How Does the Car Accident Settlement Process Work in San Diego, CA?

Most car accident cases don’t end up going to trial. Over half of them settle before the injured party files a lawsuit. And of those cases that do not settle pre-trial, fewer than 5% reach a jury.

However, insurers do not automatically settle every case. Settlement often requires documentation and negotiation. It also requires patience!

Curious about how the car accident settlement process works in San Diego, CA? Read on to find out more.

Auto Liability Insurance in California

Some states, like New York and Florida, use a no-fault auto insurance system. Under this system, your own insurer pays bodily injury claims up to the policy limit, regardless of who caused the accident. Everyone, including the driver who caused an accident, gets at least some of their medical bills paid by their insurers.

California uses a fault-based system. Under this system, an accident victim files an injury claim against the insurer for the driver who caused their accident — not their own insurer. That insurer pays the claims according to the at-fault driver’s policy.

Liability Policy Limits

The required minimum auto insurance in California must include liability coverage of up to $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident. 

If the insured causes a car accident that injures one person, the insurer will pay up to $15,000 in damages. If the insured causes a car accident that results in multiple injuries, the insurer will pay up to $30,000 in total.

Liability Policy Payouts

An insurer only needs to pay accident victims for their injuries if the insured party caused the auto accident. Liability policies cover accidents that occur due to negligence.

Negligence requires four elements:

All California drivers owe a duty to drive in a reasonably safe way. They breach that duty by driving in an unsafe way. 

A driver can breach their duty to drive safely without receiving a traffic ticket. For example, a driver could cause an accident while talking on the phone. This would not necessarily trigger a ticket, but it could still constitute an unsafe driving practice.

You must suffer some injury or property damage in an accident to file a claim.

Settlement Process

The process for obtaining compensation for your injuries will begin with an insurance claim.

Settling an Insurance Claim

You will file an insurance claim along with proof of loss. This means that you will provide information to the at-fault driver’s insurer about the accident and your injuries.

You will usually include medical bills and wage statements to prove your past medical expenses and lost income. You will also include medical records from the accident to establish the cause of your injuries. 

If you face future medical expenses, you may also need an opinion letter from your doctor about the treatment and therapy you will need to complete down the road.

The insurer will assign your claim to an adjuster, who is tasked with reviewing your documentation. 

The adjuster will also collect additional information, such as:

  • The insured’s statement
  • The accident report
  • Photos of the accident
  • Witness statements

The adjuster’s job is not to settle your claim. The adjuster’s job is to protect the insurance company’s legal and financial interests. The adjuster will deny or reduce claims to save the insurance company money.

But the adjuster also does not want to push you into filing a lawsuit. Insurers do not want to pay legal fees to defend cases they will eventually settle.

If the insurer accepts your claim, it will present a settlement offer. This offer will almost always underestimate your losses. You and your injury lawyer will need to negotiate with the claims adjuster to get a better offer.

If the insurer offers fair compensation for your injuries, you can settle your claim. You must agree that you won’t file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver in exchange for a check. If the claims adjuster does not make a fair offer, you will need to file a lawsuit to recover compensation.

Settling a Lawsuit

A lawsuit can motivate an insurer to settle your claim. Lawsuits come with deadlines and many insurers do not want to pay lawyers to meet deadlines in cases they do not plan to fight. As a result, the insurer might increase the settlement offer in an attempt to cut the lawsuit short.

If you receive a fair offer, you can settle the lawsuit by agreeing to dismiss the lawsuit in exchange for a check. This outcome happens in about 75% of personal injury lawsuits.

On the other hand, the insurer might develop evidence that casts doubt on your claim. Perhaps you filed the lawsuit after the statute of limitations expired. Maybe traffic cameras show that you caused the accident. 

In some situations, you might drop the lawsuit without receiving a settlement check. This happens in about 20% of personal injury cases.

In the remaining 5% of cases, your case will reach trial. Your lawyer will present evidence of the driver’s liability and your losses to the jury. In many cases, an insurer sees the writing on the wall and settles during the trial. This often happens because the reactions of the jury push the insurer to question its case.

You can settle the lawsuit during a trial. If the insurer makes a fair offer, you can inform the judge that you have agreed to stop proceeding with the trial and to dismiss the case.

The Role of the Lawyer

You do not need a lawyer to settle a car accident claim. But an experienced lawyer has the legal knowledge and experience with insurance industry practices to prepare and document an insurance claim. This can increase the chances of settling the claim and even increase the amount of the settlement. 

A lawyer also has the negotiating skills to be able to effectively work with the insurer to resolve the claim.

If the lawyer cannot settle the case, they can file a lawsuit to pressure the insurer into settling. A lawyer can present a compelling case to a jury to maintain that pressure. Throughout the process, a lawyer can improve the chances of a settlement.

Call our law firm today at (619) 777-5555 for a free consultation or contact us online.