Nine Factors that Determine How Much to Expect from a Car Accident Settlement
David Muñoz | June 19, 2021 | Car Accidents
Many factors can influence the value of a car accident case. Since a car accident settlement is intended to compensate you for your losses, more serious injuries and greater time for missed work will result in larger settlements.
But other factors can reduce your potential settlement, even if you suffered serious injuries.
Here are nine factors that will determine how much to expect from a car accident settlement.
1. Severity of Your Injuries
The factor that will have the greatest impact on your settlement is the severity of your injuries.
The severity of your injuries affects your:
- Medical expenses
- Recovery time
- Earning capacity
- Diminished quality of life
To document your injuries for your insurance claim, you should see a doctor as soon as possible after your accident. Delaying your diagnosis allows an insurance claims adjuster to assert that your injuries were not caused by the accident.
Your doctor will record your diagnosis in your medical records. You will also be able to get a prognosis and a treatment plan from your doctor.
Your damages include your past and future medical bills. Your medical records will help your lawyer to calculate your past medical bills and estimate your future expenses for medical treatment, therapy, and medication.
2. Duration of Your Injuries
Permanent catastrophic injuries will justify greater compensation than temporary injuries. For example, a broken bone will heal in a few months. After it heals, you might require a few more months of physical therapy.
Contrast this with a damaged intervertebral disc. The disc could bulge into the spinal canal and compress the spinal cord.
Spinal cord injuries can cause:
- Nerve pain
- Loss of sensation
- Loss of coordination
Unfortunately, doctors cannot cure a herniated disc. Doctors can remove the disc and fuse the vertebrae, but this might not fix your problem. Furthermore, the fused vertebrae may cause a loss of motion in your back.
As a result, a disc injury could cause problems for the rest of your life. It could require ongoing medical treatment, therapy, and pain medication. Permanent injuries and impairments such as these could justify a larger settlement.
3. Impact of Your Injuries on Your Job
Your damages also include the lost wages from missed work if you took time off to recover from your injuries. More lost income will mean a bigger settlement.
Your damages will also include your diminished earning capacity after your injuries, if any. This is the income that you lose as a result of having to change jobs due to your injury. If your new job pays less than your old job did, your damages should cover the difference.
4. Impact of Your Injuries on Your Life
Your settlement could include non-economic damages, commonly known as pain and suffering.
These damages will compensate you for:
- Physical anguish
- Mental anguish
- Diminished quality of life
- Loss of activities
Since these types of consequences are highly subjective – and can vary significantly from one person to the next – valuing non-economic awards is often the source of a lot of disagreement between parties.
5. Other Losses
You may incur economic losses and out-of-pocket expenses due to your accident, including property damage to your vehicle. You might also need to alter your home to accommodate your injuries, pay for transportation until you can drive again, or obtain childcare to take care of your children while you recover from your injuries. These expenses can be included in your damages.
California uses a fault-based insurance system. This means that the insurer for the driver who caused the accident must pay the claims for other people injured in the accident.
Fault can affect the size of your settlement due to a doctrine called “contributory negligence.” California follows a pure comparative fault system. This means that you can recover compensation for injuries and damages related to a car accident as long as you’re not 100% to blame. But, your damages will be reduced to the degree that you contributed to the crash.
Suppose that you are involved in a rear-end collision. The driver who hit your vehicle from behind was speeding and texting while driving, but one of your brake lights was burned out. Let’s say you’re assigned 25% of the blame and have damages totaling $10,000. Your take-home award will be, at most, $7,500.
At the same time, you’ll be 25% liable for damages sustained by the other driver in the wreck.
Some claim adjusters use this as a negotiating tactic. It can provide an effective way to cut your claim because they will try to persuade you to accept a low settlement or risk getting nothing.
7. Insurance Policy Limits
You may have seen the numbers $15,000/$30,000/$30,000 on your car insurance renewal. These are the minimum policy limits required by California law.
If a driver purchases the minimum insurance required, their insurer will only cover:
- The first $15,000 of the damages to one injured person
- Up to $30,000 to multiple injured people, and
- A maximum of $30,000 for property damage.
If you are hit by a driver with the minimum policy limits and your medical bills amount to $57,000, the insurance company cannot settle for more than $15,000. In other words, the maximum settlement you can expect from the insurer will be capped by the policy limits of the at-fault driver’s policy.
8. Lawyer’s Experience
Experience counts for a lot in injury law. An experienced lawyer knows how each insurance company handles claims and claim negotiations. Someone with a lot of experience may even develop a reputation among claims adjusters.
Experience can help a lawyer to assemble a claim that will be accepted rather than denied. It can also provide a base of knowledge from which to negotiate the best possible settlement for your case.
Insurance claims can take time to resolve. Insurers know you may be desperate. You need to pay your medical bills and may be unable to work.
California regulates how much time insurers can take to process claims. But insurers will still delay responses to pressure you into settling your claim for less than its full value. If you can persevere and stick to your lawyer’s negotiating strategy, you have a much better chance of getting a fair settlement offer.
Maximizing Your Settlement Amount
Most of these factors are outside of your control. But you have some influence over some of them. To ensure that you get the maximum settlement possible in your case, you should document all your expenses and losses, hire an experienced injury attorney, and remain patient while the process plays out.