The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released its early estimate of traffic fatalities. They estimate that nearly 43,000 individuals lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic crashes last year, representing a 10.5 percent increase from the 38,824 deaths in a recent year. Their recent projection is the highest number of roadway traffic deaths since 2005. It is also the most significant annual percentage jump in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s (FARS) history.
This doesn’t include the countless injuries, many of which were severe, life-altering, or catastrophic, resulting from the same accidents.
Even though our modern vehicles get safer every year, roadway fatalities continue to grow. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 13 car accidents occur every minute in America. Last year, these motor vehicle collisions cost the economy around $474 billion, according to the National Safety Council (NSC).
Who pays for these car accidents? Who foots the medical bills or makes up for the lost wages? Should innocent victims have to pay for their own damages? The American civil justice system doesn’t believe so. Instead, those who suffered an injury in auto accidents across the U.S. (or their family members on their behalf if they are deceased) can seek compensation through the civil court system if necessary by using a car accident lawyer.
However, many of these cases never see the inside of a courtroom, settling before that stage. If you or someone you love was recently in a car accident, you might be wondering just how car accident settlements work.
The first step in getting a full and fair settlement for your damages after a car accident is to hire a reputable attorney as soon as possible. Their services are invaluable, not only for settling your claim but also for making your life easier during this difficult time. If your case doesn’t settle for some reason, they can file a lawsuit on your behalf seeking compensation.
You want to hire an attorney who:
Once you hire an experienced car accident attorney, they can begin working on your case. They will thoroughly investigate what led to your accident, how it occurred, and who is liable. Sometimes multiple parties are liable. Once they determine who is liable, they will find out what types of insurance policies they had at the time of the accident. Your attorney can file a claim on your behalf under these policies.
When you hire an attorney, you don’t have to communicate directly with the insurance company. Instead, your lawyer takes on this job, which makes your life less stressful and also helps protect your claim.
Suppose you don’t have legal representation and file your claim independently. In that case, the insurance adjuster may call you shortly after the accident and offer you a settlement. You might be relieved to learn that they are willing to provide you with compensation and that you can get it rather soon.
However, accepting their offer is unlikely to be in your best interest at this time. You likely don’t know the actual value of your claim if you haven’t yet discussed it with a seasoned car accident attorney. Settling with the insurance adjuster now can mean you are settling for much less than you really deserve for your injuries.
On the other hand, if you have an attorney representing you, you can refer the claims adjuster to them. The adjuster probably won’t call your attorney to present them with the offer they just gave you as they know your attorney will know how low it actually is.
In most cases, the car accident attorney will send what is known as a demand letter to the insurance company. The purpose of this letter is to notify the insurance company that you are seeking damages for your car accident injuries. It begins the settlement process between your attorney, the insurer, and their attorneys.
In the letter, your attorney will:
This letter usually serves as the jumping-off point for settlement negotiations. However, it must be accurate, factual, and appropriately worded, which is one more reason why you should hire an experienced car accident attorney.
Your car accident damages can vary depending on the severity of your injuries. Generally, there are two types of compensable damages; economic and non-economic.
Economic damages, or special damages, refer to the ones that involve the loss of money or the creation of a financial obligation, such as:
Non-economic damages refer to subjective damages that don’t have a defined monetary value. However, they are no less important.
Non-economic or general damages might include:
The greater the value of your economic damages, typically, the greater the value of your non-economic damages.
Next, the insurance company will likely reach out to your attorney to start negotiating a settlement. However, first, they will conduct their investigation into how the accident occurred and who is liable. They want to identify their own case’s strengths and weaknesses before attempting to negotiate a settlement. In rare cases with the clear liability of their insured party, such as drunk driving, they may agree to the settlement in the demand letter right away.
However, in most cases, car accident settlement negotiations is a process lasting anywhere between a few weeks to a few months or even a year or more. Settlement negotiations are typically between the attorneys for all involved parties. These negotiations can take place in person, by phone, or via email.
Settlements can either come in a lump sum or a structured arrangement. With a lump sum settlement, you receive the entire amount at once. If you agree to a structured settlement, these payments can be monthly, quarterly, annually, or any combination. It’s best to discuss which is best for your situation with your attorney.
It’s also essential to understand that you, as the client, have the right to accept or deny a settlement offer. While you should consider your attorney’s advice about the offers you receive, at the end of the day, it’s your decision to make. If you don’t receive a settlement offer you feel is fair, your attorney can take your case to trial. If you receive an offer you are willing to settle for, your attorney must accept the offer on your behalf.
Depending on the local rules in your jurisdiction, you may have to go through mediation if you cannot settle before going to court. During mediation, your attorney is present and usually speaks on your behalf. You will probably have the option of meeting in the same room as the insurance company and their attorneys or in a separate room.
Either way, a professional mediator attempts to get both sides to see the weaknesses in their case and the points of view of the other party. Their goal is to get them to agree on a settlement amount through this process. Sometimes it is successful, and other times, it isn’t.
Car accident settlements are quite common; most cases resolve in this manner. In fact, civil courts prefer that they settle out of court to not take up any more of their time than necessary.
Settlements benefit both injured parties and the insurance companies because:
Once a settlement agreement happens between the two opposing parties, the case can close. The at-fault party’s insurance company will send your attorney a check for the full settlement amount to which you agreed. Your attorney will then cut you a check for the settlement amount, minus any fees you contractually owe them for their services and any outstanding medical bills or expenses.
However, once they finally have the settlement monies in hand, most attorneys and law firms will attempt to negotiate past-due medical bills and other related debts. Depending on the amounts owed and the specific companies they are owed to, this can take a few weeks. Keep in mind that car accidents involving minors can sometimes make the situation more complicated and might need to be approved by the probate court.
When you receive your portion of the settlement check, you will also be required to sign a document, known as a release, stating that you will not pursue compensation for this same matter against the same parties in the future.
Once your attorney and any outstanding medical and other bills get paid, the money is yours to do what you want.
In general, personal injury settlements and court awards are not taxable. You won’t be required to pay state or federal taxes on any monies you receive. However, you should always consult with your attorney and tax professionals to be sure. Whatever you do with the money, such as investing it, can create tax liabilities.
You can take your case to trial if you and your attorney agree that the insurance company has not offered you a fair settlement. Of course, going to trial can be risky, but in some cases, it is necessary to receive fair compensation. Some cases can settle right up to or during the middle of a trial. Your car accident attorney will prepare both you and your case for going before a judge and a jury.
The statute of limitations is a state-imposed deadline for filing a lawsuit in a personal injury claim. Some states have a deadline as short as a year, while others may have one for four years, although two is quite common. No matter how long it is, it is a strict deadline. If your lawsuit isn’t filed within this timeframe, the opposing party will ask the court to throw it out because of the expired statute of limitations. In that case, the judge will have no choice but to honor their request.
Most injured parties don’t know at the inception of their claim if their case will go to trial or not. This makes the statute of limitations a critical deadline. Contacting a car accident attorney as soon as possible after your accident will help ensure that you file your lawsuit on time if necessary.
Remember that your attorney will need time to investigate and prepare your case before they can file a lawsuit. In some instances, they will need to file suit while settlement negotiations are still ongoing. If they do, this doesn’t necessarily mean your case won’t settle, but rather simply that your lawyer is prepared and ensuring they don’t miss any crucial deadlines.
If you or a loved one recently suffered injuries in a car accident, it’s in your best interest to reach out to a skilled personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can protect your legal rights and begin working towards settlement negotiations in your case. Contact us today to receive your consultation.