People often ask us: What determines how much compensation an injured person can recover in a car accident case? Many people find the answer rather surprising. The biggest factor is almost always the at-fault party’s car insurance policy limit.
If someone else caused a motor vehicle accident that injured you, one of the most important services a car accident lawyer can provide for you is identifying all potentially liable parties and their insurance resources. If you were seriously injured, an attorney’s help can make all the difference when you pursue compensation for your accident-related expenses and quality of life impacts.
The experienced attorneys at Jacoby & Meyers, LLP not only have ample experience representing car accident victims in insurance claims and lawsuits, they also have a deep understanding of the tactics insurance companies use to avoid or reduce payouts, and how to prove a case to an insurance company and the courts.
Some of our recent successes for our clients include:
- A $5 million settlement for a truck driver client who was injured when his truck rear-ended another truck that had braked suddenly to avoid a stopped vehicle. We negotiated the settlement during the trial.
- A $3.5 million settlement for a client who suffered a brain injury because of a motor vehicle accident in which an exhausted laborer who had worked too many hours fell asleep behind the wheel and collided with him. The case settled before trial.
The Importance of Car Insurance
Insurance doesn’t just help a driver fix their vehicle after an accident. It also provides financial protection if an accident injures the driver or someone else. Insurance companies pay the vast majority of car accident lawsuit settlements and awards. While it is possible to file a claim against an uninsured person and even to obtain a court judgment in your favor, you may have trouble collecting your compensation, as most uninsured individuals do not have the money to pay for someone else’s injury expenses out-of-pocket.
The majority of states are “fault” states when it comes to car insurance laws. A fault state requires drivers to purchase liability insurance to cover any injuries or property damage they cause while they are behind the wheel.
Thirteen states in the nation are no-fault states, which instead require drivers to purchase their own personal injury protection (PIP) policy. A PIP policy covers a percentage of the driver’s and their passengers’ medical costs and wage losses if they are in an accident, regardless of fault. In “no-fault” states, an injured driver or passenger cannot file a claim against the at-fault driver unless they have maxed out their own PIP policy or they meet a legally defined serious injury threshold.
Filing a Claim
To obtain money from your insurance policy or the at-fault party’s policy, you must submit a claim. An attorney can prepare a claim on your behalf as part of a “demand package,” where they compile all the evidence in the case, expert analysis of the accident, and a financial compensation request.
An insurance adjuster will investigate the claim by interviewing you and other witnesses to the accident, reviewing your medical records and the police report, and analyzing the damage to the vehicles.
They can then either choose to:
- Accept the claim as submitted and pay it.
- Deny the claim and provide the claimant with reasons for the denial.
- Accept liability but dispute the amount of the claim. This will often start the settlement negotiation process.
To obtain compensation through a third-party car insurance claim, you must prove that the insured party is liable (legally responsible) for causing the accident that resulted in your injuries.
You must prove liability by establishing the elements of negligence:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The term “duty of care” refers to how a reasonable person would act in a given circumstance to avoid causing harm to others. Drivers owe a duty of care to all other road users to operate their motor vehicles safely and legally.
- The at-fault party breached their duty of care. The “breach” is what the at-fault party did that violated the duty of care. Common driving errors and behaviors that breach the duty of care include speeding, failure to yield, distracted driving, alcohol impairment, fatigued driving, tailgating, and more.
- The breach resulted in the accident, which caused your injuries and subsequent impacts and expenses.
Common Tactics Insurance Companies Use to Avoid Payouts
An insurance adjuster’s job is to “investigate” claims for the insurance company. This means that they are looking for reasons not to pay the claim at all or to dramatically reduce the amount they must pay out. While they are required to respond to your claim and they must give you a reason if they choose to deny the claim, they are not required to be particularly forthright in dealing with you.
Some of the tactics insurance adjusters commonly use to reduce or deny claims include:
- Using any information you provide to say that you are not as injured as you claim or that you caused your own injuries.
- Using your social media posts to cast doubt on the severity of your injuries or the facts of your case.
- Offering a quick, low-ball settlement before you have the opportunity to speak with an attorney and understand the true value of your case.
- Convincing you to give them access to your entire medical history so that they can uncover information about previous injuries to cast doubt on the credibility of your claim.
- Telling you that you do not deserve to receive certain types of damages under the policy, such as pain and suffering, in an attempt to get you to agree to a lower settlement. When you accept a settlement offer, you are bound to the terms of that offer and cannot make additional future claims against the at-fault party for the same accident. This means that if you agree to a settlement that does not adequately compensate you for all the costs of your injury, you cannot ask for more in the future.
- Setting an arbitrary deadline to accept a settlement offer to pressure you into accepting the offer quickly.
- Telling you that you don’t need to speak with an attorney or that hiring a car insurance lawyer will delay your claim. An attorney provides the experience and knowledge of the process that you need to understand what your case is worth and whether the adjuster’s requests for information are necessary.
How a Car Insurance Lawyer Negotiates a Settlement
When you hire a car insurance lawyer to help you with your case, they will obtain information from you and the police report about the at-fault party and their insurance coverage. Your attorney will begin preparing a demand package to send to the insurance adjuster.
Because the insurance adjuster’s job is to look for reasons to reduce the amount of the insurance company’s payout, they rarely accept and pay out injury claims as submitted in the demand package. Instead, the insurance company will usually either make an initial settlement offer or deny the claim, at which point, your attorney may advise that you file a lawsuit against the insurance company in court. Insurance companies’ initial offers tend to come in at dramatically less than what you need and deserve, but this is a starting point for your attorney to negotiate a better settlement.
Even if the insurance company is still negotiating with your attorney, there will come a time when you and your attorney may decide to file a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit often encourages the insurance adjuster to make a better offer to avoid the costs of going to court. However, the settlement negotiation process can continue until the court renders a judgment.
What Happens If the Other Side Doesn’t Offer a Fair Settlement?
If the insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement and your attorney files a lawsuit on your behalf, the first part of the trial is the discovery phase. During discovery, your attorney and the attorney for the insurance company will share evidence about the case. Both sides will name witnesses and question them. This process will allow your attorney to continue to build your case, and sometimes the insurance company will finally make a reasonable settlement offer once all of the evidence is on the table.
You must file your case before the deadline for car accident claims in your state, known as the statute of limitations. It’s almost impossible to get an extension on this time limit, which is why it’s so important to seek the help of an attorney early on. Once you have filed your case, however, you are at the mercy of the court’s schedule.
Most cases resolve before they ever see the inside of a courtroom. However, because there is always a chance that your case will go to court, hire an attorney who is equally comfortable helping you obtain compensation through settlement negotiations and litigation.
How a Car Insurance Lawyer Can Help With Your Case
An experienced car accident lawyer can help you obtain the maximum compensation available to you in your case by:
Providing a free, no-obligation case evaluation, which is time with an attorney for you to ask your legal questions and learn more about the process of seeking compensation for your injuries through a car accident claim or lawsuit.
- Identifying all liable parties and all insurance resources you may access for compensation.
- Determining the value of your case, based on the expenses and impacts you have already incurred as well as those you may incur in the future because of the accident.
- Negotiating with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier to obtain a fair settlement offer on your behalf.
- Helping you understand the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting any offered settlement.
- Timely filing all court-required paperwork and representing you at all pre-trial conferences and hearings.
- Gathering and organizing evidence and witness testimony to prove your case in court.
- Litigating your case in court, if necessary.
- Assisting you with collecting your final settlement or court-awarded damages.