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5 Tips To Maximize your settlement
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
7 Reasons to Consult an Accident Attorney
The biggest reason to consult an accident attorney is that, in most cases, there’s no such thing as a car “accident.” Driver error causes over 98 percent of the car crashes in the United States. Sometimes, this error is a one-off, wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time thing. Much more often than not, this error is negligence, or a lack of care.
Nevertheless, for some reason, many car crash victims don’t even ask lawyers to review their cases. If you’re one of these people, hopefully one of the reasons listed below will resonate with you. It’s too bad that car crash victims need lawyers to force insurance companies to do the right thing. But that’s the world we live in.
Usually within hours of a crash, the insurance company has a team of lawyers who look for ways to reduce or deny compensation. These high-price lawyers often charge more than $1,000 an hour. Insurance companies, which earn more than $1 trillion a year, can easily foot these legal bills.
Speaking of expensive accident-related costs, the medical bills in a catastrophic injury case usually exceed $100,000. Most health insurance companies refuse to pay these bills, citing liability issues. Unless an attorney holds a tortfeasor (negligent driver) responsible for the crash, the victim could be left holding the financial bag.
It would be nice if the civil litigation process was like a Judge Judy episode. Alas, that’s not the way it is. The civil litigation process is long and complex. Furthermore, most judges have very little patience for people who don’t know the written and unwritten procedural rules. Only the best accident lawyer can guide victims through this minefield.
Whiplash is a good example of this issue. The neck is very flexible. In most cases, that’s a good thing. If you were in a wreck, that’s a bad thing. Even a relatively low-speed collision could cause this serious, and often permanent, head-neck injury. Most diagnostic tests, like X-rays, don’t detect this soft tissue injury. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, this injury gets progressively worse in a hurry.
Don’t let that $1,000 an hour figure scare you. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. Instead of charging an hourly rate, the attorney takes a small percentage of the settlement.
Roughly this same contingency fee arrangement applies to car crash doctors. Most lawyers have professional relationships with physicians who know how to diagnose, and treat, injury-related conditions. So, victims get help from top-notch doctors without paying anything upfront.
Insurance companies don’t pay their lawyers upwards of $1,000 an hour to roll over and play dead. Instead, these lawyers are tough negotiators who know how the system works. Victims need an equally strong advocate in their corner, or else they’ll probably end up settling for less.
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Most frequent questions and answers
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.
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.
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.
So you want to know how to get money from a car accident without a lawyer? Back in the day, the odds of you getting paid without an attorney were high. In the 1980s, the plaintiff winning percentage was over 70 percent. Today, for reasons that are unclear, the plaintiff winning percentage has plummeted to less than 30 percent . If experienced lawyers have a hard time winning cases nowadays, quite frankly, schoolteachers and dental assistants have practically no chance at all.
During the heyday of litigation, as far as victim/plaintiffs were concerned, a plaintiff could make a few mistakes, even a few serious mistakes, and still win. Today, there’s very little margin for error. An attorney is no guarantee of success. But this partnership puts victims in a much better position to get money from a car accident than if they tried to do so without a lawyer.
A DIY Guide
Procedural and other rules are so complex that I won’t even try to get into them. Additionally, many key rules are unwritten. However, there’s a place where rules usually don’t matter.
All states have small claims courts, Justice of the Peace courts, or similar forums. In some areas, these courts hear cases that involve up to $20,000 in damages. Moreover, the normal rules of evidence and procedure don’t apply in small claims courts. These forums are a little like Judge Judy without the TV cameras. The judge hears each side of the story and makes a decision on the spot.
Generally, these “judges” don’t have to be lawyers. In 1990, an 18-year-old high school student won a JP election in Plano, Texas. Judge John Payton went on to serve for more than twenty years.
Because JPs often have little or no legal experience, they usually care little or nothing about comparative fault and other common insurance company legal defenses. That’s the upside. The downside is the relatively low jurisdictional amount. $20k probably won’t cover all economic damages, even in a relatively low-speed accident. This amount definitely won’t cover all noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Finding the Right Car Accident Lawyer
So, if you don’t mind settling for less, you can get money from a car accident without a lawyer. If you want maximum compensation, you need an attorney. Good injury lawyers don’t grow on trees. To find the best one, look for the following qualities:
- Experience : Law school teaches students how to think like lawyers. Practice experience teaches them how to act like lawyers. Furthermore, if an attorney has trial experience, you know s/he doesn’t always look for the easy way out.
- Accessibility : Physical accessibility is often key. People who have been seriously hurt in collisions shouldn’t have to drive to the other side of town to see their lawyers. On a related note, your attorney, and not a non-lawyer paralegal, should quickly respond to your questions.
- Dedication : Injury law is a special brand of law. Attorneys who lack dedication often lose interest in these cases and will do almost anything to avoid trial. So, beware of the attorney who handles a few cases on the side.
As you search for a lawyer, look hard but look fast. Injury victims have a limited amount of time to act. Book a free consultation with a lawyer using AskLegally. Or check out our accident settlement calculator to see what your case might be worth.
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.