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How The Car Accident Settlement Process Works

If you have been injured in a car accident, you probably have gained out-of-pocket expenses and medical bills while losing wages or the ability to return to work in a timely manner. In addition to the financial strain a car accident causes, you also may experience pain and emotional suffering.

To recover what you have lost in a car accident, you want to get the best car accident settlement possible. And you’ll need to understand how the car accident settlement process truly works before you call an auto accident lawyer.

The car accident settlement process works on the following fundamental proposition: If you have suffered injury and inconvenience because someone else did not do what he or she was supposed to do (negligence), then you have the right to be put back into the same position that you were in before the accident.

In this guide, we will provide helpful information about the car accident settlement process.

Negligence: When Someone Did Not Do What He or She Was Supposed to Do

In terms of personal injury law, the phrase “auto accident” is something of a misnomer. An accident usually refers to something happening by luck or by chance, without any reason or intentional act. The basis of a personal injury case, and the pursuit of a car accident settlement, is establishing that another driver has acted in a careless or negligent manner, which resulted in an auto accident.

When you really think about most car accidents, almost all of them are the result of a driver not driving as safe or as prudent as he or she could and should. Consider the following examples:

  • Rear-end accidents are almost always caused by a driver who did not leave enough space between him or herself and another driver.
  • Head-on accidents are often caused by fatigued drivers, intoxication, or distracted driving (using a mobile device, adjusting a GPS or radio, eating, etc.).
  • T-bone accidents are most often caused by running a red light or failing to yield to another driver with a right of way.
  • Hit-and-run accidents occur when a driver collides with a person, vehicle, or property causing damage or injury, but instead of rendering aid, the driver leaves the scene.
  • Pedestrian accidents occur when drivers do not pay attention to traffic signals, are speeding through intersections, are distracted, or fail to obey right-of-way laws.

In all of these examples, a reasonable driver exercising caution could prevent accidents from occurring.

A Driver’s Duty of Care

Every person who gets behind the wheel of a vehicle and drives on Florida roadways (or any roadways, for that matter) has an implied duty to drive safely and cautiously so as not to hurt anyone else. This is described as the driver’s duty of care and is the foundation of the car accident settlement process. This duty of care mandates that drivers:

  • Drive at reasonable and legal speeds.
  • Be vigilant and alert for other vehicles, roadway hazards, pedestrians, and traffic signals.
  • Maintain control of the vehicle at all times.
  • Maintain the vehicle in proper, safe, and working order.
  • Obey state laws regarding alcohol, drugs, right-of-way, school zones, etc.

If a driver causes a car accident, his or her behavior will be reviewed as part of the car accident process to see if the conduct was reasonably careful based on being a reasonable driver. If not, then he or she will be deemed negligent.

What if Both Parties Are Somewhat at Fault?

As discussed above, all drivers have a duty of care to others on or near the roadway. Pedestrians and bicyclists also have a duty to obey traffic laws and pay attention to their own behavior.

Sometimes more than one person is at least somewhat to blame for a car accident. In terms of a personal injury case or car accident settlement, the crucial element will be determining the amount of fault or negligence of each party. For example, if you were injured in a car accident where you were determined to be 20 percent at fault, and another driver was determined to be 80 percent at fault, then your car accident settlement may be reduced by 20 percent to account for your own fault.

Determining fault can be a bit tricky, however, depending on the state in which you live and in which the accident occurred. Several states have different laws regarding fault, such as the following:

  • Comparative Negligence – Like the example above, your settlement may be reduced by the percentage that you are found to be at fault for the accident. Most states use the comparative negligence approach.
  • Contributory Negligence – A few states continue to use a contributory negligence approach. If you are found to be at fault in any way, you may be ineligible to receive a settlement via personal injury claims. Recovery in these cases is limited to insurance claims.

Even if you are partially at fault for a car accident, it can still be beneficial to consider a personal injury claim. Even a reduced settlement amount can go a long way toward restoring you to the health and financial stability you had before you were injured.


When You Are Hurt in an Auto Accident: Common Injuries in a Car Accident Settlement Claim

Whether you are a professional football player or a mom carpooling your kids to school, no one is exempt from the devastation caused by personal injury accidents. The fact is, human beings have not evolved to the point of withstanding the trauma that occurs during an accident — be it a collision on the football field or a collision with another vehicle.

Car accident injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises to severe injuries resulting in permanent disability. What’s more, even minor car accidents can cause significant damage to the fragile human body. Some of the most common car accident injuries resulting in personal injury claims are:

  • Broken Bones – Fractures or broken bones are common in car accidents. Your arms and legs are susceptible to impacts with the vehicle, like the dashboard, doors, steering column, and windows.
  • Internal Injuries – Any time there is trauma to your body, you are at risk for developing internal injuries. Head-on and T-bone accidents commonly result in injuries to the kidneys, liver, spleen, lungs, and other internal organs.
  • Brain Injuries Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are extremely common in car accidents. These injuries may be mild, such as a concussion, and may heal on their own with time. Or, these injuries could be severe enough to cause permanent damage to your brain resulting in impaired vision, speech, memory, and emotion regulation.
  • Neck and Spine Injuries Car accidents often cause the vehicle to stop suddenly or make jerking movements. This results in the neck and back suffering pressure and stretching that may cause injuries. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries affecting the neck and spine. Slipped or herniated discs, torn ligaments, and fractures of the spinal cord are all serious effects of whiplash. These injuries can result in long-term therapy, chronic pain, or permanent disability.
  • PTSD and Emotional Trauma Car accidents, even those deemed “minor,” can trigger devastating emotional responses, or even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Psychiatrists and experts postulate that the body experiences a great deal of stress right before and during a car accident impact. This “fight or flight” response is a protection mechanism. While some people are able to release that trauma in the hours and days after an accident, others require additional support to heal from the trauma. Car accidents involving severe or permanent injuries, or death, are most likely to result in PTSD.

Medical Treatment and Documentation: Why You Need to Get Better at All Costs

Once we have identified that you have suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligence, our focus as personal injury attorneys is to make sure that you get the medical care you need and get as close to being healed and restored as possible.

When you go to your primary care physician (PCP), you expect him or her to refer you to a specialist when you have a condition outside his or her expertise. Getting medical treatment after a car accident is no different. You need to get treatment that is specialized by healthcare providers who are familiar with treating car accident injuries. These specialists will order a variety of tests to determine the nature and extent of your injuries, such as:

  • X-Rays – Basic photos of the inside of your body, helpful for diagnosing broken bones.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – More detailed and exploratory photos, helpful for identifying spinal injuries, soft tissue damage, and internal injuries. Your doctor may order multiple MRIs on different parts of the spinal column if appropriate.
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT Scan) – Uses multiple angles and X-rays to create cross-sectional images of the human body, including soft tissue, organs, blood vessels, etc.
  • Electromyogram (EMG Test) – Test conducted to evaluate nerve damage using electrical activity in the muscles and nerves.

All of these tests are expensive, and if your injuries are severe enough, you may need multiple rounds. Depending on the results of these and other tests, and whether you have other injuries, the car accident specialist you see may also refer you to other specialists for additional care.

The Heart of Car Accident Settlements: The Financial Cost of Car Accidents

So far, we have discussed some of the basic components of a personal injury case and the pursuit of a car accident settlement. Of course, we know doctors and lawyers cost money, so let’s talk about how everything gets paid for in a car accident settlement case.

Paying for Medical Care After a Car Accident

Auto Insurance

Everyone who drives in Florida must carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. This insurance will cover $10,000 worth of medical expenses related to a car accident. This is insurance that you have, that you pay for, that is for you. We know you have it because Florida law requires you to have it.

Florida lawmakers know that cars can be dangerous and car accidents cause people to get hurt every day. PIP insurance helps protect drivers and be certain that they get medical care for even minor car accidents. This is important in helping you get the treatment you need without the entirety of the financial burden.

You do need to know that there are deadlines to using your PIP insurance. You must seek medical treatment within 14 days of a car accident or else you waive your PIP insurance coverage. There are ways of paying for medical care without PIP, but the fact of the matter is you have paid for this insurance, so don’t delay and risk losing it! You also should not be afraid of the insurance company raising your premiums if you use your PIP coverage — it can’t!

Health Insurance

You can also use your health insurance to cover medical care after a car accident. You should note that in Florida, PIP insurance is considered primary. That means that if you seek medical care after a car accident, you need to use your PIP coverage first.

Letters of Protection

If you are in the process of settling a car accident, it is entirely possible that your PIP insurance will be exhausted long before you have completed treatment. In these cases, your healthcare providers may agree to do the work upfront knowing that there is a personal injury claim or car accident settlement in progress.

In these cases, the healthcare providers will ask your car accident injury lawyer to sign a “Letter of Protection.” This letter assures the doctor that if your lawyer gets a settlement, he or she will make sure the medical bills are paid.

Paying for Lawyers After a Car Accident

A lot of people are afraid to contact an attorney about their car accident case because they are concerned about the cost. You don’t have to worry about that here! Our St. Petersburg personal injury lawyers operate on a contingency fee basis. That means our lawyers get paid after your case has settled. You owe us nothing upfront.

The costs associated with hiring a personal injury lawyer depend on the individual nature of your case. Costs may vary depending on what records need to be obtained (medical, insurance, police, etc.), interviewing witnesses, documents to be filed with the court, and differences in whether your case settles or requires a trial. Your lawyer will work with you throughout the process to make sure you know what to expect in terms of legal fees.

Why Insurance Matters in Your Claim

Throughout the car accident settlement claim process, we are almost always dealing with insurance companies. Insurance is a factor relevant to both sides of any car accident case. Think about it — if someone has hurt you in a car accident, what are the chances that this person has enough cash left over to pay your bills and help you get a settlement? In most cases, the chances are slim, which is where the other party’s insurance company comes into play.

Provided the driver has insurance, your claim may be resolved by coming to a settlement with the insurance company, rather than the individual personally. The coverage that the other party has will directly affect how a personal injury case is settled or managed because, like your PIP insurance, the individual’s insurance coverage will kick in first.

Required Insurance Coverage

Most Florida insurance policies will include the following minimum coverage amounts:

  • PIP – $10,000
  • Property Damage Liability (PDL) – $10,000
  • Liability, or “Bodily Injury” Coverage – $10,000 per person, but not more than $20,000 total. That means that if you are injured and your medical bills are $40,000, at minimum coverage the responsible party’s insurance is only required to pay $20,000, leaving you with $20,000 in expenses to cover on your own.

These are the minimum requirements and may be increased for additional protection.

Optional Insurance Coverage

There are also optional coverage types that many Florida drivers find helpful. These include:

  • Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Coverage – Covers medical expenses if you are injured in a car accident caused by someone who has no auto insurance or who does not have enough insurance to cover your expenses.
  • Collision – Covers expenses related to damage to your vehicle in an accident.
  • Comprehensive – Covers damage to your vehicle caused by theft, natural disaster, or other unavoidable hazards.
  • “Umbrella” Policies – Additional insurance covering your auto or homeowner’s insurance policy, umbrella policies offer additional coverage options. These policies kick in after your traditional policies have been exhausted, which prevents you from being stuck with the financial burden on your own if you are at fault.

Valuing Your Settlement Claim

When you are injured in a car accident, it is difficult to place a value on what you have experienced. Fortunately, your car accident settlement lawyer can help you determine what is a fair, legal, and just settlement amount. In most cases, the value of your settlement claim will be directly related to your past, present, and future damages (losses) related to the car accident. These damages may include:

  • Economic Damages – Economic damages include medical expenses like diagnostics, treatment, therapy, rehabilitation, nursing home or hospital stays, in-home nursing care, prescriptions, etc. Economic damages also include lost wages or loss of earning capacity if you are temporarily or permanently disabled.
  • Pain and Suffering – Pain and suffering refers to the losses you have sustained due to the injuries, recovery, and trauma of a car accident. We look at factors like chronic or ongoing pain that is being treated, difficult or painful therapy or recovery for serious injuries, and how the pain and suffering has affected your quality of life.
  • Mental and Emotional Distress – To determine mental or emotional stress, we look at factors like psychiatric or psychological evaluations or therapy, as well as treatment for conditions like anxiety, fear, depression, or PTSD. The nature and severity of your diagnosis, and length of treatment, can directly affect how much you can pursue in a settlement claim. You need to have a documented record of diagnosis and treatment in order to claim mental and emotional damages.

Getting to Settlement: The Car Accident Attorney’s Job

The goal of the personal injury or car accident attorney is try to settle your case quickly and with a great result. In most cases, this is where the car accident settlement claim comes in. We want to get you outstanding results without a lengthy, complicated court battle. In Florida, we have a process for trying to do this prior to filing a lawsuit. We call this process “pre-suit.”

During pre-suit, we can build your entire case — possibly negotiate a settlement, pay off any outstanding medical bills, and end up with a financial compensation package for you — all prior to filing a lawsuit.

In many cases, a successful pre-suit process is a win-win for you and the insurance company. You don’t have to worry about months or years in litigation and the insurance company doesn’t have to pay legal fees and attorney costs associated with litigation. We try to resolve car accident cases through pre-suit in every case. About 80 percent of the time, it works!

What Happens When a Settlement Can’t Be Reached?

So what happens in that 20 percent where pre-suit is unsuccessful? What if the insurance company refuses to play fair? It will not agree to settle the case for fair value?

In these cases, we will work with you to find the best options to get you the compensation you deserve. Additional measures that can be taken following pre-suit include:

  • Reporting the Insurance Company to the Department of Financial Services
  • Exploring alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as arbitration or mediation
  • Filing an Auto Accident Lawsuit
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