Under Georgia law, injured victims can hold a negligent driver financially responsible for their bills and other losses. But how do car accident settlements work, what do you need to do, and how much can you recover?
Generally, you need to show evidence that the other driver was at fault for the crash, which directly caused your injuries and damages. Alternatively, you could make a financial recovery through your own insurance policy. A car accident lawyer can help you navigate the process and negotiate a fair settlement.
Most crash victims file claims based on the at-fault drivers’ auto liability coverage. Georgia requires all motorists to carry this type of policy.
Understanding car insurance coverage in Georgia and how these policies work can help you navigate the claims process following a crash.
Georgia law requires all drivers to carry minimum auto liability insurance coverage. This coverage pays out for the injuries and property damages suffered by victims of a crash the policyholder causes.
According to the Office of Commissioner of Insurance and Safety Fire (OCI), the minimum limits required by state law include:
To recover compensation based on someone else’s auto liability coverage, you must show they caused the accident and your related expenses and losses. This could allow you to negotiate a settlement up to the other driver’s liability policy limits, depending on your case’s damages.
If you have relatively minor injuries, this may require obtaining a copy of the accident report filed by police, getting an estimate for your car repairs, and submitting your related medical bills. However, most cases prove more complex. They require more evidence, additional documentation of damages, and more knowledge of navigating the insurance claims process.
You might not go through the other driver’s policy if they did not primarily cause the crash. Other insurance policies can pay for the damage to your vehicle regardless of fault in an accident.
In addition to liability coverage, you may have additional insurance coverage that could provide you with compensation following a traffic accident.
Some of the most common policies get grouped into what is known as full coverage insurance, which includes:
Medical payments coverage (or MedPay) could also offer an option to cover your medical care after a crash, regardless of who bears fault.
Many people also carry uninsured motorist coverage. These policies pay when the at-fault driver in a crash does not have the required auto liability coverage. An uninsured motorist policy generally provides the same coverage as your liability policy.
Before you file an insurance claim, you need to build strong support for it. This requires investigating what happened and gathering evidence to show what happened, who bears liability, and why you believe you deserve compensation.
Here again, having an attorney on your side to investigate the case can also make the process much easier for you. Law firms have resources that make it easier for them to investigate crashes. In addition, they know what evidence is available and how to obtain it.
Some of the actions they commonly take to investigate crashes include:
Without a lawyer, a crash victim must handle these tasks to develop a strong case against the at-fault driver. Proving negligence is key to winning compensation in these cases.
This requires showing:
With strong support for your claim and a good idea of what a fair settlement might look like, you can then contact the insurer and demand justice. You file your claim, including a request for compensation. You will name the amount you believe you deserve based on the facts of the case.
Attorneys often send a “demand letter” to the insurance company to take care of this step. The insurer has three options: Agree, deny, or counter-offer. Most issue a counter-offer below your fair settlement range.
When an insurance company or liable party counters your demand, this begins settlement negotiations. These negotiations may occur during a series of meetings or through letters or emails back and forth. If you handle this on your own, you must show the insurance adjuster you are serious about a lawsuit if necessary.
Personal injury lawyers use proven negotiation tactics to work on the potential payout in their clients’ cases. They present strong evidence and use the ability to take the case to court as leverage to get fair and just compensation for their clients.
After settling with the insurance company, there are still a few steps to complete in the claims process. The insurer requires you to sign a release stating you waive your rights to any further compensation related to the accident or your injuries. You should try to get a fair and just settlement in your case for this reason. You cannot come back to recover more money or sue later.
Once you complete and submit this paperwork, the insurer prepares the check for the agreed-on amount. This could take a few days or a few weeks. Different insurance companies handle this process in different ways.
If you face a significant delay in receiving your check, an attorney can help ensure a smooth resolution to the process. You should not need to wait for several months to get your payment.
If an Atlanta car accident attorney manages your claim, they handle this part of the process for you, too. They receive the payout from the insurer and deposit it into a special before deducting attorney’s fees and other costs.
You will agree to these legal fees before you sign your contract, and the law firm should help you understand what to expect to pay them from your final settlement. Most car accident attorneys work for contingency fees. They receive their attorney’s fees based on a percentage of the total settlement in the case.
Once they take their fee, your attorney forwards the remaining money to you through a check, direct deposit, or other means. Then, your case officially concludes.
Most Atlanta car accident cases settle without requiring a lawsuit, and even fewer go to a jury trial. However, sometimes suing the negligent driver or another liable party is the best option. A car accident attorney can assess the facts of your case to help you understand your options and the best way to approach seeking compensation.
Some circumstances that may require a lawsuit include:
Insurance companies rarely want to pay what accident victims deserve based on their estimates of their damages. You can often receive a negotiated settlement, but sometimes the insurer simply refuses. If negotiations do not get you close to an agreement, a lawsuit could show them you are serious and lead to a better offer. Then, the case could go to court, and the jury will issue a verdict or court award, when appropriate.
Insurance companies deny claims or refuse to negotiate fairly because they disagree about the details. These disputes often revolve around fault for the crash, liability, or severity of the injuries. Evidence uncovered during the discovery process may lead to settlement offers, or the jury will determine what occurred.
Under Georgia law, only courts award punitive damages. These damages penalize negligent parties for intentional behavior or wanton recklessness. While courts rarely award punitive damages in car accident cases, discuss the possibility with an attorney to decide if this is a good reason to sue.
Crash victims sometimes have to sue because they face an approaching deadline to file suit. Protecting your right to file a lawsuit is essential in negotiating a fair settlement with the insurance company. While the deadline only applies to starting a lawsuit, failing to file a case means losing significant leverage in your case. The at-fault driver and their insurer likely do not want to go to trial, where a jury could force them to pay even more.
Under Georgia law, victims of negligence have up to two years after their injuries to file a lawsuit in their county’s civil courts. If you miss this deadline, you cannot recover compensation, even if you have a strong case otherwise.
A lawyer can explain how a car accident settlement works and help you through the process. Working with an Atlanta car accident attorney may help you get justice and a fair settlement with less stress. They can handle these claims from beginning to end. This allows you to focus on your healing.
Most personal injury law firms represent clients based on contingency fees. You may hire an Atlanta car accident lawyer without paying anything upfront. Contact Atlanta Personal Injury Law Group for a free case review to learn your next steps.