Car Accident Claim Fundamentals

Prepare Yourself by Learning the Basics

Most car crashes are not “accidents.” An accident is an unavoidable and completely unintentional event. People accidentally leave the lights on. Driver error, mostly aggressive driving or operator impairment, causes about 98 percent of the car wrecks in the United States. These drivers know it’s dangerous to speed or drive drunk. But they do it anyway.

Responsibility is at the core of a negligence case. Every component of this case is designed around this concept. We all make mistakes, and we must all face the consequences of our mistakes. People who leave the lights on must pay higher utility bills. People who negligently cause collisions must pay damages.

Car Accident Claim Case Evaluation

Determining the type of error, and legal responsibility for the wreck, usually determines the amount of compensation available in a car crash case.

Not all driver error is negligence, or a lack of care. If Brenda was speeding 5mph over the limit when she struck another vehicle, most people, including most jurors, wouldn’t say that Brenda was negligent. If Brenda was speeding 20mph over the limit, that’s probably a lack of care.

Brenda’s duty of care varies in different states, and in different situations. Most drivers have a duty of reasonable care in most situations. They must be well rested, sober, and otherwise at their best before they get behind the wheel. Then, as my grandfather used to say, they must look out for th’ other fella as the drive.

Some commercial drivers, like truck drivers and Uber drivers, have a higher duty of care in some states. A higher duty of care makes it easier to prove a lack of care.

Additionally, there is a difference between fault and liability. Emergency responders and insurance adjusters use facts that are immediately available at the scene to determine fault. An attorney uses all the facts, as well as any applicable legal doctrines, to determine liability. A final liability determination, like the final score in a baseball game, is the only thing that counts.

Determining the Car Accident Claim Settlement Value

Once an attorney evaluates a case, an attorney collects evidence to establish the settlement value. A legal claim’s settlement value is like a new car’s sticker price. Both figures are the starting point for price negotiations.

Evidence is the most critical component of a settlement value. Usually, evidence in a car crash claim includes medical bills, witness statements, and the police accident report. This evidence, by itself, may not be enough to obtain maximum compensation.

Medical bills are a good example. These documents clearly establish what doctors did and how much these interventions cost.

Most states require victim/plaintiffs to prove the medical charges were reasonable. Furthermore, many medical bills only contain cold, clinical information. They don’t show what the victim was going through, physically or emotionally, at the time. Finally, prior medical bills don’t predict future medical expenses.

Attorneys often partner with independent doctors in these areas. Doctors testify that the expenses were reasonable, explain these procedures to jurors, and predict possible future medical costs.

Medical bills are usually the largest component of economic damages in a vehicle collision matter. These bills usually exceed $100,000 in a catastrophic (disabling or life-threatening) injury claim. Property damage is a close second. Economic losses also include lost wages, or lost work productivity.

To determine the full settlement value, which includes emotional distress and other noneconomic losses, most lawyers multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four, mostly depending on the facts of the case.

Legal Issues in a Car Accident Claim

If all legal issues in a case are crystal-clear, insurance companies have a duty to make reasonable settlement offers within a few weeks, at least in most states. Unfortunately, that usually isn’t the case, so insurance companies drag their feet.

If a lawyer must file legal paperwork, insurance company lawyers typically file procedural motions to block the plaintiff’s claim. As long as lawyers diligently evaluate cases and collect evidence, these motions almost always fail.

During the next phase of a car crash case, both sides put all their cards face up on the table, in terms of their claims and defenses. We outlined the basic elements of a plaintiff’s case above (duty, breach, cause, and damages). Comparative fault is one of the most common defenses in car crash claims.

This legal doctrine essentially shifts blame from the tortfeasor (negligent driver) to the victim. Let’s go back to Brenda. If she was speeding 25mph over the limit when she hit Jerry, who changed lanes illegally, they are arguably both at fault.

After they listen to the evidence, jurors must divide fault on a percentage basis, such as 50-50 or 60-40.

Most states are modified comparative fault states. If the tortfeasor is at least 50 or 51 percent responsible for the crash, the tortfeasor, or rather the tortfeasor’s insurance company, must pay a proportionate share of damages. Different rules apply in some other states.

Legal defenses, like contributory negligence, could lower a claim’s settlement value, just like high mileage on a used car lowers its asking price.

Other claims involve non-legal issues. Insurance company lawyers often challenge the amount of damages. If Jerry waited a few days to see a doctor, an insurance company lawyer might later argue that Jerry’s injuries weren’t that severe, and therefore he isn’t entitled to much money.

Resolving the Case

Almost all car wreck cases involve liability and/or damage issues. But, almost no car wreck cases go to trial. Instead, over 95 percent of civil claims, including injury claims, settle out of court.

The informal settlement negotiations that started before an attorney filed legal paperwork often bear fruit. Many insurance defense lawyers charge over $1,000 an hour. That tab adds up quickly. So, many insurance companies settle cases to cut their losses.

For one reason or another, other insurance companies are more stubborn. Such claims usually settle during mediation.

A third-party mediator supervises a settlement negotiation session, to ensure both sides negotiate in good faith. “Take it or leave it” is not a good faith settlement offer or counter-offer. Instead, both sides must be willing to compromise.

Mostly because of the duty to negotiate in good faith, and also because neither side wants to roll the dice at a trial, mediation is about 90 percent successful.

Talk to a lawyer if you want help with a car accident claim.  You can book a free consultation right now through AskLegally.

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