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Accident Settlement FAQ
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Back in the day, an emotional courtroom showdown resolved almost all accident claims. Today, over 95 percent of such claims settle out of court. So, in most cases, a settlement is coming. The amount of that settlement largely depends on what victims do in the days following a car accident or other injury. accident or other injury.
1. Avoid a Slow Start
Usually, because of a mild or serious brain injury, most victims aren’t thinking clearly in the immediate wake of an accident. As such, they’re prone to do and say things that hurt their claims later.
It’s very important to see a doctor ASAP, and in no case later than twenty-four hours after an injury. Alas, many victims don’t take this important step. In fact, many victims refuse medical treatment at the scene. Since adrenaline temporarily masks pain, many victims don’t “feel” injured. So, only a doctor can tell how badly you are, or aren’t, hurt.
Additionally, some victims give statements to insurance adjusters or apologize for causing the wreck. These are big no-nos. Insurance adjusters know how to twist your words, and a lawyer can twist an apology into an admission of liability.
2. Work with a Lawyer
This point is short and sweet. Bar none, the best way to maximize a settlement is to work with a lawyer. Victims with lawyers get about 40 percent more money than victims without lawyers. Book a free consultation with an accident lawyer near you through AskLegally.
3. Be aware Of the Collateral Source Rule
This complex rule varies in different states. So, we won’t go into the details. However, victims should at least be aware of this rule.
Assume Ben hits Jerry, and Jerry, who suffers a catastrophic injury, accrues $100,000 in medical bills. Jerry’s lawyer negotiates with the hospital and reduces the bill to $75,000. In some states, for court purposes, Ben must still pay $100,000. If that’s the case, Jerry might get to keep the leftover $25k.
Knowing exactly how much money you have coming helps you make better financial choices and maximize your accident settlement.
4. Be Patient
As mentioned, most civil cases settle out of court. However, almost none of these cases settle immediately. Instead, insurance company lawyers find ways to delay the process. The longer it holds onto that settlement check, the more interest the company earns.
Additionally, the best evidence in an accident claim often isn’t immediately available. Weak evidence means a low settlement.
5. Rely on Your Attorney
If you choose a lawyer who is experienced, dedicated to the practice of injury law, and accessible, you should rely on your lawyer to work for you. These attorneys are excellent negotiators who know when to compromise and when to dig in their heels. These lawyers are also able to win cases at trial, so the insurance company wants to avoid a trial at almost any cost.
Accident survivors have already been victimized once. There’s no reason to let an insurance company victimize you again.
Want to know how much is a car accident settlement? Looking at the two major damage categories in car accident settlements is the best way to determine a settlement amount. The resulting figure, which lawyers call the settlement value , is a little like a new car’s sticker price. Customers almost never pay the sticker price, and insurance companies absolutely never pay the settlement value. Indirect factors, such as insurance company motivation, often come into play. Most insurance companies, especially smaller ones, hire outside lawyers to handle these cases. These lawyers charge up to $2,000 per hour . That adds up fast. So, these companies often fold faster than Superman on laundry day. Other insurance companies, especially bigger ones, have in-house lawyers. Since fighting the claim or settling the claim costs the same amount of money, they usually fight the claim.
Medical bills are usually the largest component of economic losses, or out-of-pocket losses, in a car accident case. Basic hospitalization usually costs about $3,000 per day. If the doctor does anything other than read your chart, the costs go through the roof. The average medical bill in a serious injury case (severe injuries that aren’t life threatening) is about $50,000. The average medical bill in a catastrophic injury case is around $100,000. These figures usually don’t include ancillary expenses, like transportation, laboratory tests, and prescription drugs. A short helicopter medevac flight could cost more than $40,000. Diagnostic tests, like MRIs, might be as much as $3,000 a pop. Prescription drugs, especially if an insurance discount doesn’t apply, are often quite expensive as well. We should pause for a moment and talk about insurance reimbursement in car crash cases. In some states, health insurance payments reduce car accident settlements. In other states, they have no effect. This complex rule is called the collateral source rule. Other economic damages include lost wage replacement and property damage. Typically, serious injury crash victims miss about a month of work. Then, for several months thereafter, or even several years thereafter, they have good days and bad days. As for property damage, after a serious or catastrophic injury, the vehicle is almost always a total loss. Furthermore, a family car usually has an emotional value in addition to its financial value.
It’s almost impossible to put price tags on things like emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), and other noneconomic losses. That being said, several models are available. Most lawyers use the multiplication method. It’s the simplest one for arithmetically-challenged lawyers to use and the easiest one for jurors to understand. Depending on the facts of the case and a few other factors, such as party motivation, a lawyer multiples the economic losses by two, three, or four. Some lawyers use the per diem method. If Amy earns $200 per day and it takes her a year to feel 100 percent better, her noneconomic losses are $75,000, or thereabouts. Once again, recovering victims usually have good days and bad days. Other lawyers use other methods. Basically, the sky’s the limit, as long as a lawyer can sell the amount to a judge, jury, or mediator. Want to know how much your accident settlement is worth? Try our accident settlement calculator. Or book a free consultation with a lawyer near you.
How Much Do Personal Injury Attorneys Charge?
The Sunday School answer is that personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. So, instead of charging money upfront, like a retainer, an attorney takes a percentage of the winnings. This contingent fee basis usually also includes filing fees, expert witness fees, travel costs, doctor bills, and other litigation costs.
We’ve probably all seen lawyer commercials on daytime TV in which an attorney, or more likely an actor, claims “You don’t owe me anything unless I win your case.” That statement begs two questions. First, how do you define “win?” Second, how much do I owe if you win?
The first question is easy to answer. “Winning” is obtaining any judgment or out-of-court settlement, regardless of the amount. The second question is a little harder to answer. The amount owed always depends on the contract terms. These terms usually break down as follows.
If a hurricane rolls through town and damages your house, you’re clearly not at fault. So, the insurance company has a legal duty to quickly settle the claim.
The same principle applies in car wreck cases. If liability and damages are clear, the insurance company must issue a check almost immediately.
However, from a liability and damages standpoint, there’s a big difference between a hurricane and a car crash. Multiple legal doctrines, like negligence and comparative fault, determine liability in a car crash. Frequently, a judge or jury must sort through these issues. As for damages, property insurance only covers property value. Car wreck damages include noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. The amount of noneconomic damages is one of the most common disputes in car crash cases.
If, by some miracle, a personal injury claim settles before the victim files a lawsuit, the attorney usually gets about 20 percent.
Nearly all personal injury cases settle during this phase. Most lawyers get about 30 percent, including costs, if the case settles after a lawyer files legal paperwork but before the judge sets a firm trial date.
30 percent sounds like a lot, and it is a lot, but let’s take a closer look. When people buy new cars, the dealers usually dictate the price. Buyers have some wiggle room, but for the most part, they feel powerless. At least that’s how I feel. Victims without lawyers also feel powerless. Attorneys level the playing field and ensure that victims get more money. That makes sense. The lawyer has a financial interest in the case.
If a judge sets a firm trial date, there’s a good chance the case will settle anyway. However, a lawyer must gear up and prepare for trial. So, the trial settlement contingency fee percentage is usually 40 percent or higher.
Costs are also higher at this point. Expert witnesses are a good example. In the first two phases, an expert only needed to prepare a report or maybe swear out an affidavit. At this point, lawyers must pay trial testimony fees. Most experts charge about $500 per hour. That includes preparation time and travel time, as well as testimony time. That’s a lot of money.
So, mostly to reduce legal fees and litigation costs, most lawyers try their best to settle cases as quickly as possible.
Try our accident settlement calculator to see what your case could be worth. Or book a free lawyer consultation.
So you want to know how often do auto accident settlements exceed policy limits? Fortunately for victims, the answer to this question is “quite often.” Generally, most states only require 25/50/25 coverage ($25,000 per person, $50,000 personal injury coverage per accident, and $25,000 property damage coverage per accident). In catastrophic injury cases, the medical bills alone could be twice that coverage amount. Many people have UM/UIM (uninsured/underinsured motorist) coverage which is basically gap insurance. If Tim’s personal injury damages, including pain and suffering, are $100,000, and the at-fault driver’s policy only paid $50,000, Tim’s UM/UIM policy would pay the extra 50k, assuming Tim has that much UM/UIM insurance. Third party liability, which is discussed below, is a much more common way for a victim to tap into an additional source of recovery. Basically, individual tortfeasors (negligent drivers) are legally and morally responsible for the crashes they cause. However, a third party could be financially responsible for damages. As indicated, these damages usually include money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Establishing First Party Liability
- But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The amount of coverage or compensation available doesn’t matter unless an attorney proves negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence, or more likely than not. In terms of evidence, the police accident report could be quite valuable. Other times, however, it’s practically useless. Emergency responders do their best with the evidence they have. However, even the most experienced police officer isn’t an accident reconstruction professional. Furthermore, vital evidence doesn’t surface until later. More on that below. Additionally, the police report could be biased. If the victim didn’t survive, the report only contains one side of the story. Tortfeasors usually don’t lie. However, they almost always remember things selectively. Electronic evidence is usually a lot more valuable than the police report. EDRs (Event Data Recorders) are good examples. These gadgets are basically black box flight data recorders that measure and record information like:
- Steering angle,
- Vehicle speed,
- Brake application, and
- Engine RPM.
Properly-working computers are never incorrect or biased. So, these bits of electronic evidence are often much more valuable than a police report.
Third Party Liability
If Jerry lets his brother run into a busy street, Jerry is responsible, in a way, if a car hits his brother, even though Jerry wasn’t driving it. Third party liability theories work on basically the same principle. Vicarious liability laws vary significantly in different states. Usually, however, three basic theories are available:
Employer Liability : Employers are liable for damages if their employees are negligent during the course and scope of their employment. Most states define most of these terms in broad, victim-friendly ways.
Alcohol Provider Liability : In most states, bars, restaurants, and other such providers who illegally sell alcohol are liable for car crash and other damages that these patrons cause. Illegal sales usually include underage sales, unlicensed sales, and sales to obviously intoxicated individuals.
Owner Liability : A few states have very broad vicarious liability laws that automatically hold owners responsible for damages if they loan their cars to people who cause crashes. Most other states require victims to prove the owner negligently entrusted the vehicle to an incompetent driver. Evidence of incompetence includes no valid drivers’ license and recent at-fault collisions.
In all states, commercial owner liability matters, like U-Haul trucks, work differently, because of the federal Graves Amendment. Try the AskLegally Accident Settlement Calculator to see what your case might be worth.
Motorcycle accidents often cause extensive personal injury and property damage. Victims face medical bills and the costs of repairing their property. It may be difficult to determine what distinguishes a good settlement for a motorcycle accident from a bad settlement for a motorcycle accident. A skilled and knowledgeable personal injury lawyer will provide you with information regarding what constitutes a good settlement for a motorcycle accident.
Supporting Your Motorcycle Accident Claim
Suffering injuries during a motorcycle accident can be terrifying. After healing from your injuries, you need to make sure that you have the necessary record to support your claim. Filing a claim with the responsible driver’s automobile insurance company for your personal injuries will require that you provide evidence regarding the claim.
Medical records, traffic collision reports, and motorcycle repair costs will often be the most important documents supporting your claim. Insurance claims adjusters will analyze these documents. The settlement negotiation process may begin based on the data contained in these documents.
What May Affect a Motorcycle Settlement Amount?
The adverse driver’s automobile insurance policy limits, the total amount of your damages, and how negligent the responsible driver was can affect the total settlement amount in a motorcycle accident case.
If you were contributorily negligent during the accident you may receive a lower settlement amount. Some jurisdictions follow different rules regarding comparative negligence and contributory negligence. Retaining an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you determine how your actions during the motorcycle accident may affect your settlement amount.
The Total Amount of Damages
Medical bills, property damage, and lost earnings can affect the total amount of damages you claim in your motorcycle accident case. If you had to stay at home from work while recovering from your injuries, you can claim lost wages. Also, you may claim lost future earnings if you can no longer perform your job due to the injuries you suffered during the motorcycle accident.
The pain and suffering you endured as a result of the motorcycle accident can also be claimed as damages. These are termed non-economic damages, and speaking with a skilled personal injury lawyer can help you understand more about the differences between economic damages and non-economic damages.
Motorcycle Accident Settlements
No average settlement amount exists for all motorcycle accidents in the United States. Every motorcycle accident features unique elements that may affect the final settlement amount. The applicable automobile insurance policy, the nature of the victim’s injuries, and the limits on damages in the jurisdiction will influence the settlement amount.
For one case a good settlement for a motorcycle accident case may be $300,000. Other cases involving large commercial vehicles may feature higher settlement amounts. Every motorcycle accident case will contain distinctive elements that must be assessed and analyzed before determining a reasonable settlement amount.
You may have already suffered from other injuries, such as a herniated disc, prior to your motorcycle accident. If this is so, you may receive a higher settlement amount based on the degree to which the motorcycle accident exacerbated your pre-existing injuries.
All crash victims, especially bike accident victims, need and deserve substantial compensation for their serious injuries. Bicyclists account for only 1 percent of vehicle traffic. Yet bicyclists account for twice as many fatal crash victims. Even if they survive, these victims usually must deal with permanent injuries.
If you’re wondering how much compensation will I get for a bike accident, it usually depends on the two areas outlined below.
The amount of compensation is uncertain, but the types of compensation available are certain. Damages in a bicycle crash case usually include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills. These medical bills usually exceed $50,000 in a serious injury case. Damages also include compensation for noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. It’s almost impossible to put a price tag on such losses.
If the tortfeasor (negligent driver) got a ticket, the negligence per se doctrine could apply. In most states, drivers are responsible for damages as a matter of law if they violate safety laws and that violation substantially causes injury.
However, emergency responders often don’t cite drivers, even in fatal accident cases. They’d rather let the lawyers sort out liability in court.
So, most bicycle crash claims hinge on the ordinary negligence doctrine. This legal rule has four basic components:
- Duty : Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care in most states. If you’re familiar with the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), you’re familiar with the duty of reasonable care. Commercial drivers, like Uber drivers, have a higher duty of care in some states.
- Breach : Driver error causes about 98 percent of car crashes. Usually, this error is a breach of duty, or a lack of care. Sometimes it’s not. If Ralph was speeding 1mph over the limit, that’s probably not a breach of duty. Additionally, both drivers may have made errors. More on that below.
- Cause : Lawyers call factual cause “but-for” cause, as in the crash wouldn’t have happened “but for” the tortfeasor’s negligence. That’s a pretty subjective standard. Victims must also prove foreseeability (possibility) of injury. If Ralph hits Sam and the doctor makes a medical mistake during surgery, that’s not a foreseeable injury.
- Damages : Generally, the victim must sustain a tangible personal or property injury. Even a low-speed fender bender usually causes property damage. Florida, New York, and a few other states have no-fault insurance laws. These laws complicate this issue.
Victim/plaintiffs must establish facts by a preponderance of the evidence, a legal term which means “more likely than not.”
Insurance company defenses reduce or deny compensation to victims. Comparative fault is probably the most common defense.
Let’s go back to Ralph and Sam. Assume Ralph was speeding 10mph over the limit and Sam changed lanes without signaling. Most jurors would say they’re both at fault. In most states, Ralph receives compensation if Sam is at least 50 or 51 percent responsible for the wreck.
Other defenses could cut off compensation altogether. The sudden emergency defense often comes up if a cyclist veers into a vehicle traffic lane. The last clear chance defense could apply in rear-end crashes.
The average settlement in a vehicle collision matter is like the average price of a new car. There’s so much difference between a basic Honda and a luxury Range Rover that the “average” price is basically meaningless.
Speaking of vehicle costs, property damage is one of the largest components of an 18-wheeler accident settlement. Medical bills, which average between $50,000 and $100,000 in such cases, are usually even larger. Other components of an accident settlement include lost wages and lost personal property, including pets, in the vehicle. These victims also deserve compensation for their pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other noneconomic losses.
About the only thing for sure is that the claim will probably settle out of court. Nationwide, only about 1 percent of civil cases go to trial. Some claims settle right away. However, as outlined below, the process is usually long and rather frustrating.
An injury claim’s settlement value is like a used couch’s asking price. Both figures serve as a negotiation starting point. Whether you’re a lawyer settling an 18-wheeler accident claim or a family selling a used sofa on Craigslist, compromise is part of the process.
Newer couches in good condition usually fetch high prices. Likewise, injury claims backed by solid evidence usually have high settlement values.
Evidence could be a problem in large truck collisions. Typically, 18-wheeler wrecks are so destructive that little physical evidence remains at the scene. Fortunately, every large truck has an Event Data Recorder, a gadget which resembles the black box flight data recorder in a commercial jet. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a lawyer puts the bits of information that these devices record, like vehicle speed and steering angle, together into a clear picture.
Other electronic evidence may be useful as well. Surveillance cameras often give jurors a front-row seat to a wreck. Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) measure and record driver HOS (hours of service). So, these devices are very useful in fatigued trucker claims.
The evidence in a crash claim must also be strong enough to refute contributory negligence and other common insurance company defenses. Comparative fault basically shifts blame for the wreck from the truck driver to the victim.
Other factors, like party motivation, might apply as well. If a family wants to sell a couch quickly, or a victim wants to settle a case quickly, the asking price/settlement demand may drop.
Sellers don’t list items until they’re ready to sell them, and lawyers don’t send demand letters until they’re ready to settle cases. The injuries in 18-wheeler accidents are so severe that victims usually require future medical treatment. If a lawyer settles a case before these costs are clear, the victim will almost certainly be financially responsible for them.
Therefore, most personal injury claims settle during mediation. During a special negotiation session, a third-party mediator, who’s usually an unaffiliated personal injury lawyer, ensures both sides negotiate in good faith. Making a low-ball offer isn’t negotiating in good faith. Neither is a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
As a result, civil mediation works. This process is about 90 percent successful in many jurisdictions.
This figure used to be a lot higher. For reasons no one fully understands, since the 1990s, the plaintiff’s winning percentage at personal injury trials has plummeted. So, insurance companies that were once motivated to make generous offers during mediation now make stingy offers.
Fortunately, as outlined below, insurance companies cannot make unreasonably stingy offers. So, a personal injury lawyer typically has something to work with.
Economic Losses in a Personal Injury Settlement
Medical bills and property damage are usually two of the largest elements of a personal injury settlement. They’re also two of the most subjective elements.
Medical bills and other documents usually tell most of the story, but not all of it. In most states, lawyers must also prove these medical bills were reasonable and necessary. You can bet the insurance company will call a doctor to the stand who’ll testify the bills were unreasonable and unnecessary.
Additionally, past medical bills often don’t establish the need for future medical procedures. Furthermore, these documents often don’t indicate the victim’s pain level and general outlook at various points during the treatment process. Such information is relevant to a noneconomic damages calculation.
So, a personal injury lawyer often needs an independent doctor to review the evidence and fill in these blanks.
The totaled/not totaled designation might be the most controversial property damage question. Many vehicles are so badly damaged that, even though it might make financial sense to repair them, they’ll never be the same.
Cheap fixes are contrary to the purposes of damages in a civil case. Damages must put personal injury victims in the same position they were in before the injury, not enable them to limp forward and make the best of it.
Other economic losses include ancillary medical costs, like prescription drugs, and lost productivity at work.
Reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs isn’t enough to make personal injury victims whole again. These victims also deserve compensation for their emotional distress and other noneconomic damages.
It’s impossible to put a price tag on something like sleeping through the night without waking up and worrying about the future.
Therefore, many lawyers multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four, and take the combination of economic and noneconomic damages to a mediation session.
The Mediation Process
Personal injury claims not only have damages issues. They usually also have liability (legal responsibility) issues as well. Most judges appoint professional mediators to help the parties resolve these issues and agree on a settlement amount.
Generally, mediation sessions last a full day. First, mediators listen to brief arguments from each said, in which the lawyers summarize their claims and defenses. Then, mediators bounce back and forth between the two parties, conveying settlement offers and counter-offers.
Usually, these offers and counter-offers get closer and closer together as the session drags on. Then, the two sides agree on a figure.
Mediation doesn’t always work. If the mediator cannot engineer a final settlement agreement, the mediator can usually at least narrow the issues for trial.
However, mediation is about 90 percent successful. Additionally, by this time, liability and damage issues are relatively clear. So, even though it doesn’t always work, mediation is almost always at least worth a try.
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