One of the most common questions we get from potential clients is: How much is the average car accident worth?
The answer to that question is often not what the asker expected, because, in truth, so many unique aspects in every accident make a one-size-fits-all answer impossible. How much insurance does the at-fault party have? How severe were the claimant’s injuries? Was the claim resolved through a settlement or litigation, and when?
While all of these factors ultimately determine how much compensation the claimant receives, one factor appears to have the biggest influence on the amount of money a claimant can obtain for the expenses and impacts of their injury: Is the claimant receiving assistance and guidance from an attorney?
In this post, we explain the importance of having an attorney to seek the maximum amount of compensation available to you. If you plan to go ahead with a claim, an experienced car accident lawyer can answer your legal questions during a free case evaluation.
Why You Need an Experienced Attorney on Your Side
Individuals often feel tempted to file a car accident claim on their own because they worry about how much it would cost to seek the services of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Going into this process without an attorney is often a mistake because:
- You will go up against an insurance carrier. You can bet the at-fault party’s insurance company is going to trust their legal counsel to help them avoid paying out on your claim. In fact, according to the American Bar Association, a growing number of insurance adjusters—the people tasked with reviewing your claim and determining how much the insurance company will pay out—are attorneys themselves. From a legal standpoint, this gives the insurance company an advantage as the adjusters have spent years obtaining training and education on the claims process and how to reduce payouts to claimants.
- Personal injury attorneys also spend years obtaining the training and education to best serve their clients. They have a wealth of knowledge and information that they can use to your advantage. They provide services—particularly those related to discovery, settlement negotiations, and litigation—that are difficult and extremely time-consuming for someone without experience in the law to understand and successfully navigate.
- Attorneys know the games that insurance companies play when attempting to reduce or even eliminate a claim. Adjusters will look at your social media accounts to see what you post about the accident and whether the statements you make about your injuries or even the other activities you engage in to see if they contradict what you told them. They will often make early and low settlement offers in exchange for a quick resolution in the hopes that you haven’t yet spoken to an attorney and determined the true value of your claim yet. They will try to convince you to authorize the release of your medical records, only to use those records to look for pre-existing conditions and other excuses not to pay you. Because lawyers know these tactics and how convincing adjusters can frighten clients who are in pain from an injury, your lawyer can communicate with the adjuster so you can avoid these tricks.
- Your car accident lawyer can begin working on your case without an upfront investment from you. If you opted to file your claim on your own, you would likely have to first learn about the process. What are your options if the insurance company denies your claim? Do you know how to file a personal injury lawsuit? How do you know if the settlement that the insurance company offered will fairly compensate you for your injuries? Are there any parties who may also be liable and from whom you can seek additional compensation? An experienced car accident attorney will learn more about your case through a free case evaluation, during which your car accident lawyer can answer your legal questions and discuss the services our legal team can provide. Additionally, because obtaining assistance in this process is so important, reputable car accident lawyers work on a contingent fee basis. This means that you do not have to pay for our services unless your lawyer achieves a positive outcome in your claim.
The Type of Available Compensation After a Car Accident
California allows individuals who were injured in a car accident that someone else’s carelessness or recklessness caused to seek compensation from the at-fault party (generally through their auto liability insurance policy) for both the economic and psychological impacts of the accident.
In the personal injury claims process, damages means “compensation for harm.”
- Economic damages compensate for the cost of medical treatment for your injury and related complications, lost wages for the time that you are too injured to work, loss of future earning capacity if your injury results in permanent disabilities that prevent you from earning what you did before the accident, and property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle or other damaged personal property.
- Non-economic damages are compensation for how the injury has impacted your quality of life, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of physical intimacy with your spouse, or loss of enjoyment of life.
Other Factors That Can Affect the Value of Your Claim
While having an attorney is the most important factor in collecting the maximum amount of compensation available in your case, other issues can affect how much your claim is worth, discussed below.
#1. The Amount of Insurance the At-Fault Party Has
According to the Insurance Information Institute, more than 16.6 percent of drivers in California are uninsured. The problem with this, aside from violating the state’s motor vehicle laws, is that insurance pays most car accident settlements and awards.
While you may file a lawsuit against an uninsured driver and even obtain a court judgment in your favor, uninsured drivers do not usually have the money to pay for another person’s injury expenses out-of-pocket. Collecting these judgments is often a slow and difficult process.
#2. The Severity of the Injury
This is one of those factors that immediately makes sense to most people.
With some exceptions, generally, the more severe your injury is, the more likely you are to:
- Require a larger number of medical services and a lengthier hospital stay. More severe injuries—particularly catastrophic injuries to the brain or spinal cord—also come with a higher likelihood of complications that can result in additional medical expenses, as well as the need for long-term nursing care or other lifelong medical assistance.
- Require more time missed from work, and can even result in permanent disabilities that render you unable to earn an income.
- Suffer more physical pain and suffering or emotional distress caused by a lengthy recovery, permanent disability, and other non-economic impacts.
All of the above-listed issues are associated with more severe injuries that result in higher valued cases.
#3. Your Income Before the Accident
A highly educated professional at the peak of their career will generally have a higher-valued car accident claim than a young person with no working experience or a retired person who no longer earns an income. This does not reflect the importance of one life over another, but simply how income affects case value. Lost income is a recoverable damage, as is lost earning capacity, which you calculate using your income before the accident. This means that more income may result in a higher economic damage claim.
#4. Your Patience With the Process
The personal injury claims process can take a while. In California, claimants have two years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit.
However, before even filing the lawsuit:
- Your attorney submits a demand package to the insurance adjuster that provides details of your claim, documentation of your expenses, and a demand for payment.
- The insurance adjuster reviews the package and either chooses to pay the claim as submitted (in which case a lawsuit is not necessary), deny the claim and provide the claimant with a reason for the denial (in which case the plaintiff can file suit), or offer a settlement. A settlement is a compromise in which the insurance company admits their insured is liable for the accident but usually disputes the claim’s value and offers a lower amount.
Settlement negotiations begin when an insurance adjuster makes their initial settlement offer. Negotiations can continue until you agree to the terms of a settlement offer—with the guidance of your attorney, of course—or until the court delivers a verdict. Just because you must file a lawsuit within two years does not mean the case will take that long to resolve.
It is not usually difficult to obtain a settlement offer from an insurance company, particularly if their insured was liable for causing your injury. Obtaining a fair settlement, however, can be a different story. Often insurance adjusters don’t start making fair settlement offers until the case is ready for trial and they face an uncertain outcome or a likely loss.
An experienced accident attorney can provide you with the information and guidance you need to understand the value of your case and the pros and cons of accepting any settlement you receive so you make the decision that best meets your needs.
Look for a car accident lawyer who feels comfortable fighting for your right to obtain the maximum amount of compensation available for as long as it takes through settlement negotiations or litigation. You may want to avoid a lawyer who pressures you to take a quick settlement or who won’t continue fighting when the other party makes a settlement offer that you find unacceptable.
We can only say that if you want the most you can get out of your claim, it may take time.
Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, CA 92101