After getting injured in a car accident, it is only natural to worry about the medical bills, lost wages, car repairs, and other significant costs that result from being in a crash. For car accident victims, recovering a fair settlement that compensates for these damages is the light at the end of a very long tunnel.
Determining how much you should pursue after an accident includes many variables, such as the severity of your injuries, the financial impact you have experienced from getting hurt, and the funds available from the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy or personal assets. Keep reading to learn more about all the elements that go into calculating the value of your car accident claim and how an attorney can help you protect your legal rights.
Understanding the No-Fault Car Accident Laws in New York and New Jersey
A critical factor for determining the value of your car accident claim is the no-fault insurance system followed in New York and New Jersey. These rules require all drivers to carry a Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy that kicks in to reimburse their losses regardless of fault. Policyholders file with their insurer to recover financial damages like medical bills and lost wages up to the limits of their purchased plan.
No-fault states are attempting to take liability out of the car accident claims process, which means they also restrict the ability to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-driver driver. These rules can make it harder for car accident victims to recover more compensation than what is available from their own PIP insurance, even if their damages are substantially greater than the policy’s limit. However, it is still possible under certain conditions.
Drivers in New York and New Jersey can proceed with taking legal action outside the no-fault system if their injuries qualify as permanent or severe, such as:
- Losing a body part
- A physical limitation for at least three months
- Suffering a displaced fracture, which means that the bone is broken in more than one place
- Lost a pregnancy
- Suffered a permanent disability because the injury will never fully heal, like having to walk with a limp
- Lost a family member in a wrongful death
- Significant scarring or disfigurement
What Does It Mean to Accept a Settlement After a Car Accident?
The losses of suffering preventable injuries in a car accident will come with a major price tag for victims and their families. The settlement is an arrangement made outside the court system to compensate the victim for their damages with a payment from the liable party’s insurance company or their own insurer, depending on the situation. Negotiated settlements are used to resolve most personal injury cases resulting from car accidents in New York and New Jersey, even when the injuries are severe.
Accepting a settlement does come with particular conditions. In exchange for payment, car accident victims must waive their legal rights to pursue more compensation by filing a lawsuit or continuing with any pending litigation. Once all the parties have signed the settlement contract, the case is over, and there is no going back. That means claimants should not agree to a settlement unless it provides them with fair and reasonable compensation.
Having a knowledgeable car accident attorney assess the settlement offer and negotiate on your behalf can be the deciding factor between getting your damages covered or ending up with less than you deserve. Ideally, the settlement amount should be close to what would have been received if the case had advanced to a court trial.
An experienced lawyer can work with you to assess the harm you have suffered from the accident and translate it into a monetary amount that can provide fair compensation. The most important factors in determining the settlement you can expect will include:
Economic Damages of Being in a Car Accident
The financial consequences of being in a car accident are often wide-ranging and devastating, especially with serious injuries. A fair car accident settlement should include compensation for these economic damages under the principle of making the claimant “whole” again by reimbursing their monetary losses. The most important thing to understand about economic damages is that they must be quantifiable, clearly defined, and proven with evidence. These financial losses can include:
The injuries sustained in a car accident often cause astronomical medical bills, especially for victims whose injuries require ambulance services, emergency surgery, a long hospital stay, or extensive physical therapy. These medical costs are typically the most significant part of a car accident claim. A skilled car accident attorney would also consult with a medical expert to estimate the costs of any future treatments required to treat your injuries from the accident.
Lost wages and earnings that result from getting injured are another major component of being in an accident. You should expect a car settlement offer that covers a substantial amount of the income you lost due to being physically or cognitively impaired in a way that prevents you from working. It is also important to take into consideration how the victim’s future earning potential is affected by their injuries due to either a permanent disability or because the victim is not even to return to the same position.
Other Out-of-Pocket Expenses
A car accident settlement can cover reimbursement for expenses like fixing your car’s damage from the accident, renting a vehicle while yours is being repaired or replaced, and hiring someone to take care of household tasks that you are not able to handle during your recovery. In cases where the victim has a permanent disability, economic damages can also include the costs of making your home or vehicle more accessible.
The Non-Economic Damages of Being in a Car Accident
Car accident injuries also come with many significant losses that are not financial, such as pain, mobility restrictions, emotional distress, and struggles with the normal activities of daily life. No-fault insurance will typically not cover these emotional and physical damages, even though they are often the most difficult aspect of getting into an accident. PIP policies will only compensate the policyholder for their medical bills, property damage, lost income, and other measurable financial losses.
However, victims can still seek a settlement for these intangible costs if their case meets the legal threshold for serious injuries. The options for getting non-economic damages covered will include filing a third-party claim under the at-fault party’s liability insurer or pursuing a personal injury lawsuit directly against the person that caused their car accident.
Some examples of the non-economic damages you can pursue outside of no-fault insurance include:
- Physical pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Non-economic damages are subjective by their very nature. There is no set formula for calculating these kinds of losses, but juries, insurance companies, and lawyers will try to come up with an appropriate amount based on the circumstances. One of the most common methods is to use the measurable economic damages as the baseline and then multiply that amount by number called a multiplier. The severity of the victim’s injuries determines the multiplier. The main variables for evaluating the multiplier number will be the victim’s prospects for making a full recovery and the impact of their injuries on daily life.
Having a lawyer by your side can help you substantiate your economic damages by documenting your emotional and psychological losses. For example, your lawyer can direct you to maintain a journal throughout your recovery that has day-by-day accounts of how the accident affected your life.
The Financial Resources Available to Compensate You
When it comes down to it, the amount of money you can expect from your car accident settlement will be heavily dependent on the funds available for your individual circumstances.
Most car accident victims in no-fault states will be limited to recovering compensation from their own PIP insurance policy, which offers a minimum coverage of $50,000 in New York State and $15,000 in New Jersey. Drivers also have the option of purchasing higher policy limits. When navigating the no-fault insurance system, the goal will be to maximize the value of your claim by documenting your damages with solid evidence.
If you have serious injuries and choose to pursue a car accident lawsuit, the settlement amount you can expect will depend on the liable party’s resources, such as the limits of their liability insurance coverage or their personal financial assets. For example, if you receive a court judgment award that is more than the liable party can pay, there are few options to help you recover more. Car accident cases where the at-fault party is a negligent business, such as the employer of a long-haul trucker, will typically result in higher settlement amounts.
The Skills Of The Car Accident Lawyer Handling Your Case
Securing a reasonable settlement for your car accident injuries will depend on being able to navigate the legal process and demonstrating the full extent of your damages.
Your attorney’s skill will play a crucial role in helping you recover compensation by building a solid case, negotiating with insurers on your behalf, and advocating for your best interests during every step. Having legal representation also relieves the burden of navigating paperwork, deadlines, and complicated legal procedures, which allows victims to focus their energy on recovery.
On average, car accident victims that have an experienced lawyer handling their case are able to recover larger settlements than claimants that try to manage the process by themselves.
How An Attorney Can Help You
After being in a serious car accident, finding the right lawyer to handle your case can make the difference between accepting a lowball settlement offer and getting the reasonable compensation you need to get life back on track.
Even if you have already begun the process and received your initial settlement offer, your personal injury lawyer can evaluate the terms and help you determine if it is in your best interests to accept. Crucially, an experienced attorney will also have the skills to negotiate on your behalf by substantiating the extent of your damages and arguing for more favorable compensation.
In cases with very severe injuries where the settlement offer does not even begin to cover the victim’s economic and non-economic damages, a lawyer can escalate your case by filing a lawsuit in court.
Contact a car accident lawyer today to get started. Reputable car accident lawyers represent clients on a contingency basis, so you will not pay any upfront costs or hourly fees. Instead, the law firm deducts a percentage of the amount they recover for you. This makes a lawyer an accessible and low-risk option for car accident victims looking to place their claim in the strongest possible position for recovering a fair settlement.