Many injury victims need to know when their car accident case will be resolved. With medical bills piling up at a time when the victim may not be able to work, this is very understandable. There are, however, many different factors that determine if (and when) a car accident case will settle. The experienced auto accident attorneys at the Hughey Law Firm can help guide you through the claims process, negotiate a settlement, and determine whether it is necessary to file a lawsuit.
The settlement process begins by filing a claim with the insurance carrier for all involved drivers. It may also be necessary to file a claim with your own insurance company (even if you were not at fault). This is because certain no-fault coverages may be available to compensate you for your injuries. No fault coverages can include medical payments, underinsured motorist coverage, or uninsured motorist coverage.
Once a claim has been opened, the insurance carriers will each conduct their own investigation to determine who was at fault for the accident. This is because the person with legal responsibility (liability) for causing the accident also has a legal obligation to compensate the victims of that accident for any financial losses that occurred as a result. Liability can be assigned entirely to one driver, or apportioned between two (or more) drivers. The rules for apportioning liability are found in the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act.
This Act sets procedural rules that govern how a defendant can be apportioned liability, the form of a jury verdict against more than one defendant, how the portions must be paid, and other requirements. A plaintiff who was partially at fault for the accident can still recover compensation from the defendants. The compensation will, however, be reduced by the plaintiff’s proportion of the shared liability.
The plaintiff is also prevented from recovering any compensation if his or her liability is more than the defendants. For example: If a plaintiff is 51 percent liable for causing a car accident and the defendant was 49 percent liable, the plaintiff cannot recover any compensation from the other driver.
If the parties (or their insurance companies) cannot agree on liability, the plaintiff must file a lawsuit in order to let a jury determine who was at fault for the accident. If the parties can agree on liability, they can continue settlement negotiations by assessing the value of the plaintiff’s claim.
Determining Legal Damages
The value of a claim is determined by adding up all the financial losses (“legal damages”) a plaintiff sustained as a result of the defendant’s negligence. Some of these damages are easy to calculate. Medical treatment, for example, is a set value that is easily documented with a receipt. Lost wages can be readily determined by multiplying the employee’s hourly wage by the number of hours he or she was off work as a result of the accident. But other losses are far more subjective. Pain and suffering is often the largest component of a personal injury award, and it is also the most subjective. Every accident victim has a different ability to tolerate pain. Their different injuries will have different impacts on their daily lives. All of these losses are compensable, but they vary greatly from person to person. Claims adjusters are trained to use this subjectivity to their advantage. They will reduce the value of a victim’s pain and suffering to justify a low settlement offer. This is why is it so important for injury victims to have a legal representative who can fight these attempts. An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to anticipate and effectively counteract these attempts in order to negotiate a fair settlement offer.
If the parties are able to negotiate the value of the claim, the defendant’s insurance company will issue payment and the case can be settled. If not, the plaintiff must file a lawsuit and let a jury determine the value of the claim.
The Costs and Risks of Trial
Filing a lawsuit may be the only option some injury victims have for obtaining fair compensation for their financial losses. There are, however, costs and risks associated with taking a case to trial. Victims should understand and carefully consider these risks before deciding to litigate their claims.
First, going to trial is costly. Court filing fees and other administrative expenses add up quickly. Attorney’s fees are also higher when a claim goes to trial. In the case of a contingent fee agreement, which many auto accident attorneys use, the attorney’s percentage is higher if the case must go to trial. All of these costs must be weighed against the recovery that is likely to be made at trial. If a trial will likely result in an award similar to the current settlement offer, it does not make financial sense to incur the expense of a trial.
Second, going to trial is risky. Any time a plaintiff asks a jury to resolve his or her claim, there is the risk that the jury will not find in the plaintiff’s favor. A defendant who wins at trial has no obligation to pay the plaintiff anything for his or her claim. If there is a reasonable likelihood that an injury victim will lose his or her case at trial, it makes more sense to accept any settlement offer an insurance company makes, rather than run the risk of being awarded nothing at trial. This cost-benefit analysis depends on the unique facts of each individual case.
Discuss Your Case With a Charleston Car Accident Lawyer
These considerations are, of course, different for every case. They depend greatly on the specific facts of a particular case. This is why it is important for each injury victim to seek legal advice about his or her unique situation. This allows them to make better, more well-informed decisions about how to resolve their personal injury claims arising from an auto accident.