-monetary losses.
These categories of damages may include:
- Medical expenses related to the treatment of the injury;
- Non-medical expenses the victim incurs because of the accident or injury;
- Lost income, both past and future, resulting from a victim who misses or cannot to return to work because of the injuries;
- The victim’s pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life resulting from the injuries; and
- Punitive damages to punish and deter reckless or outrageous behavior that caused the car accident.
The money you get from any of these categories depends mostly on the severity of your injuries and your prospects for making a full recovery. Generally speaking, the more severe the injury, and the more far-reaching the injury’s impacts on your life, the more money you can claim in damages.
Experienced car accident injury lawyers work with victims to evaluate the many ways car crash injuries harm them and to translate that harm into a dollar amount that the law permits the victims to demand as payment.
Realistic Expectations for Payment
Just because a car accident victim has the legal right to receive monetary damages from a party with legal liability does mean that the victim can realistically expect to collect the full amount of those damages.
These factors can influence whether the victim obtains full payment:
- The number of parties with a legal liability for the victim’s injuries. Some car accidents have only one at-fault party. Others have multiple parties whose dangerous decisions or actions caused the crash. As a general rule, the more parties that have liability, the better the victim’s chances of recovering full damages.
- The financial resources available to pay damages to the victim. Parties with legal liability typically pay damages to victims from liability insurance or out of their own pockets. The amount of insurance an at-fault party carries, and/or the amount of assets that party has, can affect the amount of money the victim can recover. Obviously, you have a better chance of obtaining full compensation from a corporate party that carries millions of dollars in insurance coverage than from a single motorist who carries the bare minimum.
- The number of victims. A car accident can cause injuries to multiple victims, all of whom may seek damages from the legally liable party or parties. If the parties with liability have only limited financial resources, then those victims may have a harder time getting paid in full for their injuries.
- The degree of dispute about liability and damages. Victims usually have a better chance of recovering the full value of their damages if everyone agrees about who has legal liability for the crash and the amount of money the victim has the right to receive. When parties dispute those points or the evidence does not prove them strongly enough, victims may have to settle for less to resolve their claims.
- The victim’s personal priorities. Victims who insist on receiving money as fast as possible will tend to receive less than victims who can stay patient and let the legal process play itself out to a point where their lawyer can obtain a more favorable settlement.
Experienced car accident injury lawyers will often investigate a crash to identify every party that may have a legal liability to their client. Victims represented by skilled lawyers often learn, to their surprise, that more parties may have a liability to them than they imagined. Those parties can include not just another motorist, but also corporations and even government agencies with larger insurance policies.
Always talk to your car accident lawyer about your personal priorities for settling a case so that your lawyer can develop a legal strategy that suits your needs and goals.
Give Yourself the Best Shot at a Top-Dollar Settlement
Car accident victims often want to know how to improve their chances of recovering the full value of their car accident injury claims. Every case is different, of course, so there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for maximizing your settlement amount. However, by following the tips below, you can often put yourself in the strongest possible position to achieve a favorable settlement.
Seek immediate medical care, and do what the doctor tells you.
We cannot stress this enough. If you want to achieve a top-dollar settlement, then you have to take care of yourself. Always let an EMT check you out at the scene of the accident. Take an ambulance ride to the hospital if the EMT recommends it. Always visit your primary care doctor or an urgent care center within 24 hours of your crash for a full check-up by a doctor. Follow the doctor’s instructions to the letter.
Why is prompt medical care so important?
- First, protecting your health should always take priority. Even injuries that seem minor at first can develop into major health complications.
- Second, by visiting a doctor, you create records that show the connection between your crash and injuries, that you took your injuries seriously, and that did your best to get better. These records will prove vital in seeking a favorable settlement and protect against someone disputing the seriousness of your injuries or claiming that you made them worse by refusing treatment.
Do not fall for insurance company tactics.
Insurance companies that issued policies to the party at-fault for your accident may try to contact you. They may try to get you talking about the accident, and they may offer you a quick payment for your trouble. Do not take the bait. It’s a trap.
The only reason an insurance company representing someone else has to contact you, the victim, is to minimize its own financial exposure to the crash and your injuries. Insurance adjusters may act friendly, but their goal is to either get you to say something that they can use as a reason not to pay you damages or to trick you into accepting a settlement offer for far less money than you deserve.
In virtually all circumstances, your best course of action is to avoid all interactions with the at-fault party’s insurance company. Do not talk with an insurance adjuster. Do not—never, ever—agree to any payment. Instead, leave all interactions with the at-fault party’s insurance company to a skilled car accident lawyer who can protect your rights and negotiate on a level playing field.
Seek skilled legal representation right away.
An experienced car accident injury lawyer will represent your interests. The sooner you seek an attorney’s help, the sooner that attorney can protect your rights against insurance company tactics and build a case for the maximum possible settlement.
It costs nothing to meet with an experienced car accident injury lawyer for the first time. Virtually all car crash lawyers also represent clients on contingency, meaning that you pay no money upfront, and they only get paid if they obtain a settlement that you agree to accept.
Do not wait to protect your rights after a car accident leaves you injured and in need of a settlement.