One of the most common questions that clients ask car accident lawyers is, “How much can I expect from a car accident settlement?”
The answer to that question is that it depends on many factors. There is no average car accident settlement, as settlements are not standard. Each settlement is, instead, a unique amount based on the expenses and impacts you have experienced as a result of the accident.
Below is a look at some of the factors that affect the amount of compensation a person can receive from a car accident settlement.
The Chances of Settlement
More than 400,000 car accidents occur in Florida each year. And more than 125,000 of those accidents involve injuries. While many of those injuries are minor enough that the drivers’ personal injury protection policies easily cover medical expenses and lost wages, others are serious injuries that entitle the injured party to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity that caused the accident.
About 96 percent of all personal injury cases are settled before they go to trial, according to U.S. government statistics. What this means is that, if you were injured in an accident that someone else’s carelessness or recklessness caused and you file a personal injury lawsuit, chances are high that your case will end in a settlement rather than an award by a judge or jury.
The Liable Party’s Insurance Policy Limits
One of the most important factors that can impact the amount of money you receive from a settlement is the availability of insurance resources. The reason for this is that insurance policies are almost always how settlements are paid. While it is technically possible to sue a liable party who has no insurance—and you may even get a verdict in your favor if you do—it may be very difficult to collect that award from the liable party as many drivers don’t have the kind of money needed to settle your case just lying around.
Many cases involve multiple sources of liability. For example, in a car accident case involving a drunk driver, the driver may not be the only liable party. If the driver was over-served at a bar or restaurant before they got into the car, that business may also be liable, since Florida law prohibits businesses from serving alcohol to people under the age of 21 or who are known to be addicted to alcohol. Your car accident attorney will look carefully at the facts of your case to identify all potentially liable parties and their insurance resources to obtain the highest settlement possible for you.
On the subject of liability, you can also be found to be liable for the accident. While it is still possible to seek a settlement from another liable party in a case in which you were partially responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, your own liability will reduce the amount of compensation you can receive and insurance companies will often fight settling cases in which the claimant was partially responsible.
Cases in which it is clear that the other party was at fault generally result in higher settlement amounts. to prove liability, you must show:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care. A duty of care is a legal standard that differs depending on the defendant’s role in the accident. For example, the duty of care that a driver owes to others on the roadway is to ensure they drive safely and in accordance with traffic laws. However, if your case involves a product liability issue, such as defective brakes, then the manufacturer owes you and other consumers a duty of care to manufacture brakes that, when installed and used properly, are safe for the public.
- The defendant breached this duty of care. Again, the breach depends on the specific details of your case. If the defendant in your case is a driver who was texting immediately before the accident occurred, that person breached their duty of care to you by engaging in distracted driving. If the brakes on your car failed because of a manufacturing defect, the manufacturer breached their duty of care by marketing defective breaks.
- This breach resulted in the accident and your subsequent expenses.
Your attorney will investigate and gather evidence about the defendant’s liability. This investigation will likely involve compiling evidence, identifying and interviewing witnesses, and arranging the assistance of experts such as medical professionals and accident reconstruction specialists to assist in proving your claim.
People are often encouraged by well-meaning friends and family members to attempt to reach a settlement with the liable party’s insurance without an attorney. This is pretty much always a mistake, and it is usually a costly one, as well. An attorney provides services that self-representation will not provide.
One of these services is establishing a value for your case based on the expenses you have incurred and the negative ways your injury has impacted your life. The liable party’s insurance company is not really on your side. They are on the side of making money for their company, and one of the ways they do this is by avoiding making high payouts.
If the insurance company even responds to your claim, they will likely offer a low settlement. If you accept that settlement, you are at risk of not having enough money to cover the cost of your injury-related expenses. And settlements are a one-shot deal: what you agree to is what you get, and if it isn’t enough, you’re no longer eligible to seek more compensation.
In addition to determining the value of your case, your attorney can provide other important services, including:
- Handling communication with the insurance company to ensure that your rights are protected and you are not lured into saying something to company representatives that could be used against you.
- A thorough investigation into all possible sources of liability to compile evidence to help you prove your case.
- Skilled negotiation with the insurance company to obtain a fair settlement.
- Timely filing of the required documentation with the court so that your option of pursuing compensation through a lawsuit remains available if a fair settlement is not offered.
- Answers to your legal questions and knowledgeable guidance throughout your case that can help you to make informed decisions as to how you want to proceed.
- Examining with you the pros and cons of accepting a settlement offer.
- An explanation of the settlement offer, the documents required for acceptance, and collection of your settlement.
The bottom line is this: you would not perform your own surgery to avoid paying for a doctor, would you? Like doctors, attorneys spend years attaining education and experience that can benefit their clients.
The Severity of Your Injuries
The severity of your injuries has a huge impact on your settlement. Severe injuries generally require more medical treatment and a longer recovery period. This increases the medical expenses and even the amount of lost wages you can claim. Serious injuries can also result in more recoverable damages, such as the cost of modifications to your home to accommodate your injury.
The severity of your injuries also has an impact on the non-economic damages you may recover. It is difficult to pin an exact dollar amount on non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. To establish a value to your case, your attorney will take the total cost of your economic expenses—such as medical bills and lost wages—and multiply it by a number between 1.5 and 5. The more severe your injuries are, the higher the multiplier will be, resulting in not just a little more compensation, but much more in some cases.
Your Age and Relative Health at the Time of the Accident
Injured individuals who are in the middle of a career typically receive higher settlements than an older or younger individual with an identical injury. It’s not that those in the middle-range of adulthood are more important. It’s that they usually make more money. An individual in the midst of their career likely is earning a higher income than someone who just started working or someone who has retired. The loss of income and future earning capacity will often be a higher economic expense.
Your health at the time of the accident can also impact the amount you are offered in a car accident settlement. If you had numerous pre-existing conditions, particularly if the accident worsened those conditions, the insurance company will likely balk at a payout, stating that the damage was not caused by the accident. Attorneys often rely on the testimony of medical experts who can speak to whether the pain and medical issues you are experiencing are a result of a pre-existing condition or whether they are a result of the accident.
The Disruptions Your Injury Causes in Your Daily Life
Non-economic expenses generally involve the impacts that your injury has—or will have—on your daily life. The less business as usual things are following your injury, the higher the value of your case. For example, if your injury prevents you from being able to participate in hobbies and activities that you used to enjoy, such as hiking or dancing, you can claim damages for loss of enjoyment of life. If your injury results in your inability to enjoy physical intimacy with your spouse, then you can claim damages relating to the loss of consortium. If you formerly worked with the public but no longer feel comfortable doing so, you might claim humiliation or disfigurement.
Did the Accident Make the News?
Avoiding the publicity of a prolonged court battle is a strong argument for settling a case if your accident involves a well known defendant. High profile defendants often wish to avoid the additional scrutiny of a court appearance.
The High Cost of Litigation
Defending a liable party in court is an expensive process. Insurance companies know this. If the risk of the hours and effort spent on litigation and the chance that the judge or jury will also decide in favor of the plaintiff becomes too real and apparent, the insurance company will begin to cut its losses and sweeten its settlement offer.
Your Level of Patience
Often, the clients who are the most patient about the time it takes to get through the legal process of making a claim receive the highest payout. Why? Because they understand that an insurance company can take a lot of time waiting for them to grow impatient for a conclusion or desperate for compensation and accept a settlement offer that is much lower than the value of the case. It is often only when the case is getting close to going to trial—or even after the trial has already begun—that the insurance company starts getting serious about its settlement offers.
Talk to a Car Accident Lawyer About Your Case
If you were injured in an accident, contact an experienced car accident attorney to answer your questions and discuss your legal options. Most offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis, so they don’t charge you for their services.