Car accidents are the number one cause of injury in the United States. While a car accident lawsuit may be an option for people injured by another driver, the question is when is it necessary or appropriate?
When a person is injured in a car crash they are advised to follow these steps for the best chance of recovering damages:
- Seek immediate medical attention.
- Notify your own insurance company that you were involved in a car accident and provide details of the accident.
- Do not give any statements to the at-fault insurance company (they will contact you).
- Seek the advice of a qualified personal injury attorney. The lawyer will advise about the best course of action.
For most car accident claims, the injured party is looking to recover damages (monetary compensation) for medical bills, property damage, lost wages and pain and suffering. Accidents that involve a fatality may also result in a wrongful death claim and associated damages including funeral expenses. The spouse, child or parent of the accident victim may also be able to recover damages for loss of affection, companionship, or consortium.
The problem arises when the at-fault insurance company denies the claim altogether or offers a settlement so low that it doesn’t even cover medical bills let alone other damages. If you find yourself in this situation and haven’t retained a car accident lawyer already now is the time to speak to a personal injury attorney about your legal rights. He or she can negotiate on your behalf and let you know whether you should accept the insurance agency’s settlement offer.
Before a lawsuit is filed, there is pre-litigation negotiation which is an opportunity to settle the claim. The at-fault insurance company will often offer to settle the claim in this phase in exchange for your agreement not to sue. Your personal injury attorney can determine if the offer is fair; often settlements are made in exchange for your agreement not to sue in this phase. If neither you nor your lawyer is able to negotiate a fair settlement it may be time to consider filing a car accident lawsuit.
When to settle a car accident claim and when to sue
The choice to file a lawsuit comes down to whether a reasonable settlement is on the table; if your auto accident lawyer believes that your case is worth significantly more than the insurer is offering to pay then it may be time to pursue a car accident lawsuit.
How big does the difference between your lawyer’s stated value and the insurance company’s offer need to be before filing a lawsuit makes sense? As part of the equation it is important to understand that car accident injury claims have a range of value. The reason for this is that the settlement amount for pain and suffering is not determined through a standard calculation and can vary by thousands of dollars. Click here for information about how insurance companies typically determine the value of pain and suffering in a car accident claim.
Determining the value of your car accident claim
Insurance adjusters look at the total amount of the medical bills to reach a settlement offer. They strongly differentiate by the type of the medical bill incurred. They put very little weight on chiropractic, massage therapy, and alternative forms of treatment, but rather focus on emergency room bills, primary care doctor expenses, imaging, specialist referrals, etc.
If you bear partial fault for the accident, there was no damage to the vehicle or if the injuries were minor, you can expect the insurance adjuster to reduce your pain and suffering offer.
The reality is that for many car accidents, this new method undervalues pain and suffering and the only way to get a reasonable settlement may be with the help of a car accident attorney.
Your personal injury lawyer will determine the appropriate range of value for your accident claim. For example, your claim may be worth $75-$95,000 to cover property damage, lost wages, medical expenses and pain and suffering. If the insurance company offers $80,000 you may not be thrilled that the amount is closer to the lower end of value but it would be worth settling instead of going to court. If the final offer is $70,000 it may still not be worth filing a lawsuit when you consider the amount of additional time and money that it will take to get the settlement. On the other hand, if the insurance company’s final offer is $40,000 then it is time to consider a lawsuit. Ultimately, it will be up to you and your lawyer to decide the right course of action.
How long do I have to file a car accident lawsuit?
A car accident lawsuit should be pursued as soon as possible after the injury because injury cases have a statute of limitations. A statute of limitations means that you have a set amount of time from the date of the injury to file a claim or your case will no longer be accepted. In Washington State the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is generally three years.
If you or a loved one is dealing with an injury caused by a negligent driver, you have enough on your plate. Let an experienced car accident attorney fight for the justice and fair compensation that you deserve. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times bigger with the help of a lawyer. Call the caring injury attorneys at Tario & Associates, P.S. in Bellingham, WA today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing residents of Whatcom County, Skagit County and surrounding areas since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!