Should I Take the First Offer of a Car Accident Settlement?
Never take the first offer of a car accident settlement unless a lawyer reviews it first and advises you to do so. Insurance companies rarely start by putting their best offer on the table, even if they say they do. Instead, they typically make an offer that underpays you for your expenses, losses, and injuries. This leaves room for negotiation. However, if you accept this offer, you could be left paying some of your future and ongoing expenses out of pocket. Reach out to a car accident lawyer.
Working with a car accident lawyer can help ensure you understand what your case might be worth and that you do not settle for a lowball offer. Your attorney may estimate a fair settlement range for your case and manage all negotiations for you. They can typically handle your case based on contingency, meaning you do not need to pay anything to hire legal representation today.
Can I Trust the Insurance Company to Compensate Me Fairly?
Insurance companies are not on the side of victims following a crash. The role of an insurance adjuster is to investigate and evaluate a collision case and work to settle it. However, they do these tasks with the objective of paying as little as possible to each claimant. They protect their employer’s bottom line, not your future financial health.
Even when working with your own insurance company or a particularly compassionate adjuster, remember that you must protect your own best interests. You need to understand how much your claim might be worth and negotiate aggressively to receive compensation in this range.
Because of this, you should not accept any settlement offer when:
- You still need medical treatment.
- You do not yet know how much compensation you deserve.
- You might have future medical expenses related to your injuries.
- You have not discussed your options with a personal injury attorney.
You only have one chance to get this right. When you agree to a settlement offer and sign the release, you no longer have the option to pursue additional compensation, including through a lawsuit. You must ensure you understand your case, damages, and potential payout before signing a settlement agreement with the at-fault driver’s insurer.
How Do I Know How Much My Car Accident Claim Is Worth?
One of the most difficult parts of handling your own car accident claim is knowing how much your crash case might be worth. There is a wide range of recoverable damages in these cases. You must identify, document, and value them to ensure you understand the possible settlement value of your case. This process is not easy.
Each case has its own set of damages. Almost any expenses or loss that occurred because of the crash is recoverable. However, you will need paperwork or other evidence to document the cost. It is common for victims to overlook some recoverable damages when filing their insurance claims. This could cause them to settle for less money than they need to pay for the damages they incurred.
Some examples of commonly recoverable damages in a car accident case include:
- Medical bills: Bills from the emergency department, hospital, your doctor, specialists, and therapists
- Related expenses: Your ambulance ride, prescriptions, and medical equipment
- Future care costs: The expenses related to your future medical needs or ongoing care and support needs
- Income losses: The pay you missed because you could not work due to injuries, treatment, or impairments
- Diminished earning capacity: If you cannot return to your previous job because of lasting injuries
- Property damages: Repair or replacement of your vehicle and other personal property
- Miscellaneous expenses: Any related expenses, including travel expenses for doctor visits, parking at the hospital, building ramps at home, or renovating your house for wheelchair access, with receipts
- Pain and suffering: Your non-economic damages suffered related to your accident and injuries
How Do Car Accident Attorneys Calculate Damages?
Some of these damages are much easier to value than others. Your current medical bills, for instance, simply require you to add the numbers together. Other out-of-pocket expenses and your car repairs are the same way. What about future care costs, though? Attorneys often hire experts to help understand and estimate these expenses.
Personal injury lawyers also know how to estimate a value for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. These intangible losses have no monetary value, but the attorney must assign one before they can demand fair compensation from the insurance company. The insurance adjuster will have thoughts on their value, too, which is often a sticking point in these negotiations.
They are difficult to value, but that does not mean you should accept an offer that does not pay you for them appropriately.
What Are My Options If the Insurer Does Not Make a Fair Offer?
Sometimes, an insurance carrier refuses to increase their initial lowball offer enough to fairly compensate a victim for their recoverable damages. Alternatively, they could deny the claim or take other action that prevents the claimant from a fair recovery based on their crash facts.
When this occurs, you have two options:
- Attempt to appeal the denial
- Sue the at-fault driver
Before taking either of these steps, victims should consider speaking with a car accident attorney well-versed in insurance negotiations. There could be details of the case that make one of these options a better idea than the other. In addition, both of these steps require experience, knowledge, and resources that most crash victims will not have.
Sometimes, an insurance adjuster will learn that a collision victim hired an attorney and reevaluate their claim. Other times, the insurance company decides to take the claim more seriously after they learn the victim and their attorney filed suit against their policyholder. Either of these actions could result in a better settlement offer or continuing settlement negotiations.
Even when a lawsuit is necessary, most cases do not go to trial. Instead, the parties learn more about the case during the discovery process. As a result, the insurance company may recognize that their policyholder caused the crash, and they will likely have to pay for the damages in the case. They offer a better settlement offer for several reasons:
When they negotiate a settlement, they maintain control of how much they pay.
- The jury could award additional compensation.
- Going to trial is time-consuming and expensive.
How Long Do I Have to Make a Decision About Suing?
You can weigh your options with an attorney and try other avenues before your lawyer prepares and files the paperwork. However, each state sets a deadline for submitting the initial complaint that begins the lawsuit—generally one to three years following the crash date. Exceptions exist that could alter this deadline. For this reason, speak with a lawyer early on so you understand the applicable timeline.
Missing this deadline will likely bar you from filing suit and taking the case to trial. It could jeopardize your right to pursue fair compensation because you will also lose crucial leverage in your settlement negotiations.
What Other Factors Affect How Quickly I Need to Worry About My Case?
If the insurance company makes an early settlement offer, you might be forced to consider your insurance claim or lawsuit before you are ready. However, getting an early start can only help support your case. A lot of evidence begins to fade and even disappears entirely in the first weeks following a crash.
When you begin your investigation—or enlist a car accident attorney to do so—during this time, it is often possible to identify and preserve key evidence that would not be available later.
This evidence could include:
- Video of the accident
- Additional eyewitness statements
- Documentation of conditions at the crash site
How Can a Car Accident Attorney Help Me With My Settlement?
Working with a car accident attorney is one of the best ways to ensure you do not settle for less than your case is worth. When you hire a law firm to manage your case, they can handle all aspects of the settlement negotiations, from preparing the case to communicating with the insurance adjuster.
The decision to accept a settlement is still up to you, but your lawyer can ensure you have the information you need to make a good decision. It may include understanding the possible settlement range of your case and the value of the expenses and losses you endured.
For this reason, your attorney may not negotiate or consider an offer until:
- Your doctor releases you from care.
- You reach maximum medical recovery.
- They understand your prognosis and how it will affect you.
- They have a good idea about your future and ongoing care costs.
When You File a Lawsuit
Your lawyer will know how to establish the possible settlement range of your case and negotiate to get an offer near or in this range. When this is not possible, or other circumstances would make a lawsuit beneficial, they might advise suing the at-fault driver in civil court.
If you decide to move forward with a lawsuit, your attorney can prepare the necessary documents, guide you through the process, and represent your best interests every step of the way. Most lawsuits still end in a negotiated settlement. Your lawyer may continue these talks as long as they are advantageous to your case.
If a settlement is impossible, your attorney will represent you at trial and ask the jury to award fair compensation based on the case facts.
Speak to a Car Accident Law Firm About Your Settlement Options for Free
If you suffered injuries in a crash, you should speak to a car accident attorney before you accept a settlement offer or sign any paperwork from the insurance company. You must protect your right to a fair payout and safeguard your financial future. Accident settlements are final. You cannot ask for more money later, even if you discover additional injuries or your expenses exceed your agreement. Reach out to a personal injury lawyer.
Your attorney may review any settlement offer, compare it to the estimated settlement range of your case, and discuss your options. They can reject the offer, negotiate, or pursue a lawsuit against the at-fault motorist.
If you do not have a lawyer working on your case with you, you can contact a law firm near you for a free initial consultation today. With most, you are under no obligation to hire the attorney or pay any upfront costs if you do.