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How Much Should I Settle For in My Car Accident?

The impact a car accident has on your life can be immense. You may be dealing with missed time at work, medical bills, rehabilitation, stress, and a damaged vehicle. Frequently, the first settlement offer from an insurance company, especially to a person not represented by a lawyer, is a “low ball” offer, testing to see if they can “get rid of you on the cheap.” The goal of the insurance company is to pay you nothing or as little as possible.

The amount for which you should settle your car accident case is not cut and dry. There are various factors that go into reaching a settlement and every case is different when it comes to evidence, contributing factors, and police investigations. The best way to find out the answer to this question is by consulting with an experienced personal injury attorney.

What Factors Determine the Settlement Amount of a Car Accident?

The dollar value of a case is determined by the interplay of three (3) factors. These three factors are injury, liability, and coverage.

How Your Injuries Affect Your Settlement

The injury factor pertains to your physical and emotional injuries and other damages, such as past and projected future lost earnings, for example. The goal of the civil legal system in personal injury cases is to try and see to it that a person who is injured because another person failed to conform to the standards of behavior that we must all, as car drivers, adhere to (e.g., stopping for red lights and stop signs, maintaining safe levels of speed and distance from other cars on the road, etc.) is properly compensated by the person who caused the harm.

Therefore, the greater the injury, the greater the potential value of the case. All else being equal, a broken wrist should have a greater value than a sprained wrist that heals quickly. If that wrist fracture heals fully in a 6-10 week period, it would most likely not have as great a value as a complex fracture that needed surgical intervention, or even multiple surgeries, and required extensive physical therapy and a much longer period of time to recover.

Another factor is the residual harm left once the injury has healed to the full extent that it most likely ever will. To the extent the injured person is left with long-term or even life-long limitations, this would show the injury is worse than an injury that may have been quite severe initially but fully healed and left no residual problems.

In addition to the severity of the injury, the unique way that injury affected your life is critically important. Staying with the broken wrist example, while it could be awful for anyone to have a broken wrist injury, it will impact different people in different ways. A 19-year-old may have a very different experience than a 79-year-old with a similar injury. A person with a desk job will likely have a different experience than a person with a very physical job that involves using their hands. A person who broke that same wrist in the past or a person who broke the wrist of their only arm will also have very different experiences than other wrist-fracture victims without those circumstances.

Examining the nuance and fine-particulars of every injury and the injury’s unique consequences is the part of the service that an experienced and dedicated personal injury lawyer will provide to you.

How Liability Affects Your Settlement

The liability factor pertains to the important question of who is at fault and the degree to which their conduct caused the accident and resulting injuries. For example, if you are injured in a car accident where it is claimed the at-fault driver passed through a red traffic light signal or a stop sign and that driver denies that and claims you “ran” the red light or stop sign without stopping, if there are no witnesses or video surveillance footage available to support the positions of one side and disprove the position of the other, it may be difficult if not impossible to prove that one side was 100% the cause of the accident.

Absent evidence to support the position of one side (which can include the position of the cars in the roadway, the points of impact on the respective cars, skid marks, and other physical evidence), the case can ultimately be one of “he said, she said,” not as a reference to the drivers’ genders, but as a realization that it is simply a question of who is more credible on the issue.

Compare this to a case where a car is stopped at a red light and is hit in the rear. Because the driver in the rear has a duty to maintain a safe distance between his/her car and the rear of the car in front, an agreement or finding of 100% liability against the driver in the rear is a near-certainty. In this example, the stopped driver did nothing to contribute to the happening of the accident. With respect to the rear-driver, or at-fault driver, but for the manner in which he/she operated their car, the accident simply never would have happened.

If we compare the first example, which potentially may be settled as a “50/50” liability case percentage-wise, and the second example, in which the at-fault party accepts or is found to be 100% at fault, this will ultimately be applied to financial responsibility for the injuries caused. In other words, if an at-fault party agrees or is found to be 50% liable for the happening of an accident, and, for illustration only, the agreed or court-determined value of the injury is $100,000.00, the case should resolve with one half the value of the injury, $50,000.00, going to the injured party.

How Coverage Affects Your Settlement

Finally, we reach the third leg of support for a personal injury claim: coverage. Coverage refers to insurance. Ultimately, whatever the extent of the injury, whatever the ultimate apportionment of liability, there must be a source from which to actually recover money.

Although there are exceptions, most people, when they become the at-fault party in an accident, do not have the assets from which the person they injured may be entitled to collect. Insurance can be thought of as a “cost spreading device.” Simply, by many people paying premiums for protection that is statistically unlikely to be needed by an excessively large number of at-fault people at any one time, the relatively few people that do need it at a given time can be afforded this protection by companies that can earn a profit by selling this product. (There are exceptions to a literal use of the term “coverage,” for example, in the case of a municipal defendant when that party is self-insured, but the general idea of needing an adequate source of resources from which to recover, i.e., “deep pockets,” still applies.)

An experienced, dedicated personal injury lawyer will know where to look and how to uncover every dollar of available coverage. Quite often, coverage will be found in places laypeople might find surprising. For example, in a car accident case, road design may have been a factor and the municipality may have exposure. There may be “vicarious liability” of parties that were not at the accident scene (e.g., employers of involved drivers). There may be a product liability issue, where some defective condition of the vehicles involved played a part. The many factors that may have contributed to the happening of an accident must be meticulously investigated, analyzed, and considered. This is why retaining an effective lawyer from Friedman & Simon, L.L.P., who will work tirelessly on your behalf to deliver the best possible outcome for you, is to your advantage.

How Insurance Carriers Often Calculate the Settlement Amount

There isn’t a scientific formula to determine how much a car accident victim should receive in compensation from a settlement. However, insurance carriers, typically seeking profit over fairness, trying to work the earnings side of the cost-spreading described above to their advantage, often do try to use such formulae. They do this by doing the following:

  • Total all of your special damages (medical bills, ambulatory costs, vehicle repair bills, lost wages, etc)
  • Multiply the total number from above by “three” (This “multiplier” can vary, but historically it has been commonly used

Let’s say that the total for your special damages came in at $20,000. Multiply that total by three and you get $60,000. The insurance carrier, while they will typically begin negotiating with a series of low-ball offers, will try to make such a formula-based settlement figure their ceiling.

Our lawyers know their cruel games. They know we know. We know that such simplistic formulas don’t begin to account for the life-changing trauma, the pain & suffering and tragic effects of an accident. The carriers know that, when indicated, we will take a case where they refuse to offer the appropriate settlement to court and fight to win the maximum amount from a judge and jury.

Seek Legal Representation Today

If you were injured in a New York car accident, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. Call the office of Friedman & Simon, L.L.P. at (516) 932-0400 to schedule a consultation with our team today. Determining how much you should receive in a car accident settlement is not cut and dry. An attorney can review your bills, injuries, and other evidence to help you determine and win the highest amount possible.

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