If you have recently had the misfortune of being involved in a car accident, you may have questions. As common as it is, many people do not understand the process of settling a car accident claim and how it can affect their legal rights. Read on to learn more. For additional information or to discuss the particulars of your accident, you should reach out to an experienced car accident lawyer near you.
Most Car Accident Cases End With a Settlement
We often see car accidents cases portrayed as battles in the courtroom, though this is not the reality in most cases. There are many opportunities to reach a settlement and resolve the matter before a trial date. Because trials can be costly, time-consuming, and filled with uncertainty, parties have incentives to settle and this is what happens in most cases.
A settlement means that the parties involved in a car accident claim agree to resolve the case without going before the judge and jury. For injured victims, this usually means they agree to receive a specified amount of money from the liable parties (typically from an auto insurance carrier). You sign a settlement agreement, receive the payment, and the case is over. The only time you might reopen the matter is if the liable parties refuse to pay and honor the agreement.
Settlements are undoubtedly convenient, but this does not mean that you should jump at the chance to accept the first settlement offer that is made. In most situations the first settlement offer is extremely low, as this is how parties often begin negotiations. You should never accept an offer without having an experienced car accident attorney review your losses and the offer on the table.
Insurance Claim Settlements
Most car accident cases do not begin with a lawsuit, but instead with a claim filed with the liable party’s insurance company. The following is a brief overview of the insurance claims process.
Initiating a Claim
Typically, the claims process starts when your lawyer initiates a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier. Once the carrier is made aware of the claim, the attorney will then usually send a demand letter presenting the injured person’s position. A demand letter is used as a starting point for negotiations and spells out what the claim is about and how much you are willing to settle the matter for. Well-drafted demand letters contain detailed lists of a victim’s economic and non-economic damages, such as their property damage, lost income, medical expenses, and physical and emotional pain and suffering.
The insurance company will rarely look at your demand letter and say, “Okay, let’s write a check.” Generally, the insurance company will make a counter-offer that is far below the fair value of your case. This sets the stage for the next step in the process, which involves negotiating a settlement agreement. In most cases, this involves providing evidence of your losses to the insurance company and attempting to negotiate a reasonable settlement amount with the adjuster handling your case.
Settlements During Litigation
It is common for the liable party’s insurance company to refuse to offer a fair amount. The good news is that your options do not end there. Your attorney can file a car accident lawsuit with the proper civil court, which is often in the county where you live or where the accident took place.
There are many steps to litigation, including discovery (evidence-gathering), filing motions with the court, mediation and a jury trial. During every stage of litigation, your lawyer can also be working to reach a settlement agreement.
The discovery process allows your attorney to obtain the evidence the defendant might use to challenge your claims. This can identify weaknesses in their defense, as well as the strength of your claim. Your lawyer can use the information gathered during discovery to be more persuasive in settlement negotiations.
Settlement negotiations might involve going back and forth several times. As the trial date draws closer, the other party might be more willing to agree to a reasonable amount of compensation for your losses.
Compare the two options:
- They can agree to a settlement, which allows them to be sure of their financial liability.
- They can head to court, and their liability will be completely in the hands of the jury.
That’s why most car accident lawsuits resolve with settlements that allow parties to maintain control over the outcome.
The Importance of an Attorney During the Settlement Process
If it looks like your case is going to settle, you may be wondering whether you need an attorney at all. As a car accident victim, it’s extraordinarily important to keep in mind that the insurance company’s goal is to get you to go away for as little money as possible. In fact, if they can find any way to deny your claim entirely, they will certainly do so.
For this reason, it’s very much in your best interest to retain an attorney to represent you from the beginning of your claim.
Some of the tactics that insurance companies may use to try and get you to settle for less or deny your claim include:
- Attempting to settle your claim before you have had a chance to speak to an attorney
- Starting with a settlement offer that sounds reasonable but is actually unfair
- Misrepresenting your legal rights
- Pressuring you to provide a recorded statement, during which they will try and get you to say things that may hurt your claim
How Much Does it Cost to Settle a Car Accident Case?
A primary concern of car accident victims is that they cannot afford to hire an attorney. However, it should cost nothing out of pocket to have a car accident lawyer settle your case. This is because reputable car accident lawyers represent clients based on a contingency fee arrangement.
Your lawyer should charge nothing up-front to handle your case. If, and only if, the attorney obtains a recovery for you by way of settlement or verdict and you will pay him or her a percentage of that settlement. The percentage will depend on what you agreed to before starting your case. If you do not receive any compensation, your lawyer does not receive a fee. This means that anyone can afford to hire a car accident lawyer.