If you suffered injuries in a car accident, you likely have a lot of questions, including how to get the most money from your claim. Following an injury, not only will you have medical bills to pay and lost wages to compensate for, but also you may need money to cover many of the minor expenses that go along with recovering from substantial injuries, such as transportation, modifications to your home, and entertainment while you cannot participate in many of your favorite activities. For more information, contact an experienced Fort Myers car accident lawyer.
Some factors related to your compensation are out of your control, but many of the actions that you take will directly influence the amount of compensation that you ultimately receive for your injuries.
Hire a Lawyer
The most important step you can take to maximize your compensation after a car accident: contact an attorney as soon after the accident as possible. Many individuals believe that they can handle their car accident claims on their own.
In reality, however, you should contact an attorney for an evaluation of your claim if:
- You suffered injuries, even minor injuries, in the car accident. If the cost of your medical expenses, combined with your lost wages, exceeds the coverage of your personal injury protection insurance, you may file a claim against the party or entity that caused your accident. An attorney will help you determine the full value of your claim.
- There is any question regarding who caused the accident. In some accidents, multiple entities may share liability. Motor vehicle drivers bear ultimate liability for the decisions that they make behind the wheel, including choosing to drive a vehicle known to have problems that may cause safety issues, drinking and driving, or driving while distracted; however, other factors may influence the accident, as well, including mechanical failures. If any question exists about who caused your accident, an attorney can help collect evidence and build a claim against all parties that contributed to the accident. An attorney can also help collect evidence that proves which driver caused the accident, even if the police report inaccurately states that you caused the accident.
- You received a fast settlement offer from the insurance company. The at-fault driver’s insurance company may contact you soon after the accident to issue a settlement offer. This settlement offer, however, will likely minimize the insurance company’s financial liability, rather than providing you with the funds you need to cover your expenses after the accident. Before accepting any settlement offer, you should always consult with an attorney to get a better idea of how much compensation you really deserve for your injuries.
Many accident victims find that simply having an attorney working for them increases the compensation offered by the insurance company. In other cases, attorneys may need to negotiate aggressively on behalf of their clients to ensure fair compensation. If you want to maximize the compensation that you receive for your car accident, having an attorney on your side can help substantially.
Track Your Medical Bills and Expenses
Car accident claims primarily serve to provide accident victims with compensation for their expenses related to accidents caused by someone else’s negligence. Following an accident, to accurately establish the value of your claim, you need to determine exactly how much money you have lost as a result of the accident. Keep track of all of your expenses and losses. You may want to create a specific file just for these documents and records.
In your file, you should include the following information:
The amount of time that you’ve missed from work as a result of your injuries. How much time you must miss at work because of your injuries will depend on your employer, your job responsibilities, and your specific injuries. For example, if you suffered a traumatic brain injury that makes it difficult for you to control your emotional distress, you may need to wait until you recover fully before returning to a job in a direct customer service position.
Likewise, if you work in a warehouse hauling heavy loads, broken bones from a car accident may prevent you from carrying those loads until you have had time to get your casts off and rebuild your strength.
On the other hand, your employer might make it possible for you to return to work in an office setting, even with traumatic brain injury, by making accommodations for your injuries or allowing you to avoid interacting with customers until your emotional control returns to normal.
Keep track of all the time that you’ve missed from work due to your injuries, whether you work in an hourly position or receive a salary. Also, note how much sick or vacation time you have had to use, as well as any hours missed that led to decreased wages.
Medical costs. Severe injuries typically mean severe medical expenses, even if you have medical insurance that covers a percentage of those bills. Ambulance transport from the scene of the accident alone can cost as much as $1,200, plus mileage. Then, you must factor in the cost of emergency medical treatment, including, if needed, scans and tests, as well as potential surgery to help save your life.
A long hospitalization or stay in a rehabilitation facility may cause your expenses to increase by the day. Many car accident victims also require substantial physical, occupational, and psychological therapy to make a full recovery from their injuries after a severe accident.
Track all of your medical expenses so that you can include them as part of your car accident claim.
Talk to your lawyer about other expenses that you may need to include as part of that claim, including:
- The cost of durable medical equipment, including crutches, braces, and wheelchairs
- The cost of a care provider to assist with your care or to watch you if you suffered serious injury and cannot care for yourself
- The cost of modifications to your home, including widened doorways or an adapted bathroom, to compensate for your injuries
- The cost of transport to and from appointments
- The cost of services that you normally perform for your family or for yourself but now have to hire someone else to complete
File a Claim Against All Entities That Contributed to the Accident
To maximize the compensation you receive for your injuries, you should have your attorney file a car accident claim against all entities that contributed to your car accident. Florida drivers may carry as little as $10,000 of coverage to compensate each individual injured in an accident caused by that driver—coverage that kicks in once injured individuals have exhausted their personal injury protection coverage or if they do not carry personal injury protection insurance. Unfortunately, the cost of many injuries far exceeds this amount.
By working with an attorney, you can identify all entities who contributed to your accident and have the attorney file a claim against each one, which may substantially increase the compensation that you receive. Other entities may carry significantly higher liability insurance policies or provide greater coverage and compensation for individuals who suffer serious injuries. Consider:
Commercial drivers. At-fault drivers who are on the clock at the time of an accident may share liability with their employers. Commercial drivers, especially truck drivers, may carry substantially higher liability policies than other drivers on Florida roads.
Companies that hire commercial drivers may also provide additional coverage and compensation, particularly if:
- The company required the driver to work while suffering from illness or inebriation, or in dangerous weather conditions that the driver felt unprepared to handle, for example.
- The company required the driver to exceed the federally restricted number of hours that one driver may spend in the cab.
- The company did not safely secure the load on a big truck, leading to an accident.
- The company failed to conduct proper maintenance on its vehicles, leading to mechanical failure.
Mechanical failures. Tire blowouts, engine failures, and brake failures can all quickly lead to accidents with severe injuries. Even missing turn signals can make it difficult to predict a driver’s behavior on the road, substantially increasing the risk of severe injury. An attorney can help evaluate whether a mechanical failure caused your accident.
If a mechanical failure occurred before the damaged part should have failed, as in the case of a tire blowout from a new tire under otherwise ideal conditions, the manufacturer of the vehicle or of that part may share liability for the accident. If a mechanic recently worked on a vehicle and failed to identify a potential problem that he or she should have noted during the inspection, or failed to properly repair the vehicle, but certified it as road-worthy anyway, then the mechanic may share liability for the accident.
Prepare to Negotiate
It may take a while to receive adequate compensation for the injuries you’ve suffered during an auto accident. If you suffered serious injuries and have substantial expenses related to your accident, the insurance company that covers the liable driver or entity may drag out the process. Expect that you will need time to negotiate. Manage your finances accordingly, including filing a letter of protection with your medical care providers, if needed, so that you can give yourself time to negotiate.
You may need to plan to:
- Progress several months through your recovery before formally filing your claim. In the case of many injuries, including incomplete spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries, even your doctors may not know how much you will recover until several months after the accident. Your attorney may advise waiting until you progress further through your recovery to file a car accident claim, since the value of your claim will depend on factors like how much your medical bills cost and how much you lose, including loss of quality of life, as a result of the accident.
- Go through several rounds of negotiation before reaching an agreement with the insurance company or liable entity. Insurance companies often try to minimize their financial liability after an accident as much as possible. The initial settlement offer rarely reflects the true value of your claim. Accepting that offer may get funds in your hands fast, but it typically will not provide you with compensation for the full cost of your injuries. If you want to maximize your compensation after a car accident, you need to prepare to negotiate. At any stage in the negotiation process, you can accept the settlement offer, which may decrease the amount of time that you have to receive compensation; however, that also may mean accepting compensation that is less than the full cost of your injuries.
- Go to mediation. If you cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company on your own, usually after several rounds of negotiation, a mediator can provide an outside perspective that may help you come to a settlement agreement. Usually, the court will appoint as mediator either a judge or former judge who will sit down with you, your attorney, the at-fault party, and representatives from any involved insurance companies. Each side will have a chance to present its concerns, and the mediator will try to help you reach an agreement. It may take time to set up an appointment with a mediator, although the actual mediation session will not take long.
- Take your claim to court. If you cannot reach an agreement in mediation, you may need to have your attorney take your claim to court. While the need to take your claim to court can add substantial time to the claim process, it can also help increase the settlement you receive. Going to court, however, does bring with it additional costs, so if you want to maximize the compensation you have in hand, you may want to try to reach a settlement offer outside of court. Consult your attorney to decide on the right method for your claim.
Maximizing the compensation you receive after a car accident starts with having an experienced car accident attorney on your side. Contact an attorney as soon after your accident as possible to get a free evaluation of your claim.