UNDERSTANDING THE COMPENSATION THAT CAN BE RECOVERED AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT
The average car accident claim is worth approximately $41,783. However, each case is unique and settlement amounts will vary. Here are some forms of compensation that can be recovered after suffering car accident injuries.
Medical Bills – As the injured party making a claim, you have the burden of proof not only that the other party is at fault for your injuries but also that you suffered the actual injuries, that the incident caused the injuries, and that you experience symptoms and limitations as a result of your injuries. The insurance company will not take you at your word. They want to pay as little as possible on your insurance claim. You can prove your injuries and limitations after a car accident by providing medical bills and records as well as information from your employer for lost wages (or tax returns if you are self-employed). You may also provide contact information for witnesses to the incident in question or “damages” witnesses who can speak to how you functioned before the incident versus after with your related injuries. However, the medical bills and records are generally the best and most credible (i.e. believable) evidence of your injuries.
Lost Wages or Loss of Business Expectancy – If you work as a W-2 employee with a regularly scheduled hourly job, then calculating lost wages is fairly straightforward. How many days (hours) did you miss because of the wreck (either to recover or to attend medical appointments), calculated by your wage? However, much of the US workforce performs work that isn’t compensated in this traditional manner. An experienced plaintiff’s lawyer can assist in calculating lost wages or loss of business expectancy (where the injured party owns a business and loses clients or contracts as a result of their injury).
Pain and Suffering – In our civil justice system, the only recovery that the injured party can demand is monetary compensation. Money can never make an injured person whole again, and given a choice, injured parties would prefer to never experience the pain and limitation of their injury over receiving any amount of money. However, like an egg that cannot be unscrambled, the courts cannot take away the injury itself. What they do allow is for the at-fault party to provide monetary compensation to the injured person as a means of accountability.
Get started with a free case evaluation to better understand your case and how much your car accident claim may be worth.
HOW DOES LIABILITY AFFECT A CAR ACCIDENT LAWSUIT?
The concept of fault in a car accident is essentially the same across the United States. Whose actions (or inactions) caused the crash? However, state laws vary on how you calculate damages based on fault. Missouri follows “pure” comparative negligence laws, abiding by the rule that the plaintiff’s percentage of fault reduces their compensation reward, regardless of what their percentage of fault is. Under pure comparative negligence models, the injured party may receive compensation for their injuries even if they were more than 50% at fault for the wreck, though their recovery will be reduced by their shared percentage of fault. Missouri is a pure comparative fault state.
How much money an injured person receives in a settlement is based on two primary considerations: how severe the injuries are and who is at fault for those injuries. If you are at fault for the crash, then naturally, the other party does not have to pay for the resulting injuries.
Some car accidents make determining fault an “open and shut” case. If you are stopped at a red light and rear-ended, there’s little to no way that the other party can claim you were at fault. Likewise, if you are a passenger in an auto accident, the fault can very rarely be shifted to you (unless, for example, you are pulling on the steering wheel or causing such a serious disruption in the vehicle as to prevent the driver from operating the vehicle safely). However, if you are driving within the speed limit and a driver cuts in front of you and then slams on their brakes abruptly, then you may be able to establish fault on the other driver, either partially or entirely.
Car accident attorneys and insurance companies determine fault based on the evidence they have at hand. Often the at-fault driver is determined largely based on the police report filing by the reporting officer. However, the insurance company will corroborate the police report with their insured, and if the injured party isn’t represented, they’ll tell them that they need to give a recorded statement regarding the wreck before they’ll make an offer (a recorded statement isn’t required, though, and most attorneys will advise against giving a recorded statement to the insurance company where liability is otherwise clear without additional consideration).
Additionally, officers, parties, or witnesses may have taken photos or video at the scene of the car accident. In serious accidents that result in death, officers are likely required to conduct an accident reconstruction, which provides much more detail than a standard crash report. All of this evidence can be used in determining the at-fault driver and to help support the car accident claim.
HOW LONG DO I HAVE TO SUE AFTER AN ACCIDENT?
The statute of limitations for car accident claims (also known as a negligence claim) in Missouri is five years from the date of injury. In other words, if someone causes a car wreck that results in an injury to your person, you have five years to file a complaint in the Missouri courts. That does not mean that the case must be completed, verdict or settlement and all, before the end of five years.
The statute of limitations is extended where the injured party is a minor. Because a minor plaintiff cannot negotiate or agree to a settlement on their own behalf, they have an extended statute of limitations, which is five years following their 21st birthday.
Note: If the crash resulted in the death of the injured party, then the injured party’s family has a right to a wrongful death claim against the defendant. This is a different type of claim than a negligence claim in that it is a claim that belongs to the deceased’s survivors who step in, not to the injured party. The statute of limitations for filing wrongful death claims in Missouri is three years rather than five years.
SUING VERSUS NEGOTIATING A SETTLEMENT
You don’t have to sue the at-fault party to reach a settlement. Your attorney may suggest that you file a claim with the applicable insurance company and negotiate before you ever file suit. Negotiating a claim outside the courts reduces expenses and limits the insurance company’s access to you and your time. The court system’s rigorous discovery rules do not apply to pre-suit claims, and you may reach a just outcome without having to file. However, if the insurance company fails to negotiate in good faith or if the statute of limitations is approaching, it is likely in your best interest to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party.
HOW CAN A CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER HELP AFTER AN ACCIDENT?
A car accident attorney can evaluate your case, gather evidence, negotiate with insurance companies, and represent you in court if necessary. Often, these are some of the most important considerations when determining when to hire a personal injury lawyer for your case.
1. FIND THE RELEVANT PARTIES (AND INSURANCE COVERAGES)
It’s easy to figure out who the defendant is when you are rear-ended: it’s the person driving the vehicle. However, depending on the state where the collision occurred and the circumstances, there may be more defendants, even in this scenario, such as the owner of the car, the employer of the driver (if the driver was working at the time of the crash), or even a homeowner that knowingly served a minor that drove drunk. Because Missouri only requires that drivers carry liability coverage up to $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident, the insurance carrier may only be responsible for up to $25,000 to any one person injured in a collision, regardless of the severity of the injury. Finding additional defendants (and therefore additional insurance policies) can help cover the full extent of your damages.
2. NEGOTIATE THE SETTLEMENT
One of the most important aspects of a personal injury attorney’s job is negotiating the claim. Because experienced attorneys have negotiated hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, they have a better idea of what the settlement value of the case should be given the facts and evidence before them. In negotiating a case, attorneys take a lot of different information into consideration. Negotiations can happen at any point in the case, and your attorney should always keep you informed on what evidence/information helps and hurts your case and the status of negotiations.
3. DETERMINE THE RELEVANT MEDICAL BILLS AND LIENS AND NEGOTIATE THEM DOWN
Medical bills are not always clear-cut. Depending on what state your injury occurred in, a jury may be presented with different information about the cost of your medical treatment. In some states, the medical bills that can be submitted to the jury are the total bills before any insurance payments or contractual adjustments; in other states the jury can see the bills after the contractual adjustments and can consider the reasonable cost of treatment being only that which was actually paid or owed on the medical bill. This allows the at-fault party, or more likely their insurer, to reap the benefit of the injured party carrying health insurance or the medical provider allowing charitable reductions in their billing without conferring any benefit to the injured party or to the public at large.
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries from a car crash, you may be eligible to receive financial compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages. Getting started is easy. Get help from our legal team by calling us at 888-795-0694 for a free consultation, or get in touch with a car crash attorney by requesting a free case evaluation online. And remember, there’s no upfront cost to you — if you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid.