As a passenger who got injured in a car accident, you deserve compensation from anyone who caused the crash or should face legal accountability for it.
It’s natural to wonder how much money you can get for your injuries and losses. Here is how California car accident lawyers for accident victims figure out how much money you have a right to receive, and how much you can reasonably expect to get if you take legal action against the party at fault for your injuries.
Your Right to Compensation
Let’s start with the basics. Passengers who suffer injuries in car accidents virtually always have legal rights to compensation for the harm they have suffered.
The law makes anyone whose unreasonably dangerous decisions or actions caused a crash, or anyone who by law has an obligation to answer for those decisions or actions, legally liable to pay those victims the damages they deserve.
Every car accident is different, but in a typical crash the liable parties could include:
- Drivers of vehicles involved in the crash, if they made mistakes behind the wheel that led to an accident;
- Employers of at-fault drivers, if the crash involved commercial or work vehicles;
- Vehicle manufacturers, if defective automotive parts contributed to the cause of a crash;
- Bars, restaurants, or social hosts who served alcohol to a drunk driver who caused a crash; and
- Government agencies if their vehicles crash, or if they could have prevented an accident by fixing or warning the public about an unreasonably dangerous road condition.
To obtain compensation from a party at fault for an accident, injured passengers can hire an experienced car accident injury lawyer to represent them in preparing, filing, and pursuing a legal claim for damages.
Potential Damages for Car Accident Injuries
Damages consist of the various types of harm you suffered as a passenger in a car accident, for which you should receive compensation. Lawyers generally divide damages into two broad categories: economic and non-economic. A third category, punitive damages, also figures into some car accident cases.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages compensate passengers injured in car accidents for the monetary costs of a crash and of the injuries they suffered.
Economic damages typically include:
- Past medical expenses related to treating your car accident-related injuries.
- Future medical expenses that you can reasonably expect to incur for your treatment.
- Wages you did not earn because of missing work due to your injury.
- Future wages or income you may not earn in the future because of your injury.
- The cost of repairing or replacing property damaged in the accident.
- Other out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred because of the accident or your injury.
Also called general damages, non-economic damages compensate car accident victims for all other, non-monetary harm they suffered because of the crash, such as:
- Your physical pain and emotional suffering.
- The diminishment of your quality of life.
- Strain and other damage caused to your personal relationships.
- Loss of use of a body part or bodily function.
- Scarring or disfigurement caused by your injuries.
Sometimes, the conduct that causes a car accident is so reckless, unreasonable, or beyond the bounds of acceptable actions that the law permits courts to order the at-fault party to pay extra damages. These “punitive damages” punish the outrageous conduct, and deter that conduct in the future.
Courts award punitive damages only in rare cases, such as those involving intentionally harmful conduct or purposeful disregard for others’ safety. A car accident attorney can help you understand if the circumstances of the crash that injured you make it possible to seek punitive damages.
Factors Affecting How Much Money You Might Get
As the categories of damages listed above reflect, the amount of money you may receive for your injuries can vary. Three broad factors affect how much money you may have the right to ask for in a legal action, and how much money you can realistically hope to obtain if your lawyer succeeds.
Nature, Severity, and Impact of Injuries.
The specific characteristics of your injuries play a central role in determining how much money you may receive as compensation. The more extensive, severe, or devastating your injuries, the more it will cost to treat and adapt to them, and the greater the impact they may have on your ability to work, live without pain, maintain relationships, and enjoy life. The damages recoverable for an injury tend to correlate with its level of severity.
For example, the damages a car accident victim may have the right to receive in the event of a spinal cord injury that paralyzes them from the waist down would, on the whole, usually exceed the damages the same victim might get if the injury instead consisted of a broken leg.
Ability to Prove Liability and Damages.
Obtaining damages for the injuries you suffered requires not just sustaining injuries in a car accident, but also using evidence to show that someone else caused your injuries and how much you are entitled to for compensation.
Experienced attorneys for passengers injured in car accidents gather evidence in the form of documents, physical items, and sworn testimony. They assemble that evidence into claims and legal filings, and present it in court and during negotiating sessions with defense lawyers and insurance companies. Their goal is to show that the facts of the accident establish the legal liability of the parties at-fault and to convince those parties (or a jury) how much money you should receive.
The stronger the evidence and arguments the attorney can make in your favor, the higher the probability that you will receive the amount of damages you deserve.
Money Available to Pay You.
You can have the strongest car accident injury claim possible, and it still may not have much value if the money does not exist to pay you. All car accident injury lawyers and their clients must determine what amount of money is available to you from the at-fault party and their insurance company. Thus, car accident attorneys identify and pursue as many parties as possible who may owe compensation to their injured clients to increase the amount of money available for your recovery.
Insurance plays an important part in compensating passengers injured in auto accidents. In many car accident cases, a driver of one of the vehicles involved owes damages to the injured passenger. Commonly, that driver’s auto liability insurance covers at least some (and hopefully all) of the passenger’s damages.
Other liability insurance can play a similar role when other parties—especially businesses—owe compensation for a crash. The passenger’s own insurance, and insurance carried by the driver of the vehicle in which the passenger was riding (even if that driver was not at-fault), may also provide financial compensation for crash injuries.
Of course, insurance policies have limits, so sometimes the insurance policy available does not provide full compensation. In those cases, passengers may also have the ability to pursue additional compensation directly from the parties who have legal liability for their injuries and losses, if those liable parties have money or assets available.
Sometimes, insurance constitutes the only viable source of payment for damages, in which case the limits of an insurance policy may effectively cap the amount of money the injured person can receive.
Experienced lawyers for injured passengers work hard to make sure their clients secure payment from as many available sources as possible.
What You Can Do to Help Your Case
Car accident victims often ask if there is something they can do to enhance the value of their claim for damages.
Experienced attorneys know there are two parts to the answer. Yes, it’s always possible that in the specific circumstances of a case the injured client can take steps that could enhance the case’s value. For example, it might help for the client to collect certain types of evidence to give to the lawyer, or to put the lawyer in touch with accident witnesses.
However, more often, the most important thing accident victims can do is to avoid making mistakes that might hurt the value of their case. Here are some of those considerations.
Seek and Follow Medical Care
The single most important thing any passenger who suffered injuries in a car accident can do is to seek medical care right away and follow the medical team’s treatment plan.
Passengers in car accidents should go to the doctor as soon as possible even if they do not feel injured. Many potentially serious injuries may not show symptoms right away but could worsen if not addressed quickly by a qualified medical provider. Seeking immediate medical care also ensures that records exist connecting the accident and the passenger’s injuries. This is a critical piece of evidence in any damages claim.
Following medical advice to the letter is as important as getting that advice right away. Never skip follow-up appointments with doctors, therapy sessions, or doses of medication. Defense lawyers and insurance companies will jump on any deviation from your medical treatment plan as potential evidence that you should bear some (or all) of the blame for the severity of your injuries.
Save Everything Connected to the Accident So That Your Lawyer Can Review It
As we mentioned above, it takes evidence to win a car accident case.
As an injured passenger, you likely possess lots of potentially valuable evidence, such as:
- Documentation of your injuries (medical records, etc.);
- Police reports;
- Insurance correspondence and statements of care you received;
- The clothing you were wearing when the accident happened;
- Personal property damaged in the accident; and
- Your cell phone (which may have important GPS data on it).
Do not throw anything related to your accident away. Keep everything in a safe place and then give it to your lawyer to review. Even a seemingly tiny item of evidence may give your case the boost it needs to secure top dollar compensation.
Stay off of Social Media
Many of us document our lives on social media. Ordinarily, that’s fine. However, in the aftermath of a car accident, it can cause problems.
We tend to post to social media about the positive aspects of our lives. Defense lawyers and insurance companies have learned those posts can provide them with a potential treasure trove of information about injured crash victims that they can use to undermine a claim. A skilled defense lawyer or insurance adjuster can turn a picture of you smiling or having fun in the days after your accident into evidence that you are not as injured as you claim, and that you deserve less compensation than your lawyer has demanded.
Your best course of action after getting hurt as a passenger in an auto accident is to make your accounts private and avoid posting anything until your claim resolves.
Hire a Skilled Car Accident Lawyer As Soon As You Can
With every day that passes after your car accident, odds increase that key evidence may go missing, and that important witnesses will begin to forget what they saw. The sooner you connect with an experienced car accident attorney, the sooner that attorney can begin collecting evidence and building a case for damages on your behalf.
Hiring a lawyer quickly also protects you against the statute of limitations, a law that sets an expiration date on your claim for damages. Depending on the circumstances of your crash, you may have as little as a few months to take legal action to secure your legal rights.
To learn more about how much money you may have the right to receive after suffering injuries as a passenger in a car accident, contact a skilled car accident attorney for a free consultation.