When someone suffers an injury in a car accident, the first thing they are concerned about is how long they may be forced to stay out of work and how they will repair their vehicle. Car accidents can cause financial challenges for the injured person and their family. Therefore, you need a lawyer who understands how much compensation a victim can recover in a car accident settlement.
Gaining a Full Understanding of the Types of Losses
There are two primary forms of compensation which are economic and non-economic. While non-economic losses make up a portion of a final car accident settlement, most of the compensation is economic losses a victim has suffered.
Economic Losses Following a Car Accident
Economic losses are documented losses.
Some of these include:
- Wages and compensation. When someone is out of work for an extended period recovering from a car accident injury, they are losing their weekly base pay. However, they may also be losing out on other benefits including deposits to their pension or 401(k) plan, bonus payments, and other benefits earned as they are working. Keep in mind, some victims may have short or long-term disability payments which will be paid while they are recovering, but these payments are usually not equal to their normal base pay.
- Medical expenses current and future. Regardless of how extensive a health plan may be, there are often deductibles for specialized care, office visits, or prescription medications. In some cases, medical plans will not cover items such as braces, wheelchairs, or other medical appliances, which may be necessary following a serious car wreck meaning a victim will have to pay these costs out of their pocket. These can be included in a settlement demand from the at-fault driver. Those costs can also be included if a car accident victim requires longer-term care or procedures such as surgery, regular physical therapy, etc.
- Other potential expenses. There are often unexpected expenses when someone is seriously injured in a car accident. Some of these include a replacement of their automobile (depending on their own insurance coverage), car rental while their car is being repaired, or costs of transportation to get to doctor’s appointments. Additionally, a victim may also claim other costs in a settlement demand including the cost of hiring household help if they are unable to complete chores on their own, costs associated with necessary home modifications, or other similar expenses.
These are the most common economic losses, often included in a car accident settlement. This portion of a settlement demand is usually easy to explain since they require receipts and records which can be easily obtained.
Non-Economic Losses Following a Car Accident
In working on a settlement demand, a car accident attorney will have to speak with a victim to understand the impact the accident has had on their lives. Non-economic losses are challenging to define because they vary widely from victim to victim.
These damages often reflect a victim’s ability to cope with the aftermath of an accident. Mental well-being, managing their relationships with family, friends, and co-workers, and how the victim has coped with being able to enjoy activities they may have participated in before the accident, including social events and hobbies.
Some of these may include:
- Pain and suffering. The legal definition of pain and suffering is “the physical and mental distress suffered from an injury.” This is dependent upon several factors including the age of the victim, the extent of their injuries, and the length of time that a victim will require to recover from their injuries.
- Emotional suffering. Anguish, distress, and humiliation are emotions that can be crippling for a victim who has suffered a physical injury in a car accident. Emotional suffering can hamper physical recovery, result in additional psychological problems, and may result in feelings of depression or helplessness.
- Scarring or disfigurement. Unfortunately, some victims face scars or other disfiguring injuries, such as amputations of a limb or digit. These injuries can have a lasting impact on a car accident victim’s physical and mental well-being.
While an insurer may downplay the non-economic losses a victim of a car accident has suffered, they are real and impact both victims and their families.
Documenting Losses Before Accepting an Accident Injury Settlement
Offers are made to car accident victims who have suffered severe injuries, often before they completely understand the overall losses caused by a car accident. Therefore, it is always a good idea to speak with an attorney before filing an initial insurance claim after a wreck.
Some of the issues to be addressed before filing a claim include:
- Establishing proof of liability. Before filing a claim, it is essential to establish fault for the accident. This may be accomplished through documentation, including police accident reports, witness statements, and photos taken at the accident scene.
- Medical recovery. Before a car accident victim submits an insurance claim, there should be some indication their recovery is nearly complete. This ensures the full amount of the victim’s losses are captured. Maximum medical recovery is when there is no indication that further medical treatment or intervention will improve the victim’s physical condition.
- Return to work determination. In some cases, an accident victim may be unable to return to work in their current field, or they may be unable to return to full-time employment. Because wages are a portion of any settlement arrangement, it is crucial to understand when a victim may return to full or part-time employment following an injury.
Wage losses are proven by presenting proof of income, such as pay stubs, an employer statement, or tax returns. Other losses can be documented through bills received from care providers, canceled checks or credit card receipts for repairs or modifications, etc. These documents will provide proof of economic losses.
Documenting non-economic losses is more challenging, but a skilled car accident injury lawyer can help a victim determine how to calculate these losses, including obtaining information from credible sources.
Dealing With Insurance Adjusters Following a Car Accident
Insurance company adjusters work for insurers. They are not working for a car accident victim. This is one of the many reasons why it is critical to use caution when dealing with an insurance company in the aftermath of a car accident.
- Ask innocuous questions. Victims remember the question that seems to be a simple friendly gesture is really to get a statement from them to determine if there is a way to reduce the amount of a settlement. An adjuster may ask something like “how are you feeling?” to generate a ‘‘I am feeling fine” answer. They can later use this answer to reduce a victim’s pain and suffering claim.
- Insist on a recorded statement. A car accident victim is under no obligation to provide a recorded statement to an auto insurance adjuster. They use this tactic to use the information in discrediting or minimizing a claim.
- Discourage legal representation. Insurance adjusters often make representations about how an attorney will drag out the process of obtaining a settlement. They try to discourage a victim from getting legal counsel before agreeing to a settlement offer.
Car accident victims should never forget that once an insurance company convinces them to accept an offer, there is no further avenue to collect compensation, even if their expenses increase. Because of this, an insurer may make a fast offer on a settlement and advise the victim that this is the maximum offer they can make or will make. This is seldom the case.
Fast Offers are Not Always Final Settlement Amounts
The more serious an injury is, the sooner a victim is likely to receive an insurer’s offer. The insurance company is interested in keeping the final settlement amount as low as possible.
Even when the insurance company tells a victim that the offer is the maximum they can expect, this is not always the case.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Be wary of initial offers. These offers are usually made in the hopes that the victim will accept the offer to let the insurance company off the hook for future losses. Once a victim accepts an offer, the insurance company has no obligation to pay any additional compensation.
- Use caution with document requests. There will likely be more than one adjuster handling a claim. One adjuster will bear the losses to a vehicle involved in an accident, while one will take the injury portion. Victims will receive numerous documents, including authorizations to obtain medical records, police reports, and other information. Before signing any of these documents, they should be reviewed by an attorney who has experience with car accident claims.
- Avoid incriminating statements. Insurance adjusters may attempt to get a victim of a negligent driver to accept part of the blame for the accident which resulted in their injury. This is a way of minimizing the amount of the final accident settlement.
Contacting an attorney soon after an accident benefits car accident victims. Not only can the attorney handle negotiating on behalf of a victim, but because of their experience, they are less likely to fall for some of the common tactics insurers use.
Working with a Car Accident Injury Lawyer
Many victims believe they are better off negotiating on their own behalf. However, there are many benefits to working with an injury lawyer after a car accident.
Some of these include:
- Experienced negotiators. Attorneys are experienced at handling insurance negotiations. They know what questions to ask and how to ask them. This can be helpful with the insurance claim process.
- Serves the client’s needs. While an insurance adjuster works for the insurance company, a lawyer works for their client. That means the victim has an advocate who has their best interest at heart.
- Understands personal injury laws. Since many victims of car accidents have never had a reason to review personal injury laws, they have little understanding of how these laws impact their case. Car accident injury lawyers have an intimate knowledge of these laws and how they affect victims.
When hiring a lawyer, they will review a case, advise the victim about what legal options are available, and work tirelessly to secure a fair and reasonable settlement on behalf of the victim.
Chances for a Larger Car Accident Settlement
In many cases, a car accident victim can help improve their chances of a larger car accident settlement by hiring an attorney to handle accident injury claims. Their case can be presented to the insurer by a lawyer who has experience working with insurers.
Victims of car accidents should be aware of:
- Obligation-free consultations. Car accident injury attorneys will provide a free consultation to an accident victim. The specific case will be reviewed, and options will be provided.
- Contingency fee agreements. A lawyer who handles car accident injury cases will nearly always work on a contingency fee. This means that unless the attorney successfully obtains a settlement, legal services will not be charged.
- The client remains in control. Despite what an insurer may tell a victim, the lawyer will never accept or reject a settlement offer without consulting with the client. This means the client always remains in control.
When someone is in a car accident or has a loved one severely injured in an accident, an experienced car accident injury lawyer can help them seek compensation for their injuries and other losses. The final amount of compensation asked for in a settlement will depend on the extent of the injuries suffered in a car accident, among other factors.