After a car accident, depending on your losses, you could recover compensation for medical expenses, replacement of personal property, lost wages, death-related expenses if you lost a loved one, pain and suffering, and other damages. In most cases, you will be out of work for some time after a car accident how long depends on the extent and type of injuries you suffer.
Many people attempt to settle with the insurance company themselves, without seeking legal support. However, insurance companies do not like to pay settlements because it costs them profits, and they will work to limit your compensation. Be sure to seek legal guidance before pursuing compensation after your car accident to protect your interests.
Documenting a Car Accident Case
Documenting a car accident case is the strongest way to recover the compensation you deserve. In many cases, you may be too injured to take action at the accident scene. However, not all accidents cause injuries that are so severe that you cannot gather evidence.
If you can move without injuring yourself further, you can help your case by getting a head start on documentation.
At the accident scene:
- Call first responders and check on others involved in the accident.
- Take photos of the accident. Be sure to include all angles of the wreck plus any damage to the road and nearby property.
- Ask drivers involved in the accident for their contact, insurance, registration, and license information. If possible, take pictures of insurance cards, licenses, and registrations. Also, take photos of the license plates of the vehicles involved.
- Ask witnesses for their contact information. You can also ask witnesses what they saw. Include passengers in the other accident vehicles.
- Allow first responders to check you over. This step is the first way to document accident injuries. Even if you believe your injuries are minor, get checked. Some injuries take hours or even days to manifest.
- Give the police officer your statement.
- As soon as the officer releases you from the accident scene, seek medical attention, even if your injuries are minor.
- Do not post about the accident or other life events on social media. Insurance companies troll social media platforms for reasons to deny your claim. Even a seemingly innocent dinner in a restaurant with your family could cause an insurance company to attempt to deny your claim.
- Seek legal assistance as soon as possible. Call our office, even if you are still in the hospital. A family member can also call us on your behalf.
Be sure to keep any documentation you receive from the police officer and medical professionals. If the officer does not have a copy of the police report at the scene, order a copy immediately.
You could suffer any number of injuries in a car accident, from minor scratches and bruises to catastrophic injuries or even death. A car accident could keep you out of work for a few weeks or forever. Regardless of the severity of the injuries and the length of time you are out of work, you need money to pay household bills and put food on the table while you are not working.
You can recover compensation for your losses via a car accident settlement. However, it does take time for a settlement to come to fruition. Every case is different, so there is no set time for a settlement. Those who have minor injuries might settle sooner than someone with catastrophic injuries. Those with well-documented cases might settle sooner than those who do not.
Accident injuries factor into how long a settlement takes. Doctors must determine how your injuries will affect you. Doctors sometimes take a few months or longer to determine whether your injuries will cause long-term or permanent disabilities.
Accident injuries include:
- Bumps, bruises, scrapes, cuts, and scratches.
- Road rash.
- Face and eye injuries.
- Pulled and torn muscles and other soft tissue injuries.
- Strain and sprains.
- Simple and compound fractures.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
- Head, neck, and shoulder injuries.
- Thermal and chemical burns.
- Internal injuries.
- Back and spinal cord injuries.
- Crushed bones and crush injuries.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
Recovering Damages After a Car Accident
If someone else was at fault for your accident injuries, you could recover compensatory damages and punitive damages. The court orders compensatory damages, including economic and non-economic damages, to make you whole again. The court only orders punitive damages as a punishment for the defendant’s egregious behavior.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages have a monetary value.
- Current and future medical expenses, including surgeries, doctors’ appointments, follow-up appointments, prescriptions, ambulatory aids, hand controls for your vehicle, wheelchair ramps, grab bars, widened doorways, and other updates to your home to make it accessible.
- Lost wages.
- Loss of future earning capacity. If doctors expect your injuries to cause long-term or permanent disabilities, you could recover compensation for lost income comparable to what you would earn if you continued to work until your normal retirement age.
- Death-related expenses, including funeral and burial expenses, cremation expenses, probate attorneys’ fees, and certain probate expenses.
Sometimes called general damages, non-economic damages do not have a monetary value.
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress.
- Loss of quality of life if certain factors change, such as having to take prescriptions or using ambulatory aids for the rest of your life.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer enjoy a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of use of a body part or bodily function such as a hand, your eyesight, or bladder function.
- Amputation of a digit or limb.
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do your normal chores, including but not limited to grocery shopping, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, and home repair and maintenance.
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement.
The court only orders a defendant to pay punitive damages if the defendant committed grossly negligent or intentional actions or inactions. Instead of making you whole again, punitive damages punish the defendant’s behavior. The court will only consider punitive damages if you recover compensatory damages.
Why You Should Retain a Car Accident Lawyer After a Vehicle Accident
Car accident cases are usually complex, even if only one person or entity is the defendant. When more than one person is a defendant, such as in many truck accidents, cases are more complex.
Additionally, insurance companies take advantage of people who try to represent themselves, even in settlement negotiations. They know that the average person does not know the ins and outs of the law and will do anything to deny a case. If an insurance company cannot deny a case, it will offer the least amount of compensation possible.
After a car accident, allow your attorney to file the claim for you. If you speak with the insurance company, you should only give your name, the date and location of the accident, and your attorney’s contact information.
Insurance companies will twist what you say and use it against you. Another trick they use is to admit their client is at fault, then act as if they can only give you a certain amount.
In some cases, people who self-represent in settlement negotiations never get enough to cover their medical expenses, never mind other damages they are due.
Starting Settlement Negotiations and Why You Should Use a Car Accident Lawyer
Once you schedule a free case evaluation with a car accident lawyer, you and the lawyer will determine if they will represent your case. If you each agree to a lawyer-client relationship, the attorney will investigate the circumstances of your accident, review your medical records, and begin settlement negotiations with the insurance company.
The sooner you contact a car accident lawyer, the better. Evidence tends to disappear with time. The weather erodes evidence, or the police search the vehicles and release them to the owner or park them in their impound lot. Sometimes, the defendant purposely destroys the evidence. Other times, the defendant inadvertently destroys evidence, believing it is okay to complete repairs, which could destroy evidence.
Additionally, the sooner you start the process, the sooner you can recover compensation.
How to Pay Bills Before a Settlement
While waiting for the settlement, your injuries might prevent you from working. You can use your vehicle and health insurance to pay for medical expenses. Depending on your vehicle insurance policy, you might be able to collect compensation for lost wages.
You can also ask your attorney to write a letter to your medical professionals and the hospital to explain that you are in settlement negotiations. Most medical professionals and hospitals will stop collections until you recover compensation after the settlement. And some will not report late payments during this period.
How to Pay a Car Accident Lawyer
You do not pay any money upfront to our firm. When you decide to retain us, you sign a contingency agreement. We deduct fees and costs from your settlement. Your initial case evaluation is always free and without obligation.
The Settlement Process
Your attorney forwards a demand letter to the insurance company, explaining the accident, outlining your injuries, and “demanding” a specific amount. This letter opens settlement negotiations. The insurance company responds by 1) Accepting the demand and forwarding a check; 2) Denying the claim, or 3) Admitting its client was at fault and forwarding a counter offer.
Your attorney gives the insurance company a certain number of days to respond to the letter. If the insurance company makes a counteroffer, generally, the same number of days applies for a response from your attorney and throughout the rest of the settlement negotiations.
If the defendant denies your claim or refuses to come to a fair and reasonable settlement, your attorney will recommend going to trial. The initial settlement negotiations could take anywhere from two weeks to several months. Some insurance companies settle immediately, and others might go back and forth several times.
After the Defendant and Plaintiff Agree on a Settlement Amount
Once you and the defendant agree on a settlement amount, you still have to wait through several steps.
- An attorney usually the defendant’s attorney drafts the settlement agreement.
- Your attorney reviews the settlement agreement. If needed, your attorney requests changes and sends them back to the defendant’s attorney.
- Once the attorneys believe the settlement agreement reflects what the parties agreed to, your attorney forwards it to you for your review and signature.
- Your attorney then forwards the executed settlement agreement to the defendant’s insurance company for processing.
- The insurance company forwards a check to your attorney.
- Your attorney deposits the check into an escrow account. They must wait until the check clears before taking the next step.
- Once the check clears, the attorney:
- Pays any outstanding medical expenses you have.
- Reimburses your insurance company if you used your vehicle and health insurance to cover medical expenses while in the settlement process.
- Deducts their percentage as agreed upon in the contingency retainer contract.
- Finally, the attorney cuts you a check and mails it to you. You can then deposit the check and use it as needed.
If you suffered injuries or lost a loved one because of a vehicle accident, contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible for a free case evaluation.