You can recover compensation for a car accident without going to court—through a settlement that you negotiate with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
To receive a settlement, you would have to:
- Find evidence proving that the at-fault party caused your injuries
- Determine the full value of past, present, and future damages
- Contact the liable party’s insurance company and ask them to pay a fair settlement
- Wait for the insurer to finish their investigation
- Negotiate with the insurer and/or present the evidence you have collected to prove your need for damages
- Review the settlement agreement carefully before you sign it
But how much do you deserve? How much is fair?
To determine how much to expect from your car accident settlement, hire a lawyer. Your car accident attorney will make the legal process less stressful for you. A lawyer can advise you on your options and explain your best route for seeking a car accident settlement. They will also calculate all of your losses so you will recognize a fair settlement when the insurance company offers it to you.
Proving You Deserve a Car Accident Settlement
You can only receive a settlement if you prove that someone else bears legal responsibility for causing your injuries. You can work with a lawyer to prove that the at-fault party’s negligence caused your collision. You can establish negligence by proving:
Duty of Care
To prove negligence, you must prove that the at-fault party owed you a duty of care. Simply put, this means that everyone who uses a road, repairs a vehicle, or maintains a roadway has a responsibility to obey all applicable laws and avoid blatantly reckless behavior.
Your first step would be to prove that the liable party had a duty of care towards you. For example, if you believe a speeding driver caused your accident, you need to show that they had a legal duty to keep others safe by driving within the speed limit.
Breach of Duty of Care
Next, you must prove that the liable party neglected their duty of care by violating a law, behaving negligently, or deliberately trying to hurt you.
The Breach Caused Your Accident
Just because someone breaks the law does not necessarily mean that anything bad happens. You will have to show that not only did the liable party behave irresponsibly, but their lack of care also led directly to your accident.
The Accident Caused You To Suffer Damages
The insurance company may try to argue that the accident did not cause your injuries. For example, they might say you injured yourself at work or while playing sports prior to the accident. To get a settlement, you must connect the car accident to the damages you suffered.
Which Damages Do You Qualify To Recover in Your Settlement?
If you want help determining your case’s value, you may consider hiring a car accident lawyer.
They could pursue a settlement for all of the following damages and more, depending on the facts of your case:
- Pain and suffering
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Medical bills
- Travel expenses related to medical care
- Property damage/repair bills
- Loss of income
- Loss of earning capacity
If your loved one passes away from their car accident injuries, you could seek a wrongful death settlement that includes money for funeral expenses, loss of society and companionship, and more.
Demanding a Settlement After a Car Accident
Although you file a car accident lawsuit against the liable party, their insurance company generally pays your settlement. Your attorney would therefore communicate and negotiate with the liable party’s insurer.
The first contact your lawyer makes would probably take the form of a demand letter.
A demand letter may include:
- Details of the accident, including where and when it occurred
- How the liable party caused the accident
- The injuries you sustained in the accident
- How much money you expect to receive
The insurance company can respond to your demand letter in one of several ways:
- They may agree with your demand letter and offer to pay what you asked for.
- They may agree that the liable party caused the accident but take issue with the amount you have asked for.
- They may deny the liable party’s role in your accident and refuse to pay any compensation.
- They may not respond at all.
Your attorney can receive and respond to any communications from the insurance company and/or the responsible party. When they receive an answer to your demand letter, they will tell you how to handle it.
Depending on how the insurance company handles your demand, your lawyer could:
- Advise you to accept the insurer’s offer, thus settling your case.
- Negotiate with the insurance company to persuade them to offer a settlement that works for you.
- Present evidence showing that the insurer’s objections to your case are unfair and that you deserve compensation.
- Contact the insurer again. If they still fail to respond, you and your lawyer could go to court.
While your attorney can review these possibilities with you ahead of time, they cannot predict with any accuracy which way your case may go. Your lawyer can, however, support you throughout the legal process, make sure you understand how car accident settlements work, and advise you of your options at every step.
How Insurers Investigate Car Accidents
After a car accident, the insurer will send an insurance adjuster to collect evidence, talk to involved parties, and come to a conclusion about what happened and who should receive compensation.
The insurance company will probably want to complete this investigation before they agree to pay any settlement. You may find it difficult to remain patient throughout this process, especially if it seems like the insurer’s questions for you indicate they think you caused the crash.
Remember that you have the right to hire a personal injury attorney to protect you at any time.
Your representative can:
- Prepare you for all questions from the insurance adjuster and even accompany you to the interview
- Exchange evidence with the insurer, which could strengthen your own case
- Explain all you need to know about how car accident settlements work
How to Negotiate a Car Accident Settlement
If you do not hire a car accident attorney to represent you, you would have to represent yourself at all meetings and negotiations with the insurer.
This could jeopardize your ability to recover fair compensation because:
- Others have likely sued the insurer before, so the insurer has experience with responding to lawsuits in a way that favors themselves, not the accident survivor.
- You may not have fully recovered from your injuries, so you may find it harder to concentrate on the proceedings.
- The insurer knows you have little to no experience with the law, and they might try to push you toward decisions that undermine your rights.
Having a lawyer negotiate on your behalf can protect your rights and enable you to pursue compensation without putting yourself in stressful situations unnecessarily.
Negotiations generally proceed along these lines:
After the insurer responds to your demand letter, your lawyer can arrange dates and times when they can discuss your settlement. Negotiations can occur in person, over the phone, or a combination of both.
Presenting Arguments and Evidence
During negotiations, each side can present their version and interpretation of events.
For example, your lawyer would try to establish that:
- The liable party’s negligence caused your accident
- The accident caused your injury
- Your injuries entitle you to the exact amount of compensation you asked for
The insurer would try to prove just the opposite.
They might argue that:
- You sustained injuries in some event unrelated to the car crash
- The liable party’s actions do not constitute negligence
- You exaggerated the extent of your wounds or monetary losses, so you should settle for less than you requested in the demand letter
Both sides would present evidence gathered during their respective investigations.
Coming to a Settlement Agreement
Depending on the strength of each side’s case, it could take weeks or even months for both sides to reach an agreement. In the meantime, the insurer may offer you several settlements that do not meet your needs.
Your lawyer would respond to such offers by:
- Informing you of each offer
- Letting you know if they think the offer reflects your needs
- Rejecting or accepting the offer, depending on what you decide
What happens if negotiations drag on with no fair settlement offer in sight? You have the right to take the liable party to court. Your lawyer could take steps to secure you a jury award, which would mean that a jury of your peers finds the liable party guilty and orders them to pay you damages.
Benefits of Hiring an Attorney to Handle Your Car Accident Settlement
While you can pursue your car accident settlement on your own, you may find it easier to navigate the process when you have a lawyer on your team. Working with a lawyer means you can focus on your health and recovery while they pursue the money you need.
When you hire a lawyer, they can:
- Speak to the insurance company for you. This way, you do not say anything that could harm your case.
- Determine liability and prove that you deserve compensation from one or several parties.
- Advise you on your options and explain whether you should file an insurance claim, a lawsuit, or both.
- Determine if a settlement offer will appropriately compensate you for your losses.
- Explain any laws that apply to your case and advocate for you throughout the legal process.
- Answer any questions you have.
- Collect the evidence needed to build your case, including photos, videos, police reports, and witness statements.
Paying Your Car Accident Attorney With Your Settlement
You may find yourself short of cash as you wait for a settlement. How can you pay for a lawyer if you do not have money to spare?
Find a law office that can work for a contingency fee. This fee agreement allows you to hire legal representation without owing any attorney’s fees upfront.
Instead, you will:
- Receive legal representation without having to worry about paying their fee
- Agree to pay a percentage of your settlement to cover the attorney’s fees
- Pay attorney’s fees at the very end of your case, after you have received a settlement
- Pay no attorney’s fees if your lawyer cannot get you any compensation
You Can File a Lawsuit To Seek a Car Accident Settlement
If settlement negotiations with the insurance company are not successful, your lawyer may recommend that you file a lawsuit. Each state grants car accident survivors and relatives of fatal car accident victims the right to pursue compensation for their losses. You should always remember, however, that this right comes with some restrictions. Statutes of limitations represent one common restriction.
The statute of limitations outlines the amount of time you have to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
This deadline differs depending on:
- Where you live
- What kind of case you plan to file
- Who you file your case against
A personal injury law firm in your area can inform you about the statute of limitations you must follow based on your case’s specifics. If the deadline has not expired, the firm could then assist you with your case.