Victims of car accidents should expect to obtain a settlement amount that matches their losses. An average or standard car accident settlement does not exist. Each car accident has its specific and unique factors. For this reason, each car accident settlement varies with the individual circumstance of the injured party.
The settlement amount depends on how the injured party’s body responds to an injury. It also depends on current and future medical expenses, lost wages, and the cost of pain and suffering the victim has experienced or may experience in the future. How the injury will impact the victim’s everyday life, now and in the future, may also influence the settlement amount. The total car accident settlement amount will rise substantially if the victim receives punitive damages. An accident victim might be entitled to punitive damages if the at-fault driver was grossly negligent.
What is a Settlement?
A settlement is an agreement to compensate a person who has sustained a bodily injury or harm in a personal injury incident, such as a car accident, slip and fall, and medical malpractice. This agreement settles or resolves the case.
To reach a settlement and receive compensation, the injured party must either file a claim with the liable driver’s insurance company (third-party claim) or bring a personal injury lawsuit against the liable driver. The injured party can also obtain a car accident settlement by filing a claim with his or her insurance company (first-party claim).
What is Included in a Settlement?
A car accident victim has the right to obtain compensation for the full extent of damages or losses suffered. A car accident settlement often includes economic and non-economic damages. It may also include punitive damages if the at-fault driver was egregiously negligent or engaged in a criminal act like drunk driving.
Economic damages refer to any tangible accident-related costs or losses that an accident victim has incurred or will incur in the future. These damages are easy to calculate and prove with bills, receipts, invoices, and other documents. The following are examples of economic damages:
Current Medical Expenses
In the event of a serious car accident, an injured party may require an ambulance ride, emergency medical assistance, surgery, hospitalization, physician’s appointments, medication, therapy, and more. The injured party can pay off these costs out of pocket and recover them by including them in the car accident claim.
Alternatively, the injured party can obtain the necessary medical treatment and care at no upfront cost using a letter of protection from a car accident lawyer. This letter assures medical providers that the medical bill will get cleared once the injured party receives compensation.
Future Medical Expenses
Future medical expenses refer to medical treatment costs that the accident victim continues to incur even after the accident case has been resolved. They may include future surgeries, physical therapy, or long-term care at home.
Expert witnesses, such as doctors and healthcare economists, can specify future medical needs that an accident victim may require and their projected cost in the future. An aggressive accident attorney can review the diagnosis and treatment plan, expert testimony, and financial data. The attorney can then present compelling arguments to the insurer or the court regarding future medical expenses. The primary goal is to ensure the accident victim receives a fair and reasonable settlement for the injuries.
Property damage constitutes anything that is damaged or destroyed in a car accident. Damage to the car is the main constituent of property damage. The accident victim can have the damaged car repaired in his or her preferred auto repair shop. If the car was totaled in the crash, the victim will recover a payout equivalent to its current market value.
Personal belongings, including a GPS, cell phone, and digital camera, also fall under property damage. If the victim can determine the value of these items and prove that they were damaged in the crash, the victim can recover compensation for that damage. If a pet suffered an injury in the crash, the veterinary bills will fall under property damage.
Lost wages compensate the accident victim for the money the victim would have made had he or she not missed work due to the injuries suffered and time spent recovering from the injuries. To prove lost wages damages, the victim must submit evidence of an inability to work because of the accident-related injuries.
The victim must submit a doctor’s note specifying the amount of time off from work required for recovery and copies of recent paystubs or checks. The victim may be required to provide a copy of a recent tax return. This requirement will depend on the victim’s employment status. The victim must provide a letter from the employer to verify the employment information and missed time from work because of the accident.
Future Lost Wages and Lost Earning Capacity
If the accident-related injuries affect the victim’s ability to make money for an indeterminate time in the future, the victim may receive compensation for lost earning capacity. The victim may be entitled to compensation if the injuries keep him or her from holding the same position or role.
Evidence of previous wages and testimony from the victim’s employer, physician, and other expert witnesses can help prove lost earning capacity. An accident lawyer can use this evidence to determine the reasonable amount of lost earning capacity damages to include in the accident claim.
Non-economic damages are intangible costs a victim incurs due to an accident. While there is no documentation to prove these damages, they are still valid. Non-economic damages compensate the victim for the emotional cost of an accident and ensuing injuries. These damages include:
Pain and Suffering
These non-economic damages constitute physical pain, mental agony, distress, inconvenience, and discomfort endured by the accident victim. It also includes the cost of pain and suffering the victim will continue to endure in the future.
Shame and Humiliation
Non-economic damages can also compensate the accident victim for the embarrassment and humiliation he or she is likely to feel and endure in the future. The victim may, for instance, require assistance using the bathroom or become sexually dysfunctional.
Loss of Enjoyment of Life
On top of covering negative experiences and feelings, non-economic damages address the absence of positive activities and emotions. A car accident victim may receive compensation for the loss of pleasures of life.
Physical impairments or chronic pain may, for instance, prevent the victim from engaging in activities that he or she previously enjoyed, including playing football, jogging, or traveling. Playing with the kids may be more painful and problematic.
Scarring or Disfigurement
This category refers to any noticeable bodily changes caused by a car accident. A victim can pursue compensation for visible scarring from surgery, burns sustained during the crash, and amputations or deformities caused by the car accident.
Punitive damages are not common in car accident cases. As mentioned earlier, these damages may be available to the victim if the liable driver’s conduct goes beyond “typical negligence.” These damages, also called exemplary damages, are not intended to compensate the accident victim for any injuries or losses suffered. Instead, they are intended to punish the at-fault driver.
The judge or jury considers multiple factors when determining the amount of punitive damages to award. These factors include:
- The inappropriateness of the at-fault driver’s conduct;
- The value of at-fault driver’s resources;
- The levels of harm other victims are likely to suffer if this specific at-fault driver goes unpunished; and
- The level of harm suffered by the victim in the accident in question.
What Factors Impact the Amount of a Settlement?
There is no specific formula for determining settlement amounts in car accidents. A particular type of injury is not equivalent to a specified amount. Circumstances vary from accident to accident. Every accident will have a different effect on the accident victim.
Even two individuals who sustain the same kind of car accident injury may differ in the length of hospitalization, the time required for recovery, and the type of rehabilitative therapy needed. They may also differ in physical impairments, emotional impact, and disruption in their capability to work.
Total medical bills incurred, lost wages, the ability of the victim to return to work, anticipated future medical bills, and the cost of pain and suffering inflicted on the victim will determine the settlement amount. The settlement amount will also depend on how the injury has impacted and will impact the victim’s daily life in the future. The addition of punitive damages will cause an increase in the settlement amount. Other factors that are likely to impact the amount of a car accident settlement include:
Nature and Extent of Injuries Sustained
The nature and extent of injuries suffered by the victim significantly impact the settlement amount. Minor injuries, such as ankle sprains, take less time to heal. These injuries attract lower compensation amounts than severe ones.
Severe injuries, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), dislocations, temporary disability, and spinal cord damage, have a long recovery period. The compensation for severe injuries is often higher than for minor injuries.
Permanent disabilities, paralysis, severe brain injuries, and other debilitating injuries have the longest recovery period, higher medical costs, and might involve a substantial amount of pain and suffering. For these reasons, the settlement amount for these injuries will be the highest.
Is there enough evidence to prove the car accident claim? The answer to this question influences the amount of settlement the accident victim is likely to obtain as compensation. The victim must put together adequate evidence and facts to prove the other driver’s liability.
Reliable witnesses and crash reconstruction facts can significantly strengthen the accident claim. A strong accident claim puts the victim in a better negotiating position with the at-fault party’s insurance company. It also increases the chances of the victim receiving a higher settlement.
The at-fault party’s insurance policy limit restricts the settlement amount the victim can obtain as compensation. The minimum auto insurance requirements in Illinois consist of bodily injury coverage of $25,000 per person, bodily injury coverage of $50,000 per accident, and property damage coverage of $20,000 per accident.
If the victim’s damages surpass the policy limits, he or she will not recover the full extent of the damages or losses. In such a situation, the victim should discuss with the accident attorney the available legal options. These options may include suing additional defendants, trying to recover under an umbrella policy, or pursuing the defendant personally.
Number of Liable Parties Involved
The settlement amount is likely to increase in car accidents that involve multiple at-fault parties. Of course, the victim will need an accident lawyer on his or her side to investigate the accident and determine all potentially liable parties. Multiple liable parties are often common in multi-car pile-up accidents and those that involve commercial vehicles.
Length of Treatment
The victim should complete the treatment first before pursuing compensation. An injury that needs a long duration of medical treatment will require a long recovery period. Such injury will also result in a greater amount of pain and suffering. A victim who goes through a long duration of treatment is likely to obtain a higher compensation than one that undergoes a short treatment duration.
Severe injuries may require multiple surgeries and a long recovery duration. Minor injuries may also need a long duration of physical therapy. Following the doctor’s instructions closely is, therefore, a good idea.
A record of immediate and consistent medical treatment following a car accident can add weight to the injury claim. Insurance companies often use delayed treatment or missed doctor’s appointments to deny injury claims or offer lowball settlements. They argue that if the victim took too long to seek medical assistance, then he or she was not severely injured.
In Illinois, most accident attorneys offer their legal services on a contingency. Their payment depends on the outcome of the case. If the accident case is unsuccessful, the client does not pay anything.
If the case is successful, the attorney will withhold a certain percentage of the total settlement amount as attorney fees. The attorney will discuss this percentage with the accident victim during the initial consultation.
Statute of Limitations
Car accident victims have a limited time to file an injury claim. This time limit is known as the statute of limitations. Some individuals see their claims dismissed and their rights to compensation lost because they did not know the relevant statute of limitations for their injury claim.
Statutes of limitations for car crashes vary from state to state. The legal time limit could range from a year to six years. In Illinois, for instance, car accidents have a two-year time limit from the date the accident happened. Working with an attorney soon after the accident can help the victim meet all the necessary deadlines and recover maximum compensation for the injuries and losses.
Taking Appropriate After-Crash Steps
Taking the correct after-crash steps can protect the health and well-being of the accident victim and others involved in the crash. It can also significantly increase the chances of a successful accident claim. The following are the steps to take after an accident:
Checking for Injuries and Getting to Safety
If the driver or passengers in the car are injured, the driver should call 911. The driver can also request anyone at the scene to call the police. In the event of serious injuries, the driver should avoid any movement and wait for emergency medical personnel to arrive.
If the car is safe to drive and is creating an additional safety hazard, the driver should move it to the side of the road. Otherwise, the driver should leave the car where it is and move to safety.
Calling the Nearby Law Enforcement Office
If the accident victim has already called 911 due to injuries, a law enforcement officer will likely be on the way. If there are no injuries, notifying the local law enforcement station of the accident and requesting an officer to be sent to the scene is advisable.
Calling the police is still a wise decision even in the case of a minor fender bender. The police officers will document the accident scene and speak to the involved parties and witnesses. They will then put together a police report. The presence of police officers will also come in handy if the other driver is driving while intoxicated or is uninsured.
The accident victim should exchange personal and insurance information with other motorists involved in the crash. The most crucial information to exchange includes full name and contact details, insurance provider and policy number, vehicle type, model, and color, and driver’s license number.
The victim should also obtain the names, physical addresses, and contact details of any witnesses at the crash scene. The testimony of credible witnesses will positively impact the outcome of the accident claim.
Assembling Potential Evidence
The accident victim should note down details of the involved vehicles, including general description, make, model, and license plate number. The accident victim should take clear, wide-angle photos of any damage to the car, skid marks, and conditions of the nearby areas. The victim should also take note of the location of any traffic or security cameras nearby.
Seeing a Doctor
Seeing a doctor right after a car crash safeguards the health and safety of the accident victim. It also prevents an insurance company from using delayed or lack of medical care to argue that the victim was not seriously injured. Prompt diagnosis and uninterrupted medical care can play an instrumental role in maximizing the settlement amount.
Reporting the Crash to the Insurance Company
Most auto insurance companies require policyholders to report any covered incidents promptly. Reporting a crash late could compromise the coverage. The accident victim should notify the auto insurance company as soon as possible, no matter who is liable for the car accident.
When the Insurance Company Refuses to Offer a Fair Settlement
Initial insurance settlement offers are often low, particularly when accident victims pursue compensation without involving lawyers. A lowball offer is a warning sign of unfair treatment. A victim in such a situation should get an aggressive accident lawyer on board immediately.
The accident lawyer will take charge of all communications with the insurance company and negotiate a reasonable settlement for the accident victim. If the insurance company refuses or fails to offer fair compensation, the lawyer will file a lawsuit on the victim’s behalf and litigate the claim. The lawyer will compile the evidence required to win the case at trial. The insurance may approve a reasonable settlement before the case proceeds to trial.