Car Accident Settlements and FAQ

I’ve just been hurt in an auto accident. What do I do?

Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman

Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman can be contacted for a free consultation (click here).

Try to stay calm. A cool head can make a difference. Locate witnesses and get their names, addresses and telephone numbers. Exchange information, including insurance data, with the other driver. Call the police. If there is debris from the crash, think about returning and taking photos. Don’t discuss the facts of the accident with anybody else, unless you’re asked by the police. Tell them the truth. If you have been hurt, make sure you get medical care as soon as you can. Call your insurance agent and promptly report the crash. Don’t discuss any aspect of the collision or your injuries with the other person’s insurance company representative. No matter what that person tells you, you are not obligated to be interviewed.

How much is a car accident settlement?

Settlements can be in the thousands or millions, depending on the case.

Our lawyers have won numerous multi-million-dollar settlements and verdicts. Below are just a few:

What is my accident case worth?

To determine what your accident case is worth, our lawyers first determine who was at fault. As long as you are less than 50% at fault, you have a case, but the more at fault you are, the less money you will get. For example, if you win a $100,000 jury verdict in a trial, you will only recover $70,000 if you are 30% at fault.

We next look at who you can sue. If a semi-truck driver hauling freight for a big company is at fault, there is a lot more insurance money available for a settlement, generally in the millions. If a teenager with no insurance is at fault, you are probably not going to get much, just your no-fault.

The factor that then becomes the most important is how badly you were hurt. Information about the severity of your injuries usually comes from your doctor in a medical report in which he or she comments on your injuries. Doctors usually wait at least a year after a crash to issue a final medical report. Another important factor is how your injuries affect you. For example, a broken finger to most people is not that severe an injury. If you happen to be a concert pianist, however, a broken finger can be a terrible loss. Thus, it’s important that we know a lot about you and how your injuries have impacted your life.

Other factors include the amount of your medical bills, the amount of your wage loss, whether you have any scars, what impact your injuries will have on your future earning capacity and a host of other issues. Every case is different and it depends on the skill and experience of your lawyer to know what is fair compensation for your losses.

Car Accident Lawyer Doing Inspection

Attorney Eric Hageman inspects a car involved in a drunk driving accident. He has a national practice.

Whom should I talk to and what should I say?

Whether it’s five minutes or five weeks after a crash, don’t discuss it with the other person’s insurance company representative. These people are called adjusters. They’re not bad people, but their job is to get as much information about the collision or your injuries and then try to use it against you. You can talk about the crash with your insurance company. In fact, your policy says you must cooperate with your insurance company. But even so, your insurance company is going to look out for its own interests before it looks out for yours. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you talk to any insurance company. Our attorneys have handled cases involving the following insurance companies: GEICO, Allstate, American Family, State Farm, Nationwide, Travelers, Progressive, Farmers and Liberty Mutual.

It was not my fault. What rights do I have?

You have the right to have your medical bills paid and your wage loss reimbursed. This comes from no-fault coverage on your vehicle. You also have the right to make a claim against the driver who caused the accident. In that claim, you may recover damages (money) for pain, suffering, disability, disfigurement, emotional distress, loss of earning capacity and other losses that may have occurred. The money for these losses is paid by the other person’s insurance company. You also have the right to get your automobile fixed, or, if it’s totaled, get the value just before the wreck. This is called a property damage claim. It can be made against your company if you have what’s known as “comprehensive” coverage. You may also have the right to collect that damage from the other person’s insurance company.

It was my fault. Now what rights do I have?

Even if you were at fault, you may be able to recover some damages if another driver was more at fault.  This is called “comparative fault.” Below are 5 things you should know when you are partially at fault for the crash.

  1. Determining the degree of fault can involve complex legal and factual issues.
  2. If you and several other parties are at fault, the case becomes exponentially more complex.
  3. How the case is presented to a jury will be critical.
  4. To help a jury make a decision, the judge gives them instructions.  In comparative liability cases, your attorney will have to request the judge to give special instructions to the jury regarding damages and liability.
  5. Any damages awarded will be reduced proportionately by your degree of fault.

I’ve heard a lot about “no -fault” insurance. How does it apply to me?

In some states every vehicle garaged is required to have insurance, including no-fault coverage. If you own a vehicle and it’s insured, you’re covered. Even if you don’t own a vehicle but live with a relative who does, you’re covered too. No-fault pays for medical bills (usually up to $20,000) and wage loss (also usually up to $20,000). It also covers replacement services, retraining, funeral expenses, and a few other items. The term “no-fault” refers to the fact that you are covered even if the automobile accident was your fault. Your no-fault coverage “follows” you, no matter whose vehicle you were in when you were hurt. Let’s say you’re injured when you’re riding as a passenger in your cousin Frank’s vehicle. Even though the crash may have involved Frank’s vehicle, it’s your insurance that pays for your medical bills and wage loss.

What can I do if my no-fault insurance company refuses to pay something it should?

After an collision, many people find out the hard way that their insurance company isn’t the warm, fuzzy group portrayed in its commercials. Study after study has shown that in almost half of the claims submitted to insurance companies, legitimate requests for payment are denied. In many others, the injured person isn’t aware of his or her right to receive benefits, and the insurance company doesn’t go out of its way to set the record straight. If this happens to you, first dig out your policy and see what it says. Then call us toll-free at 1-888-377-8900. We can usually tell you just what your rights are–quickly and at no charge–and make sure the insurance company doesn’t take advantage of you.

What are my rights if the insurance company wants me to be examined by their doctor?

This is called an adverse examination. It’s “adverse” because you have no say in selecting the doctor, the doctor is working for and paid by the insurance company, and the purpose of the exam is not to help you get better. Most importantly, the “adverse” doctor is most likely going to disagree with your treating doctor. The law and your policy require you to cooperate with your no-fault insurance company. This means if you refuse to go to the exam, the insurance company will be allowed to cut off your benefits. Unfortunately, even if you go to the exam, the doctor is likely to say what the insurance company wants to hear, and you’ll probably be cut off anyway. As you can see, this is a very important time in your case. Before you go any further, talk to one of our attorneys (1-888-377-8900). There are things that can be done. For example, the law requires the exam be conducted in the city where you reside. The law also requires the insurance company to pay all of your bills until you’re notified of the results of the exam. Even if the insurance company cuts off your benefits on the basis of the doctor’s report, you can appeal the decision and frequently get your benefits reinstated. If you’ve been notified that you are to attend an adverse exam, call us right away. We can explain your rights and help you before you lose your valuable benefits.

Will my rates go up if I make a claim?

If the crash was not your fault, your rates won’t go up.

If I make a claim and get money, is it taxable?

In most cases, no.

Can I make a claim against the person who caused my accident? What does fault have to do with it?

Below is a video we had made to prove the truck driver was at fault.

As you learned above, no-fault pays primarily for medical expense and wage loss. No-fault pays even if you were at fault. But what about making a claim for pain and suffering or disability? Pain, suffering, disability and many other kinds of losses are not covered by no-fault. If you want to recover for those losses, you have to make a claim for them against the other person’s insurance. To do this, you have to be able to prove the other person’s fault was greater than your own. In many cases, that’s not a problem; for example, if the person who caused the crash rear-ended you. But sometimes proving the other person’s fault is not so easy, such as if you both claim the light was green or if the collision happened at an uncontrolled intersection. Here’s where the concept of fault comes in. In every collision, the law says the fault of the participants must add up to 100%. Using our example of the rear-end collision, your percentage of fault would be 0% and the other driver’s percentage would be 100%. In some other case, a jury may find your fault was, say, 20% and the other driver’s was 80%. If you’re found at fault, the money you would otherwise be entitled to collect from the other person’s insurance would be reduced by the percentage of fault attributable to you. This means that even if your injuries were worth $50,000 you would get only $40,000, a 20% reduction based upon your percentage of the fault. There’s one more thing. If your percentage of fault exceeds 50%, you get nothing, no matter how badly you were hurt.

Do I need a car accident lawyer to obtain fair compensation?

Most of the time. As you can see, there are a great many factors and issues that need to be assessed in order to obtain a fair recovery. Also, you’re going up against a giant insurance company. Companies have scores of adjusters, lawyers and other personnel who spend all of their time dealing with cases just like yours. It’s unreasonable to think that you, who have probably never had to deal with something like this, can match experience and resources with a company that does nothing but work on these claims. There’s also the matter of time. Bringing a claim takes a lot of time and energy. Most injured people are short of both.

If I decide to hire an attorney, what kind should I get?

The short answer: get one with extensive experience handling claims like yours. Some attorneys (like those at our law firm) handle only personal injury. They are the ones most likely to have the experience your case deserves. Be ready to ask tough questions:

  • Who in this firm is going to have direct reponsibility for my case?
  • How often can I expect to hear from my lawyer?
  • Will he or she answer my phone calls?
  • What is their plan for my case?

In the end, trust your gut feeling. If you don’t feel comfortable with a lawyer, you should probably keep looking.

What does it cost to hire an attorney?

Virtually all attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury charge a percentage of the recovery, usually one-third. You don’t have to pay any money up front. If there’s a recovery the attorney gets paid out of that. If there’s no recovery, the law firm won’t charge you any fees at all. You don’t have to pay any hourly charges or lump sums called “retainers.” There’s also the issue of costs. “Costs” are out of pocket expenses like the amount of money a hospital charges for duplicating your medical records, or the filing fee the courts charge for filing a claim. Most law firms (like ours) pay those costs. We’re reimbursed for those costs when the case is settled. Remember: To hire a good lawyer, it won’t cost anything “up front.”

Will I have to go to trial to get a payout?

Most cases settle out of court. In fact, some studies show that only about 5% of personal injury cases go all the way to trial. Of course, if you want to go to trial, you have the right to do so. You always have the right to reject the insurance company’s offer and let a jury decide the value of your case.

How long will it take to get a settlement and complete my case?

The average case takes about 14 to 22 months from the date of the collision to resolve. Of course, that’s only an average. There’s usually no way to predict how long a particular case like yours will take. Remember, most doctors won’t issue a final report until at least a year after the crash. Without that report, it’s unwise to begin settlement negotiations. After the final reports are obtained and all the other information needed to evaluate a claim is available, your lawyer will usually begin negotiations with the insurance company by preparing a “demand” letter or brochure. This document sets forth all the information the lawyer thinks the insurance company should consider in deciding whether to settle the claim and how much the settlement should be. In response to that demand letter, the insurance company may make a counter offer. Negotiations will then take place. Sometimes the case is settled at that time. Frequently, however, the parties are not able to settle the case and it’s “put in suit.” Cases put into suit still usually settle, but it takes more time and often means getting closer to trial. Trial dates are scheduled by the court with little or no input from the lawyers. The scheduling of a trial date depends on which county the case is filed in and how many cases have been filed before it. Good lawyers do their best to move their cases along as quickly as possible.

After my case gets settled, can I go back for more if my injuries get worse or if I need more treatment?

Good question. It really takes two answers to respond to this question. Once you settle the case with the other person’s insurance company, you usually cannot go back for more. That’s why it’s so important to have an experienced lawyer representing you, one who knows your injury and what you can expect in the future. We make sure you recover enough money now so you don’t have to worry about the future. When you’re hurt in a crash, there are really two claims: the claim against the other person’s insurance company and the claim against your no-fault insurance company for medical bills, wage loss, and other related losses. As we have seen, the bigger claim (for “pain and suffering”) is against the other person’s insurance company. A settlement of that claim is not a settlement of the no-fault claim, however. Even after settling the claim for pain and suffering against the other person’s insurance company, you still have a right to make claims against your no-fault company. That claim stays “open” until you use up the $20,000 limit, even if it’s years in the future.

Do I have a say in what goes on in my case?

Of course. A good attorney involves the client in every phase and aspect of their case. After all, you’re the one who suffered the injuries. Ultimately, you’re the one who calls the shots. No settlement or decision to go to court is made unless you say so. You can even decide to drop the claim. You’re the one in charge. If any lawyer acts differently, get a new one.

If I make a claim, what effect will it have on the person who caused the accident?

For better or worse, usually not a lot. Most cases are settled by the other person’s insurance company without any personal financial contribution from the person who caused the accident. A claim for personal injury damages usually involves money only. It does not involve criminal prosecution, license revocation or other criminal penalties. Some cases, particularly those involving drunk driving, may result in charges being brought, but that’s a decision for the police and the prosecuting attorney, not the lawyer helping you recover money for your injuries.

What if the person who caused the accident doesn’t have enough insurance to fully compensate me or none at all?

Insurance policies should have underinsurance and uninsured motorist coverage. Some states require it. Underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) applies when the value of your case exceeds the amount of the other person’s insurance. For example, let’s say your claim has a value of $50,000, but the person who caused the collision has only $30,000 in coverage. You would collect their $30,000 and then proceed against your company for the remaining $20,000. This is not a gift from your insurance company; part of every premium dollar you pay goes for UIM coverage. Uninsured motorist coverage (UM), on the other hand, applies when the person who caused the crash had no insurance. In that case, your uninsured motorist coverage compensates you for the damage caused by the other driver. Again, this is coverage for which you have already paid.

I’m not a “sue-happy person.” Should I file a lawsuit?

That’s a question each injury survivor has to answer. There’s no right or wrong response. When you’re hurt in a auto accident, you have lost something: your health, your ability to do the things you enjoy, income, time with your family and friends, etc. The money you receive for your losses isn’t a prize or a gift. It’s compensation for something you lost. You’re not coming out “ahead” and you’re not taking advantage of the system. Our state and federal constitutions make it a fundamental right for citizens to recover their losses. What you’re going through is real. And, you’re entitled to make a claim if you decide it’s in your best interest to do so.

You should also know that you may not have to file a lawsuit. In some cases there is a settlement before a lawsuit is filed. When you hire one of our lawyers, he or she will begin the negotiation process by filing a demand letter outlining your case and “demanding” that the other side pay a specified amount of money.  We have won multi-million-dollar amounts before a suit was filed.

You hear a lot about phony claims and huge recoveries. What’s that all about?

Mostly just hot air. The great majority of personal injury lawyers are highly reputable and ethical people who really care about their clients and the wonderful system of justice we have in this country. As for huge and unjustified recoveries, most noise about that is propaganda started by people who would like to limit the rights of injured people. Our tort and jury systems work pretty well. Most people get fair, but not inflated, value for their damages.

Who pays for the damage to my automobile?

If you have “comprehensive” coverage on your policy (it’s not required like no-fault coverage), you can collect for the damage from your own policy. You will be entitled to collect the amount of the repairs or for the value of the automobile, whichever is less, minus the amount of your deductible. An example. Let’s say the repairs cost $1000 and the deductible is $500. You can collect $500 from your insurance company. But if that same automobile is worth only $750, you will receive only $250. If the collision was the fault of the other person, in some cases that person’s insurance will pay for the damage to your car. If that happens there won’t be any reduction for the deductible, you can get the full value of your loss.

Can I get a rental vehicle while my car is in the shop?

Yes, if you have coverage for rental vehicles on your policy or if the other person’s company agrees to pay for it (which they usually do if the accident was their insured party’s fault).

What happens if I don’t agree with the insurance company’s estimate of value of my car?

You’re not stuck with whatever the insurance company offers you. It’s best to get a few written estimates from auto dealers or appraisers regarding what they think your car was worth before the collision. If the estimates are higher than what you’re being offered by the insurance company, let the company know. If they still won’t offer you what it is worth, call an attorney.

Free Consultation

Our attorneys are regular speakers at continuing legal education courses. Attorneys Fred Pritzker and Eric Hageman have been named “Super Lawyers” by Law & Politics magazine (current and previous years). Our law firm is listed in the current edition of The Best Law Firms in America. You can call toll-free at 1-888-377-8900 or submit our free consultation form (click here now) to request a free consultation.

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