Auto accidents are so common these days, that car crashes now make up the majority of accidents across the US.
Most people will be involved in at least one car accident in their lifetime. Unfortunately, many times these accidents result in serious injuries for the drivers who were not at fault, as well as their passengers.
These injuries can be devastating in their scope and damage. Not only do you have an incredibly painful and possibly debilitating injury, but you’re probably missing work because of the injury or treatment. On top of all that, the medical bills start piling up, and that can be terrifying. Luckily there are laws in place to help protect people from having to pay for and sustain financial damages that they did not cause.
So what if the worst happens, and you’re in a serious car accident that results in you being injured? You’ve missed work, there’s a mountain of medical bills to deal with, and you have some serious psychological trauma from the accident itself. You want to do the smart thing, and reach out to an attorney to make sure you can get the most for your damages, but what does that mean? Just how much can you get from a car accident claim?
Well, there are a lot of variables that can go into that answer, and we’re going to look at some of them.
What happens if a car hits you?
If you have just been hit by another driver or hit by a driver while you are a pedestrian, there are some things that you can do immediately as well as in the hours and days following the accident, that can give your claim the best chance at a successful recovery.
First and foremost, you will likely be shaken up so take a moment to collect yourself. While you begin to call emergency services, look yourself and your passengers over for any immediately serious or life-threatening injuries. When connected to emergency services give them your location and request police and medical transport if needed.
Once police on the way, you should begin to collect information that will help strengthen your claim. This includes pictures and video of the accident scene, damages, injuries, surroundings, even the weather. Make sure you get everything you can. Speak with the other driver to exchange info only, and do not discuss the accident, who is at fault, or your injuries.
Once you have finished giving the police the information for the official report, get a copy of it, and get medical attention. This is very important, as it records your injuries as a fact in your medical records, and you may not be able to feel them initially due to the adrenaline in your system. If you are given treatments or an appointment scheduled, do not skip, cancel, or reschedule any appointments if possible. This is something that the insurer may try to leverage against you.
You should also retain legal representation. It is not uncommon for the insurer to call in the days following an accident, to “see how you’re feeling”, in the hopes of getting you to say something like “ok, I guess”, or “feeling a little better” on a recorded line. This way if you go to court, they can argue that you weren’t hurt as bad as you allege, because look, you told them you were feeling ok.
Simply refer them to your lawyer if you have one, and let them be your advocate. Otherwise, be assertive, tell them just how much pain you’re in, how it has thrown your life into turmoil and devastated your finances. Be truthful, and don’t ham it up, but don’t let them diminish your pain or damages.
Questions to ask before accepting a settlement
Insurance agents are not looking out for your best interests. They work for billion-dollar corporations that have serious financial obligations to their shareholders. Insurance companies report big savings to their investors every quarter by taking advantage of injured parties whenever possible.
They do this by lowballing your settlement offer, delaying the process so that you get desperate enough to take anything they offer, or by simply denying your claim outright. There are a few questions you should be sure to ask before accepting any settlement offer from the insurer.
- Are my future medical bills covered?
While you probably have a good idea of what medical bills you’ve already racked up, and the offer they’re presenting seems like it would cover them, you need to consider if you are truly, fully recovered. If you need rehab services or other physical therapy, additional surgeries, or simply medical follow-up appointments, then you have the right to receive compensation for those costs as well.
- Are all of my lost wages covered?
It can be relatively complicated to figure out the correct compensation amount for paychecks that you missed out on due to your injuries. If you were known for working significant overtime, and now cannot do that, you may be able to factor that in. Just like the potential for missed earnings if you can’t do the same job any longer, or even work at all in some cases.
- Is there a component for property damage?
Many people forget to factor in the cost of their vehicle repairs and damage to any other personal property that was involved in the accident. They often get so focused on the medical aspect that it slips their mind. If you used a rental car while yours was in the shop, add that in as well.
- Is there a component for my pain and suffering?
Adding up medical costs, future projected costs, and wages can be challenging enough. How do you put any price on your psychological trauma and emotional damage that you sustained during the actual accident? You may not be entitled to damages for pain and suffering in some locations, but if you are, be sure the adjuster has accounted for that as well. Be sure you research what the caps are in your area, you may be entitled to a full multiple of the rest of your damages as pain and suffering.
- Will there be a component for punitive damages?
These won’t be included in most cases, but in circumstances where the at-fault party was extremely negligent, or even reckless, you could be entitled to receive additional damages. This will be a sum paid directly to you by the offender, as a form of punishment. Be sure your settlement does not bar you from seeking such damages, if applicable.
Typical car accident settlement amounts
This is where things can get pretty vague. When you start trying to figure out what the average compensation for is getting hit by a car, you quickly realize that the average settlement for a car accident with a back and neck injury is far different than the average settlement for a soft tissue injury car accident.
This is because the settlements hinge directly on your economic and non-economic damages. The economic damages that you claim must be “real”, or in order words, they need to be provable as fact.
If you have serious injuries, but fail to get immediate medical attention, for whatever reason, the insurance adjuster may view this as you not seeking treatment because the injury isn’t as bad as you allege. Another variable is going to be the actual healthcare costs in your area, and even at your hospital or treatment center of choice. This can fluctuate wildly, even within the same state.
The most common method for getting a ballpark idea of a potential settlement amount is the “multiplier” method. In this method, the adjuster will:
- Add up the medical bills, usually called the “medical special damages”.
- That total is multiplied by a factor of, usually, between 1 and 5, and that result is the potential for the “general damages” of the claimant, including pain and suffering.
- The adjuster will then take the first figure, adds it to the second, and then adds in components for lost wages, diminished income, or lowered earning capacity damages.
The total that the adjuster arrives at will usually be in the general area of what they will eventually use as a settlement offer.
How much will I get for pain and suffering from a car accident?
Every settlement is different, and not everyone is going to be awarded the same amount for pain and suffering following a car accident. There are several factors that impact your settlement payout. These factors include how serious the injury was, the type of medical treatment required, recovery time, and any long-term effects on the injured party’s life. The type of case and insurance coverage will also play into the overall results.
Generally speaking, most claims result in a payout of $15,000 or less. The reason for this is because most accidents are not severe and lead to smaller and more minor injuries. The cases that involve serious, expensive medical treatments, such as emergency surgery, could see much higher amounts.
Personal injury settlement timeline
In many cases, your attorney and the insurance company will be able to negotiate and come up with a solution that makes everyone happy. When this does not happen, many people choose to take things a step further and file a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible party’s insurance company. While each case is different, you can expect the lawsuit process to look like this:
- The complaint is filed by the plaintiff, officially starting the lawsuit.
- The defendant is served a copy of the complaint by the plaintiff. If the defendant is easy to find, this can be done within a couple of weeks. If they are difficult to track down, this could take longer.
- The defendant responds. Answering the complaint usually has to be completed within a month of being served.
- Next is the discovery process, which is where both sides request and swap information that will be used as evidence during the trial. On the long end, this process can take a year or more. Usually, it is finished within a couple of months.
- Finally, the trial happens. Most car accident trials take one to two days to complete.
How are personal injury settlements paid out?
Depending on the amount and the terms of the settlement, you may have a couple of options for how you collect or are paid, your settlement, or judgment award. Some compensation in personal injury cases can be paid as a lump sum to the victim, or as a structured settlement that provides periodic payments to the victim.
Lump Sum Settlements
Sometimes, you will be given the option to collect your monetary compensation as a lump sum. This will have key differences, benefits, and drawbacks. The advantages of a lump sum payment, are the immediate liquidity as well as the choice of how you want to use or invest the money. You will not need to pay any taxes on a lump sum personal injury settlement. However, many people are not capable or informed enough to effectively manage the amount of money that often comes with a settlement and can be
The primary drawback of a structured settlement is that you do not have immediate access to your full settlement amount to invest as you please. However, leveraging an experienced settlement broker can frequently structure the settlement to meet your needs.
The other consideration that plays into the settlement payment type, is your personal money management skills. Many people who are given a large lump sum of money, are not able to effectively manage it, and end up wasting money in years or even months, that they could have lived off of for decades or more.
This gives a clear advantage to the structured settlement option, where payments can be structured in a number of ways, to help avoid the victim outliving their income.