You suffered serious injuries in a car accident. You may know that a settlement can help you obtain compensation for your injuries, but how that works remains a little murky. How do car accident settlements work?
If you have specific questions about your accident or your claim, contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
Step One: Filing a Personal Injury Claim
A personal injury claim allows you to obtain compensation for the financial losses you face as a result of your accident. Unlike damage to your vehicle, which falls under a different section of most policies, personal injury claims include bodily injury and the expenses associated with them. In some cases, it can take up to six months after your accident to fully predict what your recovery will look like. An attorney cannot guarantee the results of your car accident claim.
Most victims, however, claim:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages due to those injuries
- Lost earning potential, if the injury forces you to leave your previous profession
- Pain and suffering
Consult an attorney before filing your claim to help you understand your rights and the compensation you deserve for your injuries.
Step Two: The Investigation
Once you contact an attorney, the attorney will begin investigating your accident. The liable party’s insurance company will also investigate the accident and your injuries. This may include:
- Looking over any video footage of the accident
- Listening to witness statements
- Going over your report of the accident
- Looking over your medical records and statements from your doctor regarding your injuries and your likelihood of making a full recovery
- Evaluating the damage to your vehicle
- Checking the police report
The insurance company may try to limit its financial liability as much as possible. Its investigators may attempt to pin liability for the accident on someone else—often by shifting some or all of the blame to you. Having an attorney on your side can help prevent any problems in the investigation. An experienced personal injury lawyer will work to gather evidence on your behalf.
An attorney may also identify other parties that share liability for the accident. For example, you may discover that the manufacturer of the vehicle or some of its parts, as in a tire blowout accident on a new tire, shares liability for the accident.
In the case of a commercial driver, the driver’s employer might also share liability. By identifying these parties who share liability for your accident, an attorney can help you pursue compensation from all liable parties and often increase the compensation you receive as a result. Your attorney may advise you to wait until the completion of his investigation before filing a personal injury claim, especially if early signs point to multiple parties sharing liability in the accident.
Step Three: The Settlement Offer and Negotiation
Once the insurance company completes its investigation, you will often receive a settlement offer from the insurance company. Often, the insurance company will send an accident victim a settlement offer shortly after the accident itself. This offer, however, might not reflect the full compensation you deserve. Instead, it might represent the insurance company’s attempt to minimize financial liability as much as possible.
The insurance company may attempt to:
- Shift liability. The insurance company may claim, after its investigation, that you caused some or all of the accident, which minimizes its financial liability for your injuries and other expenses related to the accident.
- Minimize the terms of the policy. The greater extent of your injuries and, therefore, the greater the compensation you ask for in your claim, the more the insurance company may attempt to minimize the compensation you receive. The insurance company must disclose the full policy to an attorney; however, your attorney must ask for that information and review the policy to understand the compensation it entitles you to after your accident.
- Disprove your claims about your injuries. The insurance company may attempt to claim that your injuries do not impose the limitations on your life that you initially claim. They may investigate your daily activities, including checking your social media posts and evaluating your capability to complete work and home responsibilities.
Once you receive a settlement offer, you should discuss it with your attorney. You can choose to either accept the offer or continue negotiating. You may need to go through multiple rounds of negotiation before arriving at a fair offer that suits both you and the insurance company.
Step Four: Mediation
If you cannot reach a settlement agreement with the insurance company, mediation may be the next step; often, a retired or current attorney or judge will act as a mediator. The mediator will hear both sides of the issue and work with you to create or find a solution that fits your needs and that of the insurance company. Most insurance companies do not want to litigate a claim to court, since this can substantially increase the company’s legal expenses and juries may be less sympathetic to a large company.
If you cannot reach an agreement in mediation, however, your claim will likely need to be litigated in court, where your attorney and the insurance company’s attorneys will present the separate sides of the claim. The court will then determine liability, and the compensation the other party and/or insurance company must pay if found responsible for your injuries.
Step Five: Payment
Once you arrive at a settlement agreement or court award, the insurance company must pay within a reasonable amount of time. If the company does not pay, your attorney can help. Usually, however, the insurance company will issue payment within the legally-mandated thirty days following a settlement agreement. You may accumulate interest on any unpaid settlements.
Your settlement agreement likely relieves the insurance company of future financial liability for your accident, even if your medical expenses mount higher than anticipated or you discover further injuries from the accident. This settlement award comes directly to you, and you will use it to pay your legal fees, your medical bills, and other expenses associated with your accident.
If you suffered injuries in a car accident, an attorney can help evaluate your claim, determine the compensation you deserve, and assist as you move through each step of the claim process.
Contact an experienced car accident injury attorney to learn more about your rights following an auto accident.