Car accidents victims often face sudden physical and emotional trauma that makes life feel overwhelming. The significant financial difficulties that follow on the heels of car accident injuries only serve to deepen the crisis.
Here at the Law Office of Jerry Jenkins, Florida car accident victims and their family members come to us seeking relief from the multiple challenges of the aftermath of a devastating motor vehicle crash. Many of them hope to obtain as much compensation as possible for their injuries and losses, as quickly as possible.
They ask us: How much can I expect to receive as a settlement of my claim? In this blog post, we take a deep-dive into how we most often answer that question.
Contact an experienced Orlando car accident attorney right away.
Settlements, in a Nutshell
Many of the people who come to us for legal advice after a car accident have heard they deserve a settlement, but they do not always know what that means in practice. Let’s take a step back to explain a settlement is and isn’t.
In relation to a car accident claim, a settlement is an agreement—a contract, in other words—between the accident victim and a person or entity facing legal liability to the victim for money damages. In the typical settlement, the victim agrees to accept an amount of money as payment for the victim’s injuries and losses, in exchange for releasing the paying party from any further liability. The payment to the victim may take the form of a lump sum, installments over time, and/or payment of debts the victim has to third parties, such as medical providers.
A settlement resolves the victim’s legal claim against the party with liability. Sometimes, it resolves the victim’s claims against other parties, too. If the victim has filed a lawsuit against any party, the settlement usually includes an agreement to dismiss that lawsuit and never to sue again for the same injuries and losses.
In most (but by no means all) car accident cases, an insurance company pays money to the victim on behalf of the party who has legal liability for the accident. Oftentimes, crash victims also have the right to first receive money from their own personal injury protection insurance policy. Usually, victims receive those payments without much difficulty (although a lawyer can help, if need be). For the most part, however, the types of settlements car accident injury lawyers help clients to obtain come from insurance companies representing the other, at-fault party in the accident, usually when damages exceed the amount of the plaintiff’s PIP policy.
Not all car accident cases end with a settlement. Most do, but sometimes experienced car accident injury lawyers advise their clients that the best option for recovering the compensation they deserve is to take a case to trial in front of a judge and jury. In those cases, rather than a settlement, the lawyer aims to convince a jury to award the injured crash victim money.
How Settlements Happen.
For a settlement to happen, a lawyer for a car crash victim typically needs to know two critically important pieces of information: who has legal liability to the crash victim for damages, and how much money the victim should receive for injuries and losses inflicted by the accident.
Identifying Who Has Liability
Obviously, a lawyer cannot obtain a settlement for a client until the lawyer knows who should pay the settlement in the first place. To figure out the identity of a party with liability for car accident damages, the lawyer will typically investigate the facts and circumstances of the crash.
Every crash has its own unique aspects, but in most cases the lawyer will target a few likely parties to figure out if they owe money damages to the injured victim, including:
- The other driver. A significant number of car crashes result from the careless or reckless actions of a motorist. A car or truck driver may face liability for causing a crash, for instance, by texting-and-driving, driving drunk, speeding, or driving drowsy.
- A business. Sometimes, a driver causes a crash while driving a commercial vehicle for work. In those cases, the driver’s employer may face legal liability for its employee’s actions. In addition, a business can face liability if its own dangerous decisions or actions led to the crash, such as when a business fails to train a driver in how to operate a commercial vehicle safely, or fails to maintain a commercial vehicle in safe working condition.
- An automotive manufacturer. Some accidents happen not because of any unsafe action of a driver, but instead because of a preventable mechanical failure of one of the vehicles involved. A vehicle or vehicle-part manufacturer can face legal liability for a car accident if a dangerous defect in one of the manufacturer’s products caused a loss of control that led to a crash.
- A government entity. Believe it or not, the government’s negligent actions can also lead to a dangerous car accident, and put the government on the hook for paying damages. For example, if a local government road crew leaves a road surface in a dangerous condition and does not warn the public, then its actions may make it legally liable to victims of accidents caused by that road condition.
Any of these parties, or someone else altogether, could have legal liability for a car crash. Experienced lawyers know the important thing is to identify all parties with potential liability, to maximize a client’s chances of recovering every dollar of compensation available.
Calculating Maximum Damages
Lawyers for car accident victims also investigate their clients’ injuries and losses to make sure they tally up every dollar of compensation the clients deserve as payment. One key consideration is to calculate future financial damages that a victim will likely suffer because of an accident.
The amount of damages an injured car accident victim should receive varies widely from crash-to-crash, but in general a victim has the right to recover compensation for:
- Medical expenses, both present and future, related to treating car accident injuries;
- Other expenses made necessary because of the car accident and the injuries it caused;
- Wages the injured crash victim loses while recovering from a crash injury, and because of a disability that prevents the victim from earning money in the future; and
- Pain, suffering, and diminished quality of life caused by the accident injuries, such as the difficulty of living with emotional trauma, and the harm done to a victim’s closest personal relationships by the disabilities the injury caused.
No lawyer can guarantee that a car accident will recover all of these categories of damages, or any of them, or in what amount. What an experienced car crash injury attorney can promise, however, is to do the work necessary to identify the full amount of money an injured client should receive, and then to fight to recover as much of that money as possible from the parties who have legal liability for the crash.
How a Settlement Comes Together.
Car crash cases do not necessarily follow a fixed path. How they unfold depends a lot on the circumstances of an accident, on the severity of the client’s injuries, and on the parties on both sides of the case.
Generally, however, once a lawyer for a crash victim knows who has potential legal liability for an accident, and how much money the legally liable party (or parties) should pay, the lawyer will demand payment from those parties. The demand may happen informally, say, in the form of a letter to the party in question, or formally by, say, filing a lawsuit against that party, or both.
In whatever manner the demand happens, it usually leads to discussions between the lawyer for the injured crash victim on one hand, and lawyers and/or insurance representatives of the legally liable party or parties on the other. In those discussions, the victim’s lawyer tries to convince the other side to pay money as damages, and the representatives of the legally liable party try their best to find a reason not to pay.
These discussions—which often take place at the same time as the parties also engage in litigation in a Florida court—often lead to a settlement agreement. Sometimes, the parties will reach an agreement on their own. Sometimes, getting to an acceptable settlement requires the help of a neutral mediator, whose job is to assist the parties in finding a middle ground.
If the parties can find that middle ground, then they typically sign a settlement agreement that contains the terms of the settlement: the amount and characteristics of the payment to the victim, and the scope of the liability the victim releases the paying-party from having in the future.
As we said, although most car accident cases end in a settlement, not all do. Sometimes the lawyer for the crash victim will advise that the amount of money offered as a settlement is not fair and adequate, and that it makes good sense to take the case to a jury instead.
So, How Much?
It depends. As we said, settlement amounts vary widely from crash to crash and victim to victim. An experienced lawyer can sometimes give a client a ballpark estimate of potential ranges of damages after learning about the specifics of an accident and its resulting injuries, but it takes hard work and skilled negotiation to bring that amount into focus.
Factors that may influence the amount of a settlement in a car accident case include:
- The total economic or monetary damages consisting of the categories listed above;
- The severity of the impact of a car accident and its resulting injuries on the victim, which translates into the non-economic or non-monetary damages above such as pain and suffering;
- The victim’s age, family status, and general state of health before the accident;
- The amount of dispute over who has liability for the accident, and how much money the victim deserves;
- The number of parties involved in the case; and
- Perhaps most importantly, the financial resources the legally liable party or parties have available to pay damages, either through insurance, assets, or some combination of the two.
Depending upon these factors, two similar car accidents could result in different settlements based only on the amount of insurance the party with legal liability carries, or on whether a victim walked away from the crash or suffered a severe spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed.
How Accident Victims Can Help Themselves.
As you may have gauged, many of the factors affecting the amount of a car accident settlement lie beyond the injured victim’s ability to control.
Still, as a general matter car accident victims can take several steps to protect their wellbeing, their legal rights, and their chances of recovering maximum compensation.
- Get immediate medical care and follow the doctor’s instructions. Crash victims cannot hope to recover maximum compensation if they do not take care of themselves as best they can. That starts with seeking medical attention right away after any crash, even if the victim feels like they escaped without injury. Many potentially deadly injuries can take a while to develop symptoms, but a doctor can spot them immediately. Crash victims should always err on the side of caution and seek emergency medical care, or visit their regular doctor or an urgent care clinic for a check-up within 24 hours of a crash. Not only does this protect their health, it also ensures that medical records reflect the connection between the accident and any injury a doctor diagnoses.
- Beware of unsolicited or informal settlement offers. Parties with legal liability in an accident will often look for any means available to avoid paying what they owe for a victim’s injuries. One tactic they, their lawyers, and their insurance companies sometimes use is to offer an informal (“no lawyers involved”) settlement, or a quick cash settlement. Never agree to that kind of offer. It will almost certainly sacrifice your legal rights for far too little money.
- Contact an experienced car accident injury attorney right away. Let a skilled, local car crash injury lawyer handle settlement negotiations on your behalf. The sooner a lawyer begins working to further your legal and financial interests, the better your chances of obtaining a settlement that pays you every penny you deserve.