- All accidents, their claims, and their settlement amounts are unique
- Even accidents and injuries which seem identical have important differences and will result in differing settlement amounts
- There are important variable factors that can impact your settlement amount
- Gathering solid evidence about your unique accident and the damages it caused is critical to ensuring any settlement
- Knowing as much as possible about recent and historic settlements of accidents similar to yours can help maximize your potential compensation
What is a Car Accident Settlement?
A car accident settlement is a legal agreement between the parties involved in a car accident, where the at-fault party or their insurance company agrees to pay a sum of money to the injured party (or parties) to compensate them for the damages they suffered as a result of the accident.
Not All Settlements are Created Equal
There is no “Average Settlement.”
Each accident is unique and settlements will reflect the differences between one accident and even accidents that seem to have identical injuries. People often look all over the internet for an “average settlement” amount for an accident, but those numbers are generally inaccurate. This is why consulting an attorney is the best way to estimate what your settlement might ultimately be.
What Factors Make the Difference in an Accident Settlement?
Settlements for these damages are usually reached through intense negotiation between the injured party or their lawyer and the insurance company representing the at-fault driver.
Why do Settlement Amounts Vary?
There are many reasons why settlement amounts can vary significantly from one auto accident to another. One might imagine that a broken leg is a broken leg and the compensation should be the same, but it is unreasonable to expect that to be the case. Each accident has its own set of circumstances and each one can alter the settlement amount.
Here are some of the key factors that can influence the amount of compensation awarded:
- Severity of Injuries: This is often the biggest factor. More serious injuries, with longer recovery times and higher medical bills typically lead to larger settlements. Victims who are impacted more by his/her injuries because of age or infirmity, longer hospital stays or extended recovery time may see a significant increase the settlement. Minor injuries or no injuries at all will generally result in smaller or no compensation.
- Age and Health of the Victim: When there are permanent injuries, the victim may suffer from his/her injuries for a longer period of time. When a victim is older or more infirm, he or she may not be expected to ever heal fully. This would include victims who have pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, which can complicate their recovery may also factor into the calculations. This can increase the amount of the settlement since the injuries are seen as more permanent and potentially producing more suffering.
- Property Damage: The extent of damage to vehicles and other property will also play a role. A totaled car and damaged infrastructure will cost more to repair or replace than a few scratches.
- Lost Wages and Earning Capacity: If you miss work due to the accident and/or your ability to earn is permanently impacted, this will be factored into the settlement. The longer you’re out of work and the higher your income, the more significant this impact will be. Naturally, in these situations, the age of the victim becomes even more impactful. A young person whose income will be changed for a longer period of life is apt to see a larger settlement than an older or retired individual.
- Pain and Suffering: This is a more subjective category, but it can still be a significant part of a settlement. It covers the physical and emotional pain and suffering you experience as a result of the accident.
- Fault and Liability: Determining who was at fault for the accident is crucial. If you were completely at fault, you may not be eligible for any compensation. However, if the other driver was primarily or entirely at fault, this will strengthen your case.
- Evidence and Negotiation: The quality of your evidence (medical records, police reports, witness statements, etc.) and the skill of your lawyer in negotiation will also play a role in the final settlement amount.
- Insurance Coverage: The amount of insurance coverage available to the at-fault driver or their insurance company could set a ceiling on the potential settlement.
- Other Factors: Other factors that can be considered include the number of people involved in the accident, the emotional impact on the victim, and the long-term consequences of the injuries.
It’s important to remember that every car accident is unique and there is no “one size fits all” answer to how much a settlement might be worth. Consulting with an experienced personal injury lawyer is the best way to help you understand the specific factors that will influence your case and give you a more realistic estimate of what you might be able to recover.
Settled Claims are Powerful Predictors of Compensation Amounts
In the process of settlement negotiations among lawyers, previous cases rise to the top as reliable ways to predict compensation amounts. By looking at recently settled claims, lawyers from both sides can compare the facts around the accidents and the injuries and arrive at a settlement amount based upon those circumstances.
How similar, recent claims have been settled or valued by judges and juries is one key component to arriving at a settlement amount. These settlements can also be influenced by jurisdiction and geographical location, so lawyers strive to find claims settled in your State or city. In the end, your lawyer will seek to find historic claims as similar to your circumstances as possible in order to find a settlement amount from which negotiations can begin.
Ultimately, lawyers strive to achieve the best possible outcome for their clients while balancing the realities of evidence, damages – including mounting medical costs, and the potential risks involved in actually taking a claim to court. The negotiation process is often a delicate dance, requiring a strategic and nuanced approach to reach a fair and satisfactory settlement when all is said and done.
Is a Settlement Even Guaranteed?
No. It is not.
Many accident victims in Georgia seek compensation for their injuries, but there are a number of situations that can make them ineligible for compensation. Here are some other reasons:
- Shared Fault: Georgia follows a modified comparative fault rule. If you were found to be more than 50% responsible for the accident, you cannot recover any damages. Even if you’re less than 50% at fault, your compensation will be reduced by the percentage of your fault.
- No At-Fault Driver: If no negligence can be established on anyone’s part, or the accident’s cause remains unknown, there may be no party to hold liable for compensation.
- Intentional Acts: If your injuries were intentionally caused by yourself or another individual, compensation through accident claims is unlikely.
Evidence and Documentation:
- Lack of Evidence: Without sufficient evidence like medical records, police reports, and witness statements, proving the extent of your injuries and linking them to the accident can be challenging. Failing to gather the necessary evidence at the accident scene, for example, can make gaining compensation difficult.
- Failure to Seek Medical Attention: Delaying or neglecting medical attention can cast doubt on the severity of your injuries and weaken your claim. This can be particularly important if you have –
- Pre-existing Conditions: If your injuries worsen pre-existing conditions, it can be difficult to isolate the accident’s specific impact and quantify damages. In such situations, having the help of good medical records before and after the accident can be crucial.
Legal and Procedural:
- Statute of Limitations: Failing to file your claim within the designated timeframe (two years in Georgia) can bar you from seeking compensation later.
- Insurance Policy Limits: The at-fault driver’s insurance policy may have coverage limits insufficient to cover the full extent of your damages.
- Uninsured Motorist: When the at-fault driver has no insurance, your options for compensation may be extremely limited.
- Insurance Policy Exclusions: Certain driving behaviors or vehicle uses may be excluded from coverage by the at-fault driver’s insurance, limiting your options.
- Contributory Negligence: Actions that increase the risk of an accident, such as driving under the influence or riding a motorcycle without a helmet, may be considered contributory negligence and weaken your claim.
- Assumption of Risk: Engaging in inherently risky activities can be seen as assuming the risk of potential injuries, limiting your ability to hold others liable.
- Settlement Options: If you refuse a reasonable settlement offer and lose a subsequent lawsuit, you may be responsible for your legal fees and court costs.
It’s also important to remember that some insurance companies are more liberal than others in their willingness to offer reasonable compensation offers. Some insurance companies are more willing than others to take the risk of actually taking a matter to trial. This is an excellent reason to consider retaining a well-versed attorney who has experience settling accident claims. If he or she has been working with insurance companies for a long time, both parties in the negotiation know what to expect from the other. Such familiarity can lead to a faster and fairer settlement.
Understanding Historic Settlements
Good personal injury lawyers pay close attention to other accident cases and how they are settled in order to stay abreast of strategies and possibilities for their own clients. It’s part of their job to understand the climate around settlements locally.
Knowing what other recent settlements look like can help your lawyer as they negotiate a settlement for you. Your lawyer will work to find cases with circumstances as similar to yours as possible. He or she will then seek a comparable settlement amount using similar tactics. Relying upon settled law is one of many powerful tools available to experienced attorneys.
Statistically, few accident claims actually go to court because to do so can be risky. This depends upon how the local courts have ruled previously and how willing the insurance company is to gamble on the outcome. Trial verdicts and settlement amounts that favor the injured party can lead to the insurance company’s being more inclined to settle in a way that benefits the victims before the claim goes to court.
Finding and relying upon similar accident claims settled in your jurisdiction is, essentially, a way for your lawyer to “take the court’s temperature” and to better understand how the court might rule in your claim. This tells both your attorney and the insurance company’s legal team what might happen in the event your claim goes to trial.
The staff here is wonderful! They have helped me through each step of my case and are very easy to talk to and always provide helpful answers. They have made this process much less stressful. I would recommend them to anyone suffering from a vehicle collision.
Good Evidence Counts
Ultimately, having lots of excellent evidence will benefit your settlement.
This means finding and getting the statements of eye witnesses, obtaining and knowing how to use medical evidence, and how to use the testimony of expert witnesses and even an accident reconstructionist in order to prove the victim’s damages. Gathering such evidence can be time consuming and expensive. Nevertheless, having the appropriate evidence can and will impact your settlement.
At The Millar Law Firm, we urge accident victims to take the time to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer as early as possible following the accident. Many lawyers offer a free first consultation which can help the victim identify how the process will unfold, how much money it will cost to maximize your settlement, and how long it will take. Having this information will help the victim know what his next steps should be.
Full and fair accident claim settlements can vary wildly depending upon the many variables. Victims often settle for less because they don’t understand that not all claims and their settlement amounts are equal. Take care to consider all the factors in your claim and proceed carefully in order to maximize your compensation.