Getting into a car accident is a terrifying experience. You can suffer unimaginable injuries and face a lifetime of pain and disability. You may find that you can no longer work in your chosen profession or enjoy the hobbies and activities that you once loved. You may even struggle to perform your daily care or provide for your family. As you struggle to put your life back together again and face your future, you may not know where to turn for help.
Insurance companies and their adjusters may come circling at this time. They may try to convince you to accept a settlement that is simply not enough. They know you need money after a car accident. Yet, their main goal is not to give you what you need. Their goal is to get you to accept the lowest possible settlement.
Do not sign any settlement agreement without first speaking to an experienced personal injury lawyer. Your injury attorney can ensure that your settlement includes all of the money you need to pay for your injuries, pain and suffering, and future medical complications.
But how much compensation can you receive after an injury accident? And how much can you expect to receive from a car accident settlement?
What Is a Car Accident Settlement?
When you suffer an injury in a car accident, the driver responsible for the accident is also responsible for paying damages. This includes paying for vehicular damages, as well as financial damages. It also includes paying non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering if applicable.
All drivers must legally carry liability insurance to help pay the costs of damages when they cause a crash. Some drivers carry just the minimum amount of liability insurance, while others pay for significantly more coverage. Minimum coverage varies from state to state.
When you seek compensation from the “at fault” driver, insurance companies will enter into negotiations with you to agree to a settlement. A settlement is an agreement between the parties to close the case. In exchange for an agreed-upon settlement amount, you forfeit future rights to file a lawsuit.
If you do not believe that the insurance company offered you a settlement that will adequately cover your medical expenses and damages, you must continue to negotiate or take your car accident lawsuit to court. This is a complex legal process that involves a significant amount of time and resources.
As such, it is best to have an experienced personal injury lawyer on your team as soon as possible. Your lawyer will need to negotiate the best settlement for you after your accident. This involves performing an extensive investigation to build a strong case.
Factors That Affect Settlement Amounts
So how much can you receive in a settlement after a car accident? Every accident case is different. Every injured accident victim faces unique and personal struggles and battles. For example, a brain injury may affect your life differently than another accident victim. As such, settlement amounts vary wildly.
What is the value of your injury? This is often a difficult question to answer. Yet, it is one of the challenges your attorney faces in the aftermath of your accident. Your injury lawyer must properly value your accident and injuries to ensure that any settlement you receive covers all your expenses and damages.
In general, the amount of your settlement depends on numerous factors, including:
- Liability for the accident
- Severity of your injuries
- Pre-existing injuries
- Strength of evidence
- Your own fault
- Long-term effects on lifestyle
- Other expenses and damages
Understanding How Liability Affects Your Settlement
For a driver to bear liability for an accident, your attorney must prove fault. Violating traffic laws and driving negligently are some of the ways drivers can cause horrific crashes. Liability can greatly affect settlement amounts and insurance companies know this. As such, many insurers will aggressively try to pin some of the blame on you after an accident. They do this because they know that reducing liability is the quickest way to reduce the amount of the settlement. The less their “client” bears responsibility, the less they will need to pay.
Insurance adjusters and their investigators may comb through social media, medical records, and crash reports to find any evidence to diminish your claim. They may show that you had pre-existing injuries that contributed to your recovery or that you are not following your doctor’s treatment plan.
Your car accident attorney will need to fight these claims and build a strong case to prove liability. This often involves meeting with medical teams, examining crash damage, reviewing the police report, and interviewing eyewitnesses. In some cases, your attorney may even need to employ accident reconstruction teams to accurately determine who caused the accident.
Through an extensive investigation, your injury lawyer may even prove that multiple parties share blame for the accident. This can significantly impact your settlement amount because it allows you to seek compensation from both parties, not just one. For example, in a drunk driving accident, you may find that you can file a personal injury lawsuit against both the drunk driver, as well as the bar or tavern that served them.
How Do Your Injuries Impact Your Settlement?
Your injuries are some of the biggest factors in determining the amount of your car accident settlement. Car accidents that result in more severe and life-changing injuries tend to result in larger settlements. As you might imagine, injuries that result in permanent disability, disfigurement, or impairment will result in larger settlement awards. This is because of the extraordinary medical expenses, as well as the pain and suffering involved.
Hard versus Soft Injuries
In general, “hard injuries” result in larger settlements, while “soft injuries” typically result in lower settlements. Insurers consider hard injuries more serious and award damages, sometimes five times higher, than soft tissue injuries.
A hard injury is any injury to the skeletal system, such as a fracture or spinal cord injury. A medical team must assess and manage these injuries quickly to reduce complications and long-term damage.
A soft injury, on the other hand, is an injury to the tissues and muscles of the body, such as a sprain or bruise. It can take time to diagnose these injuries and most of the evidence is from the accident victim’s description of discomfort.
Since hard injuries result in significantly higher compensation, your car accident lawyer will look to find anything in your medical records that may help classify your injury as a hard injury, as opposed to a soft injury. Even a simple X-ray confirming a bone fracture or joint separation could raise the value of your claim significantly.
Long-term Effects and Disability
In general, injuries that result in permanent disability, impairment, or long-term damages, will result in a higher settlement. This is due in part to the fact that medical expenses increase significantly for injuries that require long-term care, intensive rehabilitation and therapy, and disability modifications.
However, one of the main reasons why severe injuries result in higher settlements is because of the pain and suffering an accident victim endures.
Long-term disabling injuries impact a survivor’s life in numerous ways.
- Loss of income. Their injuries may prevent them from ever returning to work in their chosen profession. This may significantly impact their ability to provide for themselves and their families. For example, a surgeon who suffers multiple compounding fractures in a hand after a car accident may not ever return to work as a surgeon. The loss of this income, as well as financial benefits, retirement savings, and healthcare, could be extraordinary.
- Loss of enjoyment in life. When a car accident survivor suffers serious injuries, they may find that they are unable to enjoy the life they once loved. Car accident injuries may prevent them from biking, hiking, surfing, playing sports, or enjoying an active lifestyle. This loss is something that can stay with them throughout their lives. Any car accident settlement should take into consideration the non-financial losses suffered as well.
- Pain and suffering. This is often difficult to quantify. After all, how can you put a dollar value on your pain? However, this is exactly what the insurance company will attempt to do. To do this, they use a personal injury settlement formula to try and arrive at a value. This formula is generic and does not take into account the actual pain and suffering you experienced. Your car accident attorney, however, will try to increase your settlement value by listening to you and your story. Your attorney will then determine the actual pain and suffering you experienced and use this to increase your settlement amount.
Maximum Medical Improvement and Settlement Amounts
Unfortunately, not all car accident survivors make a full recovery. This affects the amount of their settlement because accident survivors should wait until they reach maximum medical improvement before agreeing to a final amount. Maximum medical improvement is the point in your treatment where you will no longer recover further. It can take months or even years to reach your MMI.
When determining maximum medical improvement, your doctor will give you a “permanent impairment rating.” This is the percentage of reduced body function you will endure because of your car accident injuries. This percentage is then split into different injured body parts. Each injured body part that reaches MMI will receive its own number to help lawyers and insurers compare the values of injuries.
Although injured accident survivors need money quickly, it is often in their best interest to negotiate a final amount once reaching MMI. You risk not receiving what you need and deserve if you settle before then. Until your doctor can accurately give you a long-term diagnosis, your attorney cannot accurately calculate your claim’s full value. Will you require future surgeries or therapies? Will you suffer potentially damaging setbacks or complications? These are all important questions to answer before arriving at a final settlement amount.
To answer these questions, your car accident attorney may wish to meet with your medical team and review your medical records to calculate the future costs of prescription medications, doctors’ visits, surgeries, and more.
Winning Your Car Accident Case
As you can see, many different factors affect the final settlement amount. This is why it is so important to retain the services of an experienced legal team. In fact, hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is the final factor in determining your settlement amount. A personal injury law firm will have the resources needed to build a case to help you collect maximum compensation after a devastating accident. While you focus on your recovery and on following your treatment plan, your lawyers will begin aggressively negotiating with insurers for you.
A study from the Insurance Research Council found that the decision to hire an injury attorney paid significant dividends for accident survivors. Settlements for injury accident victims were often more than 40 percent higher with an attorney than without one. In addition, 85 percent of all money paid out by insurers for bodily injury claims went to clients who hired attorneys to represent them after a devastating accident.
Don’t worry about going to trial or entering a courtroom. The vast majority of car accidents reach a settlement without ever going to trial. In fact, statistics show that 96 percent of all personal injury cases settle without going to trial.
However, there are times when you must take your case to court to obtain the settlement you deserve. When this occurs, you can rest easier if you have proven and successful personal injury trial attorneys on your team. Your attorney can offer you the support and guidance you need to navigate the legal process after an accident whether you enter a courtroom or settle your case out of court.
After a serious car accident, you will undoubtedly have questions about your accident, your injuries, and your future. During this time, accident survivors find that it is beneficial to speak to an experienced injury attorney. Your attorney can meet with you during a free initial consultation and help you explore your legal options. Your attorney will guide you through the process and offer you the security and support you need during this difficult time. As your legal representative, your car accident lawyer will fight for your rights to compensation every step of the way.