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What Is a Fair Settlement for a Car Accident?

by John Gomez | Last Updated: November 25, 2021

car accident attorney in california

If you suffered serious injuries in a car accident, you may find yourself wondering what a fair settlement looks like. How much compensation do you have the right to expect after a serious accident, and how do you know that you have received a fair settlement offer?

Often, insurance companies will try to contact accident victims soon after an accident and convince them to accept a settlement offer. In many cases, however, that settlement may fail to reflect the actual damages you suffered in your accident, including the cost of your bills and the pain and suffering you had to deal with.

How do you know if you received a fair offer, or what you should ask for in return?

Working with a lawyer can often provide you with a better idea of what a fair settlement offer might look like following your car accident. While a lawyer cannot offer you a perfect look at exactly what the insurance company will ultimately provide you in compensation, an experienced car accident lawyer can help you understand how much compensation you deserve, whether you have received a fair settlement offer, and what to ask for as you move forward with negotiations.

What Does the Insurance Policy Cover?

To determine what a fair car accident settlement might look like, you may first need to consider what the liable driver’s insurance policy covers. A driver who carries only minimum liability coverage in California, for example, might have a policy that covers just $5,000 in property damage and $15,000 for each individual injured in an accident, up to a total of just $30,000 in compensation if more than one person suffers serious injuries or dies in a car accident.

Many drivers, however, carry more than minimum auto insurance, often to protect themselves and their vehicles if an accident occurs. For example, commercial drivers, including big truck drivers, frequently have much higher-value policies.

Drivers who drive for Uber and Lyft also have access to much higher-value insurance policies. Furthermore, many drivers carry more than minimum liability coverage, often because that coverage comes with higher comprehensive or collision coverage on their vehicles.

A lawyer can review the insurance policy that covers the liable driver and tell you what compensation it offers, including any loopholes, policies, or add-ons to the insurance policy that could increase the compensation you can recover.

What Coverage Do You Personally Have?

In addition to providing liability insurance and insurance to help protect against damage to the insured vehicle, California auto insurance providers also offer MedPay insurance. California drivers who choose to carry MedPay insurance can use it to pay the medical costs associated with an accident.

MedPay pays out to hospitals, doctors, and other medical care providers directly after an accident. Instead of worrying about the cost of those services and making those payments out of pocket, you can use your MedPay insurance to cover those costs. Talk to your attorney about how using MedPay, whether you choose to use it directly, as insurance, or choose to submit expenses for reimbursement, may affect your settlement after a car accident.

You may also find that your personal auto insurance coverage impacts the compensation you can recover after a car accident. Suppose, for example, that you carry underinsured insurance on a vehicle worth $25,000. After an accident with a driver who has just $5,000 in coverage for property damage, you may need to submit a claim through your own insurance for the remaining $20,000 (minus the cost of any deductibles you may have on the policy).

Your attorney, in addition to filing a claim against the liable driver’s insurance company, can determine what coverage your insurance policy might offer and how you can use it to maximize your compensation following an accident that involves substantial property damage or injury.

Who Caused or Contributed to the Accident?

To arrive at a fair settlement offer, you will need to establish who caused the car accident. Suppose, for example, that your car accident occurred as a result of a distracted driver. That driver rear-ended you because you stopped at an intersection, and the driver did not look up in time to avoid a collision.

That driver may bear 100 percent liability for the accident. On the other hand, in some cases, both drivers may bear partial liability for the accident. In that case, the driver who bears less liability for the accident may still file a compensation claim but may receive less compensation than if the other driver bore full responsibility.

The insurance company that covers the liable driver may also account for any external factors that contributed to the accident. Suppose, for example, that your accident involved a mechanical malfunction, and the manufacturer bears partial liability for the accident. The car accident settlement might reflect that changed balance of liability.

What Does a Fair Settlement Offer Include?

While the insurance company may account for multiple factors when determining how much compensation you can ultimately recover for your car accident injuries, your settlement should incorporate the financial and non-financial losses you have faced because of your accident.

#1. Damage to Your Vehicle

Most auto insurance policies include separate sections for property damage and personal injury. In some cases, insurance companies may offer less compensation for property damage than they do for your injuries, even if the damage to your vehicle is severe.

You may need to have your vehicle evaluated by a representative of the insurance company, who can tell you how much damage the vehicle suffered and how much it will cost to repair it. The insurance company will then determine whether the damage to your vehicle costs more to repair than it’s worth.

If the damage exceeds the value of the vehicle, the insurance company may choose to mark your vehicle as totaled and pay you its value, at least up to the maximum amount allowed by the policy. In some cases, you may need to use your own coverage, including underinsured motorist coverage, to pay for repairs to or replacement of your vehicle, especially if the driver who caused the accident carries only minimum auto insurance.

#2. Compensation for Your Medical Costs

After a serious car accident, dealing with your medical costs can quickly place an immense financial burden on your shoulders. Your car accident settlement should include compensation for some of those immense medical costs.

To make it easier to calculate the value of your medical expenses, make sure you keep track of all medical bills while recovering from your injuries.

Ambulance transport alone can, in some cases, cost more than $1,000, especially if you need to travel to a far-away hospital to get the treatment you need for your injuries. If you need considerable treatment for your injuries, you may find your medical costs growing even higher.

You may receive more than one bill for the same procedure, particularly procedures that involve multiple providers or surgical procedures. For example, your emergency room visit might result in a bill directly from the emergency room as well as a bill from the provider that took care of your medical needs.

If you have to have surgery, you might receive separate bills from the anesthesiologist and the hospital as well as the provider that performed your surgery. A long hospital stay could result in bills from each provider that saw you or performed a test on you during your stay and the specific costs from the hospital.

Talk to an experienced car accident attorney to get a better idea of what medical costs you can include as part of your car accident claim.

Those costs may include things like:

  • Emergency medical care
  • Hospitalization
  • Long-term care, including in-home care, that makes it possible for you to remain at home independently after your accident
  • Durable medical equipment, including prosthetics, items like hospital beds or raised toilet devices, wheelchairs, and crutches
  • Therapy, including psychological, physical, and occupational therapy that aids in recovering from your accident
  • The cost of any follow-up visits or procedures related to your medical care

In many cases, you may want to wait until you have an idea of what your long-term medical costs will look like before you move forward with your car accident claim.

Frequently, even your doctors cannot fully predict what your costs will look like until you have progressed through your recovery, since complications, setbacks, and even your ability to bounce back can all influence how much you will recover from the accident and what your future medical bills may look like. If you file your claim too early, it could prevent your claim from accurately reflecting all of your losses

#3. Compensation for Income You Lost Because of the Accident

Serious injuries from a car accident can make it very difficult for you to take care of your usual work tasks and responsibilities. Sometimes, you may not have the capacity to take care of those tasks at all: if, for example, your injuries prevent you from standing for a long time, you might have a hard time with a job that requires you to walk around. Other times, you may need to substantially modify your hours or your job responsibilities to manage within your current limitations.

Sometimes, your employer will work with you to get back to work and generate some income during your recovery. Other times, the limitations caused by your injuries or the policies held by your employer may prevent you from working at all.

A fair car accident settlement will include compensation for the wage loss you faced after your accident.

This may include:

  • Wages lost during your immediate recovery, when you could not return to work
  • Wages lost because you could only work part-time or on a limited basis while recovering
  • Wages lost because you had to miss time at work for follow-ups and appointments, which can further increase the time you miss at work
  • Wages lost if you had to have additional procedures, including surgery, for your injuries
  • Earning potential lost because you could not return to work in your former field after your accident

Talk to an attorney about how to calculate other work-related losses you may have faced due to your injuries. For example, you may have to use vacation time to help cover the time lost at work, which could cause you to lose the ability to use those hours for personal purposes.

#4. Compensation for Non-Financial Losses

In addition to compensation for the financial losses you faced due to your car accident, you may have the right to claim compensation for the other suffering you faced. Many car accident claims include compensation for pain and suffering: the physical pain, considerable anguish, and missed opportunities you faced because of your car accident. An attorney can help you determine how those non-financial elements can impact a fair car accident settlement and how to make sure the insurance company takes those concerns into account.

Contact a Lawyer to Go Over Any Car Accident Settlement Offer

Before you accept a car accident settlement contact an attorney to calculate what you should receive. A car accident lawyer can determine whether you received a fair offer and how to proceed if a settlement does not reflect your needs.

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