As a general rule, you should not take the first offer of a car accident settlement. First offers usually represent the insurance company’s attempts to make you end your case faster in exchange for an easy but inadequate settlement that does not meet your needs. Never accept any offer without consulting an attorney.
Questionable Tactics Insurance Companies May Use
The other party’s insurance company, which would pay any compensation you win, knows how you feel.
They may take advantage of your impatience by:
- Asking you to record a statement about the car accident
- Offering you a quick settlement
- Telling you that you do not need a lawyer or that you can resolve your case faster without a lawyer
Such tactics would give them an edge over you in any legal action you decide to take.
- They can use any recorded statements you make to try to contradict the claims in your case. For example, if you admit to having back pain prior to the crash, they can argue that your current back pain has no connection with the accident injuries.
- Quick settlements typically do not reflect your injuries’ full value, and you may run out of money before you pay for everything you need.
- You have less legal experience than an insurance company. By not hiring a lawyer, you make it easier for them to undermine your rights or exploit laws and loopholes you know nothing about.
You should always remember that the insurance company has their own interests at heart, not yours. They want to end your case as fast as possible while paying as little as possible. If the insurer offers a settlement too quickly or too easily, treat it with skepticism. Do not sign or agree to anything without consulting a personal injury attorney.
How Does a Lawyer Negotiate a Fair Car Accident Settlement?
In most cases, you should not take the first offer of a car accident settlement. Instead, you (or your attorney) can negotiate for a better settlement.
To start the settlement process, your lawyer would send a demand letter to the insurance company. This letter includes details of the accident, how much compensation you want, and why you deserve that compensation.
The insurer may respond to the demand letter with a settlement offer. Unless this amount mirrors what you asked for in the letter, do not accept it. Talk to your lawyer about the offer first.
Then, let them:
- Meet with the insurer’s representatives
- Show the insurer all of the evidence they have collected that establishes your case’s value
- Refute any statements the insurer makes (e.g., that the liable party’s negligence had nothing to do with the accident)
- Keep negotiating until the insurer agrees to pay what you need
- Write up the settlement agreement and go over it with you before you sign
- Address any questions or concerns you have about the settlement or the negotiation process
Your car accident law firm can keep you apprised of how negotiations go and whether they think you should consider any of the insurer’s settlement offers.
You may have to reject several offers before the insurance company offers one worth accepting. This process can take a while and leave you feeling frustrated or hopeless. It may help to remember that you have an ally in this fight: your chosen law firm would support you and fight for you from beginning to end, no matter how long things take.
How Does a Lawyer Assess a Car Accident Settlement?
Car accident law firms have often worked on cases similar to yours in the past. They can use their experience to evaluate the fairness of any given offer. Some of the criteria they use to assess settlement offers include:
Whether It Accounts for Past and Future Suffering
Your injuries do not just affect you today. They could very well continue to affect your life months or years down the line by causing continuing physical symptoms, necessitating additional medical treatments, or causing additional missed work days.
With help from your attorney, you can figure out the total worth of your injuries, including what they have already cost you and what they will probably cost you in the future. You should not accept any settlement that does not account for both past and future losses.
Whether It Includes Economic and Non-economic Damages
An appropriate settlement should reimburse you for not just monetary losses (reduced income, car repair bills, etc.) but also for physical and psychological symptoms connected with the injury.
They could include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Reduced independence/quality of life
- Scar tissue
- Physical disabilities
- Intellectual disabilities
- Loss of consortium
Let your car accident lawyer and experts (such as your doctor or an economist) come up with a fair value for every single thing you lost because of the accident.
Whether You Can Support It With Evidence
Again, the insurance company may not offer an adequate settlement right away.
To compel them to pay what you need, your car accident attorney can support your case with materials like:
- Medical records: This documentation can show how your injuries happened and what treatments you needed or will need for them.
- The police report: The police officer who responded to your accident should have collected evidence and observations, then gathered them in an official report of the crash.
- Expert statements: Your case could get a boost from experts who examine the evidence and come to the same conclusions as your lawyer: that the other party caused your injuries and should pay for them.
- Personal testimony: Your own recollections form the heart of your case. In addition, your attorney could interview your friends, your relatives, and anyone who witnessed either the accident or its aftermath.
The more evidence your lawyer can find to support your arguments, the less justification the insurance company has to deny you a satisfactory settlement, and the faster they may offer you a fair amount.
Car Accident Settlements for Wrongful Death
Wrongful death cases often present more challenges than personal injury cases do. They could also entitle you to a larger settlement than your average personal injury case.
For instance, you could receive compensation for:
- Any personal injury damages (pain and suffering, medical bills, etc.) that your loved one never received on their own behalf
- Loss of society and companionship
- Loss of financial support
- Funeral and burial expenses
The rules for accepting settlement offers apply equally to personal injury suits and wrongful death suits: you should not take the insurer’s first offer without consulting a lawyer. A legal professional can pursue a wrongful death settlement using many of the same techniques as they would use in a personal injury case.
- Building a casefile with evidence from various sources
- Negotiating with the insurer
- Fielding settlement offers and letting you know which ones (if any) you should take seriously
- Preparing the paperwork necessary to finalize any settlement agreement
If You Accept the First Wrongful Death Settlement Offer…
After losing a loved one so unexpectedly, you might feel tempted to accept the insurer’s first settlement offer just to get the whole legal process over with. You understandably want to grieve and rebuild your life in peace without a claim or lawsuit hanging over your head.
Before you make any decisions about filing a case or accepting an offer, remember that:
- You need and deserve fair damages for your loved one’s injury and passing.
- Accepting a smaller but quicker settlement would allow the liable party to get away with paying less than they should.
- Your attorney can handle all of the hard work associated with the case, which would give you more time to take care of personal matters.
At the minimum, you should consider talking with a wrongful death attorney about your case. This way, you would have a better idea of your rights and responsibilities, and you could make an intelligent decision that best reflects your family’s needs.
Starting Your Car Accident Case Within the Time Limit
You have a limited time to seek a settlement after a car accident.
The amount of time the law grants varies from state to state, and the deadline may differ if:
- You live in another state.
- The accident occurred in another state.
- You want to sue the government.
Knowing this information, you might think you should take the first offer of a car accident settlement just to ensure you do not end up with nothing. You should remember, however, that the deadline only refers to the amount of time you have to start a case, not to finish one.
You might find it useful to get in touch with an attorney right after receiving medical care for your injuries. This way, you have the maximum amount of time to consider your options and launch a case.
Who Should Pay for Your Car Accident Damages?
As mentioned previously, the other party’s insurance company will pay whatever damages you receive. To get that compensation, you would first have to identify and locate the liable party.
In car accident cases, these parties could bear responsibility:
- A driver: Drivers can cause accidents in many different ways, including by speeding, texting and driving, drinking and driving, or ignoring traffic signs.
- A driver’s employer: For example, say a truck driver hit you because their employer failed to make sure they had a proper license. In such a case, the trucking company contributed to the accident by allowing an unqualified driver to get behind the wheel.
- A government agency: Usually, local governments must keep roads safe by repairing street lights or traffic signs and trimming branches near the roadway. If a dangerous road played a role in your crash, you can hold the local government accountable.
- A mechanic: You probably rely on mechanics to keep your car in good condition. They have a duty to examine your car carefully and to let you know if it needs anything (an oil change, new tires, etc.). If they do not and you subsequently get into an accident, the mechanic could bear liability.
If your case involves more than one liable party, you have the right to sue them all for their role in your accident. Your lawyer would then have to negotiate individual settlement agreements with each party’s insurer.
If the Liable Party Has No Insurance
Most states have laws that require car owners to carry a certain amount of insurance in case they cause an accident. Unfortunately, not everyone follows those laws.
If the person who caused your accident had little to no insurance or if you cannot find them (e.g., they did a hit and run), you could still collect compensation. However, you might encounter more challenges along the way.
For instance, you would have to:
- Take their personal net worth into consideration
- Negotiate carefully so they do not resort to desperate measures (e.g., declaring bankruptcy) that would deny you compensation
- Rely on your own uninsured/underinsured driver policy, if you have one
- Have your lawyer investigate to see if they can locate a hit-and-run driver
Your personal injury lawyer could help you recover a settlement after a collision with an uninsured driver.