If you want to settle your car accident case, you are in good company since most litigants settle instead of going to a jury trial. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 96 percent of personal injury lawsuits reach a settlement across state courts in the U.S.
Most personal injury actions are the result of automobile accidents. This is not surprising considering how common car accidents are in the U.S. and how often they lead to severe injuries and death. Such vehicle accidents often lead to economic problems such as lost wages and medical expenses and non-economic damages such as diminished quality of life and emotional distress.
Do You Have a Claim?
If you have suffered an injury from another driver who drove negligently they likely breached their duty to exercise reasonable care while driving behind the wheel. By causing an injury due to their carelessness, then they have violated this duty to exercise reasonable care.
You must know whether you are in a fault or no-fault state as it will affect how the insurance company will pay out claims and the outcome of your case or settlement. Such state-specific fault and no-fault laws directly impact your ability to obtain fair compensation or recoup your damages and losses. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your state's auto insurance laws and how the insurance system’s determination of fault will affect your case.
What Does It Mean to Settle a Case?
Settlement agreements contribute to the reason why only a small percentage of personal injury cases ever make it to trial.
When you settle a case, you enter a legally binding agreement to accept monetary compensation. Additionally, you will most likely release the other party from any liability. In the case of a personal injury settlement, you are dropping any chance of pursuing legal action against the other driver that caused your injury. Forfeiting your ability to sue the other driver is a significant decision that should not be taken lightly or without legal representation.
Additionally, while settling your car accident claim is quicker than the court process, the proposed settlement offer is probably less than what you may collect through a jury. If you consider pursuing, negotiating, and accepting a car accident settlement, hire a car accident attorney.
A car accident can be devastating and stressful to navigate on your own. The aftermath of a car accident can especially take a toll on you personally, with added stress and even emotional pain related to your car accident experience.
Additionally, an accident can be a significant source of financial strain. For example, if you suffered injuries that prevented you from working and instead sent you to the hospital and doctors, you likely have had to spend money due to the accident to support yourself due to loss of income and cover astronomical health care costs.
The emotional and financial stress associated with settling now may be the quickest path to economic recovery as settlements are generally more time-efficient and less stressful than pursuing the jury trial path.
What Does a Personal Injury Settlement Cover?
A settlement offer may cover your physical injuries such as whiplash and the medical expenses to treat your ailments. Your settlement may also financially compensate you for emotional and psychological distress, the cost of repair or replacement of personal property, compensation for loss of income now and in the future, and more. Your settlement amount can vary based on your damages and your state’s personal injury laws.
There are essential factors to consider when determining the final settlement amount that will make you feel comfortable with accepting the proposed personal injury settlement offer, including, but not limited to:
It is helpful to have sought out immediate medical attention for your injury and have documentation that such an injury exists. Next, concerning future medical expenses, do you have ongoing and continuous appointments such as surgeries or even long-term medical effects that will raise your medical expenses in the future?
If you experienced a loss of income due to the accident, is your ability to make an income in the future further impaired?
Any of these issues can entitle you to additional compensation.
Physical and Emotional Injury
Valuing a personal injury claim as a starting point for settlement negotiations depends on your injury or injuries and damages, including their severity and their economic or non-economic damage.
Regarding severity, do you have a mild injury such as bruises or a long-term condition such as traumatic brain injury that requires treatment to monitor its progression? If you are experiencing pain and suffering from these injuries-psychological or emotional-have you taken steps to ensure your case is well-documented such as keeping diary entries of your symptoms and condition?
If you can no longer enjoy activities like you once did before the accident occurred, keep personal accounts of how your quality of life diminished.
Fault and Auto Insurance Thresholds
Generally, whether one or both parties are at fault for causing the accident determines how much the other party’s insurance company is obligated to pay. Another important consideration is how insurance policy thresholds or caps factor into a settlement offer.
An experienced car accident attorney can help you navigate the threshold aspect and, if needed, negotiate with the insurance company to maximize the coverage for your damages. Additionally, depending on what state you are in, for example, a fault or a no-fault auto insurance company state will also affect your coverage options.
When to Settle?
If you are considering legal action, you may decide to settle a case before filing a claim. However, it is crucial to be aware that it is not off the table as a legal option. It is still possible to settle any time after you have already commenced a personal injury lawsuit. For example, if you pursue litigation and the case is about to go to trial, you can still settle the case before the case goes to the jury.
Should You Accept the Offer?
To determine the monetary amount you deserve in your car accident settlement, you must understand what damages state law permits.
Determining the settlement amount and deciding whether the amount is acceptable and fairly compensates you requires guidance from a personal injury attorney.
An experienced attorney can help you determine whether to accept a settlement offer or pursue litigation by:
- Analyzing the specific facts of your case to assess whether you have a claim
- Use the evidence to assess how much your claim is worth.
- Realistically evaluate whether a lawsuit based on your claim will succeed or if a settlement is in your best legal interests.
Accepting A Settlement Offer
While your car accident lawyer is by your side throughout the legal process, including settlement negotiations, it is ultimately your decision to accept a settlement offer.
In fact, your attorney has an ethical duty to promptly inform you of developments regarding the settlement offer that they are negotiating on your behalf. An exception exists if you have authorized the attorney to proceed.
Once your attorney begins settlement negotiations, your attorney should promptly and timely communicate updates with you and respond to your requests for additional information, provided they are reasonable.
Benefits of Legal Representation
To obtain the maximum settlement amount to compensate you for your injuries, you need effective and experienced personal injury legal counsel.
Car accident attorneys with experience in successful cases and settlements have the skills to effectively guide you through settlement negotiations. Importantly, such an attorney can draw on their knowledge of state-specific personal injury laws to properly assess your damages and account for caps or thresholds on any damages.
Building Your Case
An experienced personal injury attorney possesses the skills and knowledge to effectively present your evidence and build a strong case. If you don’t negotiate your case before going to trial, your attorney will prepare a strong case for a jury to convince them that the defendant should pay for your damages.
After all the evidence is presented and heard-your thorough documentation such as testimony and photographs of the accident-the jury of your peers assigns a percentage of responsibility to you and the other driver.
Discuss a Documentation Strategy
A thorough attorney will work with you to gather the necessary documentation, including photos, videos, personal statements, and police reports. Through an examination of the unique facts surrounding your case, the attorney will review your available evidence and assess the strengths and weaknesses of your case. For example, photos and video provide strong evidence to support your case against the other driver and determine their liability.
It is critical to obtain evidence at the accident scene. For this reason, it is vital to take photos and collect certain information directly after the accident. For example, take pictures of damage, visible injuries, weather conditions, and the accident location. If possible, take a video of this information. Your attorney can best advise you on which documentation will help make the most robust case based on the specific facts of your case.
Seeking Legal Assistance
If you want to settle your car accident case, retain a car accident attorney as soon as possible.
You can take steps to ensure you have an effective attorney representing your best legal interests in some of the following ways:
Find an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
The most critical part of the legal process is finding the legal representation that best meets your legal needs. This search may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you are currently recovering from a personal injury and are preoccupied with healing from your injury and not proceeding with legal action.
To get started, you can take simple steps to find a personal injury lawyer:
First, Seek Referrals:
Seek advice from colleagues, family, and friends with previous personal injury accidents, and ask for attorney recommendations. Word of mouth is a powerful way to get information quickly and learn about the experiences of people you know and trust.
Second, Schedule a Consultation:
Look for a personal injury attorney that offers free consultations. A consultation provides you an opportunity to share your legal predicament with a legal professional and hear your legal options. Importantly, consultations allow you to see firsthand how the attorney(s) interact with you, respond to your case, and approach your case if you decide to hire them. If you choose to hire them, ask about the payment structure and retainer fees. In addition, ensure you receive this in writing.
Research the law firm and attorney you are considering advocating on your behalf. There are specific things to look out for that can help guide you in your search, such as experience.
You can check the attorney and firm’s website and read about their practice areas and academic and professional background(s). Specifically, look for counsel who has experience in personal injury law and read about the kinds of cases that they have handled.
Additionally, every state in the U.S. has a bar association under which every attorney in that state should hold a license to practice law. Those bar associations should have a website where you can look up an attorney to see if they have had any ethics violations or disciplinary actions against them.
Another aspect to consider is reputation. You can check the reviews by clients on their experience receiving legal services from the attorney and/or firm you are considering. Similarly, check if the attorney and/or firm provides client testimonials. Client stories can provide you with powerful insight, giving you a strong sense of the kind of advocacy the attorney(s) provided for similar cases.