If you or your loved one has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, you may be wondering how to get the most money from your accident claim. The best way to do this is to secure the legal services of a personal injury attorney.
There are a few important steps you should immediately take if you’ve been involved in an auto accident. First, call the police. Second, document the accident scene. Third, seek medical attention. Without treatment from a doctor, it will be difficult to get the maximum compensation.
In this article, we will discuss how to get the most money from a car accident claim.
Understand What Your Claim Is Worth
Keep in mind, when negotiating with an insurance adjuster their job is to settle the claim for the lowest amount possible. The initial offer they present will be far less than what your claim is actually worth. Do not jump at the first offer. An adjuster uses this tactic to determine if you are eager to receive compensation and unaware of the actual value of your claim. If you take this offer, you will be shortchanged.
There are many factors involved in determining the value of a car accident claim. Instead of jumping at the first offer, your best bet is to let an attorney handle your claim, properly evaluate it’s worth, and respond with a counteroffer.
Value of a Case
When you stop and consider just how many automobile accidents occur in the United States each year and take into account the sheer number of injury victims who seek redress through the courts, it only makes sense that plaintiffs would want to know what to expect. Often, one of the first questions a plaintiff asks his lawyer is “How much do you think my case is worth?” Some are disappointed by the answer since a lack of understanding about how the personal injury litigation process works can lead to wildly unreasonable expectations.
Why it Matters
It’s important to remember that 95% of all pending personal injury cases never get heard by a jury. That means a total of nineteen out of every twenty cases ends up being settled outside of court. And while it is common for statistics to be thrown around that suggest that the lion’s share of plaintiffs win when their cases are heard by a jury, victory in the courtroom may not always translate into adequate compensation.
The New York Times reported in 2008 on a study that showed that most plaintiffs who refused settlement received less money from juries than they were offered by the defendants. In fact, 61% of plaintiffs who proceeded to trial after being offered compensation during settlement negotiations ended up receiving substantially less as a result of their jury awards. The study suggested that, of those cases reviewed by analysts, plaintiff jury awarded on average $43,000 less than the settlement offers they had received.
Some might wonder why it’s even worthwhile to try to estimate the likely value of any given case. Well, that 2008 study clearly showed that it is almost impossible to properly proceed with your case unless your lawyer has some rough estimation as to its worth. To understand why this is true, it is important to understand what this estimated value is actually attempting to measure. It is not enough to just know that the average personal injury jury award in 2013 was $1,009,788. Your attorney has to work to narrow down the likely outcome of your individual case before proceeding.
When attorneys talk about the actual value of a case, they are referring to the likely amount that a jury would award in the event that the lawsuit made it to trial. Your lawyer needs to be able to predict the likeliest result from a jury decision, and refer to that estimation during any settlement negotiations. Thus, if a reasonable jury could be expected to award you $50,000 in damages, and the defendant is only offering $10,000 to settle out of court, your litigation team can clearly see that trial is the better option.
Putting a Number to It…
It should come as no surprise to learn that it can often be difficult to pinpoint exactly what any given case might be worth without delving into the particulars. Every case is different, and a whole host of factors can affect the valuation of any lawsuit. As a general rule, you can receive compensation for the following:
- Medical expenses
- Physical and mental pain and suffering
- Diminution of quality of life
- Loss of Earnings
- Property Loss
- Loss of Consortium
Insurers have their own methods for evaluating cases, though they too have to modify their assessment depending upon circumstances. Much of their assessment is related to what they call “special damages” – which is an aggregate number that represents the sum total of your financial losses related to the accident. Thus, medical, income loss, and other easily identifiable costs to you would all be covered under this label.
These special damages tend to get multiplied by two or three to arrive at a ballpark estimate of the probable value of the case. In cases with more severe injuries or medical treatments, higher multipliers can be used. The ultimate goal is to determine how a jury might view the case, in light of court case statistics that the insurance industry continually monitors.
Obviously, the entire process is one that requires assessment of a variety of individual factors. So, while the average cost for vehicular injuries might be an attractive benchmark to use in predicting a case’s value, it is ultimately useless when determining what a jury might do. After all, the average cost of a nonfatal disabling injury might have been $61,600 in 2007, but that by no means suggests that every litigant received anything close to that amount.
What Your Lawyer Needs to Evaluate the Case
It is clear that you need to know what your case is worth so that you can make educated decisions about how to proceed. Your lawyer needs certain facts to properly provide that estimation.
- Maintain all relevant documents so that you can demonstrate the true cost of the damages you have suffered as a result of the accident. That includes medical records, bills, documents demonstrating loss of property and income, documented sleep loss, anxiety, or other mental and emotional distress, and similar proof of injuries suffered.
- Since your own actions can also impact any award, it is important that your attorney be aware of any fault you bear for the accident. In addition, you should document efforts you have made to mitigate your damages, including things like following your doctor’s instructions. The last thing you want to do is provide the defense with a strategy they can use to counter your claim.
At the end of the day, it is important to understand that your attorney will probably not be able to provide you with anything close to an exact estimate of how a jury will compensate you – or whether you can even win your case. With the right facts, however, he or she can provide an approximate prediction on how the jury is likely to respond to your case, and thus develop a rough estimate of your claim’s real value.
Keep Accurate Records and Document Everything
To maximize on your accident claim one of the most important steps is accurate documentation. Take pictures or videos of the accident scene, the damage to your vehicle, and of your injuries.
Track every doctor visit, and diligently follow up with all recommended medical care, treatment and therapy. Create an organized file with all of your medical records pertaining to the accident.
Write down everything! Keeping a daily journal noting things like your pain and suffering, disruption to your regular everyday activities, sleep interferences, and emotional disturbances will help establish the validity and value of your claim. It will also serve as a useful tool to refresh your memory further down the line should the case go to trial.
Keep records and receipts for any expenses related to your accident. This includes all medical expenses, vehicle repairs, new car seats for children, car rental or alternative transportation costs, loss of income, and any other expense that can be tied to the accident.
The more you document, the more your claim is worth. Accurate record keeping will ensure you get the maximum settlement.
Work With an Expert
Attempting to handle an accident claim yourself might be tempting, but if you’re not experienced you could miss important details that will increase the amount your claim is worth. An experienced attorney understands how to get the most money from a car accident.
With over 100 years of combined experience, the legal team at Herrman & Herrman is ready to help you get the settlement you deserve. Call us today at 361.792.3669 for a free consultation!