How Much Will My Car Accident Settlement Payout?
Money is one of the first things on people’s minds after a car accident. First, you think about your health and treating your injuries. At the same time, you also need to begin work on your legal process, so you can receive money when someone else was at fault for the accident. If you want to know how much money you can get for your car accident settlement, you need to understand your case and what you have personally lost from your accident. Read on to learn more about the claim process from our experienced car accident lawyers.
Your Settlement Reflects Your Situation
Your damages are unique to you. As far as you are concerned, there is no such thing as an average car accident settlement. When you are determining damages, your attorney will look closely at your situation in placing a value on your car accident claim.
Even though you may have suffered similar injuries, your life is not the same as another car accident victim. For example, serious car accident injuries will impact a 25-year-old differently than a 65-year-old. A 25-year-old may lose out on more income and enjoyment of life, but a car accident can have more of a permanent effect on someone older.
You Must Prove Your Damages
In any personal injury case, the burden of proof is on you to show your damages. If you cannot prove that you have suffered a specific loss, you will not get money for it. The same principle holds whether you are trying to settle a claim or persuade a jury to order an award. Before you file a claim, your lawyer will analyze your damages and develop a number that they think you deserve. This number becomes the starting point for your car accident claim.
Once you prove that someone else was to blame for the accident, you are legally entitled to receive damages. The responsible driver has a legal obligation to pay you for all the harm they caused you.
If their insurance coverage is not enough to pay for the damages, you can go to your own insurance company and file a claim under your underinsured motorist coverage. If that is still not enough, the responsible driver will be liable to pay you from their own assets, although collecting a personal injury judgment may be difficult in practice.
The Different Types of Personal Injury Damages
Car accident damages include a wide range of harms.
Described broadly, there are two overall categories of car accident damages:
- Economic Damages
- Non-economic damages
Economic damages will cover all types of tangible financial loss. The first significant aspect of economic damages is the medical bills burying you after your accident. The defendant must reimburse you and the insurance company for bills that have been paid and compensate you for what you expect to pay in the future. Speaking with an attorney about your case can answer any questions you may have about how damages are calculated.
Recovering Money for Lost Wages
Lost wages are another prominent element of your economic damages. Money that you should be earning at work but are not because of your injuries is an economic loss to you and comes out of your pocket.
You can receive compensation for:
- The time you missed from work to attend doctor’s appointments and rehabilitation
- Wages you did not earn because of time missed recuperating from injuries.
- Your future wages when you cannot work again or for an extended period
- Any reduction in your earning capacity because you cannot do the same type of work that you used to in the past, or your injuries have cost you a promotion or pay increase that you were in line to receive before your accident.
Finally, economic damages also include the value of your property damage. You have the legal right to compensation for the damage to your car. If your vehicle was totaled, you should receive compensation for the value of your vehicle (insurance companies often try to find a way to undervalue your car if it needs replacing.
Non-Economic Damages Depend on Your Experience
The non-economic damages part of your claim can be challenging to value. By definition, these damages are all subjective. They pay you for what you have gone through and what you will go through due to your injuries. You are relating what your experience has been to receive compensation for it. If you do not have more evidence that backs up your claims of non-economic damages, you may be expecting an insurance company to pay you based on your word.
Of course, the insurance company will come up with every reason in the book to argue against why you deserve less money. In reality, they are not interested in your story and how you have suffered. To them, you are a number and not a person. Believing your story might result in them needing to pay you more.
You have every right to be paid fully for your individual experience. Your pain and suffering damages can be completely different from those of another car accident victim. By definition, pain and suffering will be unique to you.
How Insurance Companies Value Pain and Suffering Claims
Insurance companies try to use two different methods to come up with a shorthand for your pain and suffering damages:
- A technique that multiplies your medical bills by a number.
- A per diem method that assigns you certain damages for each day that you are dealing with your injuries
The multiplier method is better to use when you have suffered injuries that can be long-lasting and permanent. However, any objective formula that overlooks your own personalized experience may result in paying you less than you deserve.
Your pain and suffering damages often depend on how well your lawyer can tell your own story, whether to the insurance company or the jury. The amount of your pain and suffering payment depends partly on how hard you fight when the insurance company does everything it can to underpay you.
Other Non-Economic Damages That You Can Recover
Other elements of your car accident damages are also subjective and depend on your personal experience.
Here are some other things that you can receive compensation for as part of non-economic damages:
- Emotional distress
- Loss of society and companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
By way of example, if you lived an active life before your car accident and now have hobbies that you can no longer enjoy because of your injuries, that is a loss to you for which you deserve compensation. Your spouse can also receive damages if your injuries have taken away some of your relationship’s physical or emotional aspects.
An insurance company can try to place any value on these damages, especially one that saves them money and takes away something that you are due. You must present them with a credible argument when they try to place their spin on your damages. If not, you should prepare to explain to a jury why you deserve the damages that you claim. A car accident lawyer can do that for you.
Your Settlement Will Not Include Punitive Damages
One thing that will not increase the amount of your car accident settlement is punitive damages against the responsible driver. First, punitive damages are extremely rare in any car accident case, reserved for the most serious of misconduct. Second, an insurance company will not pay punitive damages as part of a settlement.
Only a jury can order punitive damages. If you were in an accident involving drunk or reckless driving, you might want to consider the impact of punitive damages when deciding whether to settle your case.
You Can Negotiate for More Money
In many respects, you have some control over how much you can get from a car accident settlement. In settlement negotiations, you strike a balance between getting your money in a reasonable amount of time and fighting for the most possible money.
One reason different people may get different amounts of money is that some fight harder than others. Some people may prioritize getting money more quickly, although that often comes at a cost to you.
Remember that nothing says that you have to accept a settlement offer. You will eventually negotiate a settlement with the insurance company in most cases. However, there are times when they are dragging their feet for too long, or they will not offer you the money that you deserve.
You Do Not Have to Accept a Low Settlement Offer
If the settlement offer is too low, you are not obligated to sign on the dotted line and say thank you. The insurance company expects you will to negotiate. There is a time-honored dance between a claimant and an insurance company. They initially make a very low offer to test you and try to wear you down. Your lawyer reviews the offer and lets you know if it falls short and how much more you might get.
You can reject the insurance company’s offer if it does not pay you enough money. You are free to come back with a counter-demand. Then, the insurance company may raise their offer slightly. Do not be surprised if this goes on for several rounds over many months. There may come a time when you have to decide whether to keep negotiating or file a lawsuit.
Even Personal Injury Lawsuits Can Result in a Settlement
You may still negotiate a settlement even when you have filed a lawsuit. Few car accident lawsuits go to trial. Filing a lawsuit may get leverage over the insurance company because it understands that going to court costs them money.
If your case has merit, they also do not want to face a jury because it can cost them more money than a settlement. They may even be in legal trouble if a case goes to trial that should not because they have a legal duty to defend their policyholder in a lawsuit if they do not settle the claim.
You Always Benefit from Hiring a Lawyer
The amount you will get in a settlement when you have a lawyer handling your case is usually far more than what you receive if you manage your case.
Insurance companies offer you far less when you are on your own because they are betting that you do not know what you are doing. Study after study shows that people who hire attorneys end up with more money, even after their lawyer receives their share of the settlement, and the numbers are not even close.
You should not have concerns about getting money, but you should think about maximizing your settlement. A settlement does not do you much good if it is for less than your damages. If you accept an inadequate settlement, you are signing away your legal rights for much less than they are worth. When you sign a settlement agreement, it releases the insurance company from liability in connection with your claim forever.
You cannot come back for more money in the future if your settlement proves to be inadequate. An experienced attorney can do the heavy lifting and handle all the details of your claim. They will take on the back-and-forth with the insurance company, pushing them to raise their settlement offer until it reaches a number that is more acceptable to you.
A car accident lawyer knows that there is no one-size-fits-all settlement amount for injury victims. Sufficient settlements have a wide range – $20,000 might cover one victim’s losses, while someone with catastrophic injuries will need millions. Insurance companies often standardize settlement offers without regard for your situation and specific losses.
Having a lawyer means they will represent you and fight for the amount you need for your losses, which can greatly differ from what someone else might need.
Start protecting your rights by having a car accident attorney handle your settlement.