The compensation you could recover from a car accident depends on several factors. No attorney can tell you how much money you will recover after an accident. Your car accident attorney can investigate your case and review your medical records to determine what they believe is a fair and reasonable amount for the insurance company to pay.
A person who suffered a traumatic brain injury resulting in a permanent disability will get much more than someone who suffered a minor concussion and recovered in a few weeks.
Insurance Companies and Attorneys: How They Calculate Accident Car Accident Settlement
While a personal injury attorney reviews your case and bases their calculations on real numbers obtained from your medical records, insurance companies do not do that—instead, they use an algorithm to determine what they think is fair. The representative types in your injury and factors that usually come with your type of injury, and allow the robot to create a number. That number is almost always significantly lower than you might receive if you go through settlement negotiations or litigate your case.
Steps to Take to Find Out How Much Your Claim Is Worth
The more serious your car accident injuries, the more your claim is worth. You need a professional to determine the value of your claim—not the insurance company. Even for a minor injury, the difference between an attorney representing you and representing yourself could be thousands of dollars.
To maximize the value of your claim:
- Take pictures of the accident scene if it is physically feasible. If you believe you will cause additional injury by moving around, stay put and do not worry about the pictures.
- Seek medical attention immediately. The longer you wait, the better argument the insurance company has that your injuries are not as serious as you say.
- Do not discuss the accident with the insurance company. It is advised to retain an attorney as soon as possible so that they can file the claim for you. If you speak to the insurance company, only give it your name and contact information, the date and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information.
- Never sign anything the insurance company gives you.
Factors that Affect the Value of Your Claim
Many factors can affect your claim by increasing or decreasing it. These factors include:
The less severe your injuries, the less compensation you can recover. Catastrophic injuries such as traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord injuries that cause long-term or permanent disabilities get much more than a broken leg or another injury that takes less than 12 months to heal.
You might be out of work for a few weeks or the rest of your life. You can recover lost wages and loss of future earning capacity. Another factor is how much your employer pays you and how many hours you work. For example, if you work part-time at $10 per hour, you will recover less compensation for lost wages than someone who works full-time for $15 per hour.
Additionally, if you recover in weeks, you will only collect that amount for the time you are out of work. However, suppose you suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused a disability that prevents you from working for the rest of your life. In that case, you could recover compensation for your current salary with a cost of living increase until your regular retirement age as mandated by the Social Security Administration.
The At-Fault Driver’s Behavior
If the at-fault driver left the scene of the accident, was extremely drunk, or had a bad driving record, they might have to pay more, especially if his behavior caused extensive injuries and pain and suffering.
What You Say After the Accident
The best advice is to never say anything to the other driver or witnesses. You have to tell the truth to the police. However, other drivers and witnesses will repeat what you say to the insurance company—and the insurance company will use that against you even if you were not at fault for the accident.
If the insurance company believes you caused the accident or twists what you said—or if the at-fault driver misrepresents what you said to the insurance company, it could reduce your compensation.
The Stages of a Car Accident Claim
A car accident claim has several stages. The first stage depends on your injuries—how long it takes to recover or how long it takes doctors to determine that your accident injuries caused long-term or permanent disabilities.
After the doctors discharge you—with the exception of certain ongoing therapies—your attorney can finish preparing the case to submit to the insurance company. This is usually done in the form of a demand letter that outlines the facts of the case, your medical expenses, and other economic damages, and, if applicable, the amount of non-economic damages you might receive.
The demand letter includes a time frame for the insurance company to respond. It is now that settlement negotiations start. This phase could take months, depending on you and the insurance company. Some people will drop settlement negotiations after the first lowball offer from the insurance company and go right to litigation; others will negotiate with the insurance company over several offers and counteroffers.
If you decide to litigate because the insurance company refuses to come up with a fair and reasonable settlement, it could take months or even more than a year to finish your case. However, once you file the lawsuit, the insurance company will likely re-open settlement negotiations because litigation is so expensive. If you win, the insurance company not only has to pay its lawyers, but it has to pay yours, too.
Car Accident Injuries
The severity of your injuries is a major factor in determining how much compensation you might recover after a car accident.
Injuries might include:
- Bumps, bruises, cuts, scratches, and scrapes.
- Strains and sprains.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Road rash.
- Chemical and thermal burns.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Crushed bones and other crush injuries.
- Internal injuries.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
You could also recover compensation for secondary injuries, such as infections of open wounds, including surgical wounds. If the car accident caused existing injuries or illnesses to worsen, you could also recover compensation for the extra medical expenses and pain and suffering from those injuries. You would not have sustained the additional expense and pain if not for the defendant’s actions or inactions.
Recovering Damages After a Car Accident
After a car accident, you could recover economic damages and non-economic damages from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. In some cases, you might even recover damages from the at-fault driver. If more than one person was at fault for the accident, you could recover damages from both drivers’ insurance companies.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value. Almost all car accident victims recover economic damages, including:
- Doctor’s appointments.
- Surgeries and follow-up appointments.
- Cognitive therapy appointments.
- Occupational therapy appointments.
- Psychological therapy appointments.
- Physical therapy appointments.
- Prescriptions and prescribed over-the-counter medications.
- Ambulatory aids.
- Home health care.
- Nursing home and/or rehabilitative care.
- Hand controls for your vehicle.
- Home updates, including but not limited to wheelchair ramps, handrails, grab bars, and widened doorways.
- Medical equipment, such as oxygen tanks.
You could also recover lost wages. Suppose your injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities. In that case, you could also recover the loss of future earning capacity from the time of the settlement through the time you would normally retire.
If you lost a loved one because of a car accident, you could also recover lost wages and loss of future earning capacity.
If your vehicle was damaged or destroyed in a car accident, the at-fault driver’s insurance would pay for repairing or replacing your vehicle. You could also recover compensation for other damaged or destroyed personal property on your person or in your car, such as cell phones, computers, and dry cleaning.
You could recover funeral and burial expenses if you lost a loved one in a car accident. You could also recover cremation expenses, probate attorney’s fees and costs, and certain probate costs, such as filing fees.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value. Not every car accident victim can recover non-economic damages, though.
If your injuries result in long-term or permanent disabilities or if you lost a loved one in a car accident, you will most likely recover non-economic damages, including:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if you have to make life-long changes, such as taking prescriptions or using ambulatory aids.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy time with your family or participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a bodily function, such as your eyesight or bladder.
- Loss of use of a body part, such as a finger or a leg.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do, such as laundry, house cleaning, grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, and home repair and maintenance.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
This All Sounds Good, But How Do I Pay an Attorney, Medical Expenses, and Put Food on the Table?
Your initial case evaluation is free and without obligation. Should you retain a personal injury attorney, they will review their contingency contract with you—you do not pay them attorney’s fees unless you receive a favorable outcome.
As for medical expenses, you can use your health insurance and/or your vehicle insurance for coverage until you receive your settlement. Some vehicle insurance policies also pay for lost wages.
Your attorney can also refer you to doctors who often work with car accident victims and may not collect until you receive your settlement. They can also write a letter to your medical professionals requesting that they hold off on collections until you receive your settlement.
How Long Does It Take to Receive a Check Once My Case Settles?
Once your case settles, receiving your check could take several weeks. Once you and the insurance company settle, an attorney—usually the insurance company’s—drafts a settlement agreement and forwards it to your attorney. After your attorney reviews the settlement, they will go over it with you. If you or your attorney find any issues or mistakes, your attorney sends it back to the insurance company for corrections.
Once the settlement agreement is correct, you sign and notarize it. Your attorney forwards it to the insurance company, which then processes the agreement. After processing, the attorney cuts a check to your attorney, who deposits the check into an escrow account.
Before your attorney can take the next step, the check must clear the bank. Depending on the amount, it could take up to 14 days to clear the bank.
After the check clears, the attorney:
- Pays any outstanding medical expenses you might have.
- Reimburses your health and auto insurance companies if you used them to cover medical expenses and lost wages.
- Deducts the firm’s fee for fees and costs as dictated by your contingency agreement.
Once everyone else is paid, the attorney cuts you a check for the balance.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one in a car accident, contact a personal injury lawyer at Jacoby & Meyers as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.