How Much Can Someone Sue For A Car Accident?

There is no limit or standard formula used to determine how much an injured party in a motor vehicle accident can seek in a lawsuit. The circumstances surrounding every accident are unique, as are the characteristics of each individual involved in an accident. As a result, the amount sought in a personal injury lawsuit depends on many factors such as insurance coverage, liability, state laws, and the party’s financial losses incurred because of the accident. To make a long story short, when a car accident victim sues, their lawyer will seek an amount that would make them “whole” or put them back in the position they were in before their life was turned upside down by the car accident.

Suing for damages after a car accident

Not every personal injury case requires a lawsuit. Right after a car accident, the first step is usually filing a personal injury claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Or, you can file with your own insurance provider if the at-fault driver can’t be found or doesn’t have insurance. While most personal injury claims are resolved pre-lawsuit in an informal settlement process, suing for damages might be required when settlement negotiations are unsuccessful. Situations that give rise to a lawsuit may be that the at-fault driver’s insurance company is not willing to pay the amount necessary to compensate you, or it may believe you are at fault for the accident. However, there could also be times when it’s not in your best interest to file a lawsuit.

For example, if there is limited insurance from which you may be able to collect, or limited spending money available to you, the expenses associated with filing a lawsuit (expert witness fees, medical professional costs, costs associated with investigation and retrieving evidence, etc.), then filing a lawsuit could potentially result in less recovery than a pre-suit settlement. Additionally, some clients prefer to avoid the stress and time associated with filing a lawsuit as going to trial can be emotionally challenging and expensive, and it can prolong your case for years.

Additionally, there may be certain cases where an experienced attorney could find that filing a lawsuit immediately is in your best interest. An attorney could make that decision based on prior experiences with a certain insurance company, a particular insurance adjuster, opposing counsel (the other side’s attorney), or working with certain types of injuries in the past.

Some scenarios that might warrant immediately filing suit include severe life-altering injuries, the statute of limitations in your state (meaning the time limits on when cases must be filed), and the necessity of retrieving evidence that cannot be retrieved from the other side without filing a lawsuit (once a lawsuit is filed, the other side has a legal obligation to participate in the discovery process). Your lawyer will consider all of these factors in order to determine whether filing a lawsuit is in your best interest and when to file it.

Can I still sue if I was partially at fault?

Yes. If you were partially at fault for the accident that does not prevent you from being able to sue, but it can affect your damages, or the amount of money you can recover. Depending on the state that your lawsuit is filed in (usually where the car accident occurred), laws may vary about how to calculate damages based on fault.

Suing under pure comparative negligence

States that follow pure comparative negligence laws abide by the rule that the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit)’s percentage of fault reduces their compensation, regardless of what that percentage 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 car accident. However, the amount they recover will be reduced by their shared percentage of fault for causing the accident. Missouri is a comparative fault state.

For example, if the plaintiff is 25% at fault for the accident, they may only collect 75% of their damages.

Suing under modified comparative negligence

States that follow modified comparative negligence laws place a limit on the percentage of fault a plaintiff can have for an accident and still recover. Many states generally cap this limit at equal or more than 50%. If the plaintiff is shown to be more than 50% at fault, they may not collect damages. Kansas and Illinois are modified comparative fault states. Therefore, in modified comparative negligence states, the plaintiff can only collect compensation if they are less than 50% at fault for the accident. However, their award would still be reduced by their percentage of fault.

For example:

  • The plaintiff is 0% at fault: They may collect 100% of damages.
  • The plaintiff is 49% at fault: They may collect 51% of damages.
  • The plaintiff is 51% at fault: They will not collect ANY damages.

Suing under contributory negligence

Contributory negligence laws mandate that plaintiffs who contribute ANY fault to the accident, regardless of how small the contribution was, cannot collect any damages from the party they are suing. In short, contributory negligence acts like an all-or-nothing rule in some states. Plaintiffs must be aware of this when bringing a personal injury claim or lawsuit in contributory negligence states. Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia are the only pure contributory negligence states.

Who is responsible for covering damages if I sue?

Bringing a lawsuit and going to trial can be expensive. Individuals don’t usually have the means to pay a large settlement award out of their own pocket. Therefore, one of the biggest factors that influences whether a lawsuit should be brought is the availability of insurance funds. An attorney will consider multiple potential recovery sources before bringing suit.

  • Defendant’s liability insurance: If the defendant (the person the plaintiff is suing) is found to be at fault for the accident, the plaintiff’s damages would be covered by the defendant’s insurance policy.
  • Uninsured motorist coverage: If the defendant does not carry any liability insurance, or an at-fault party cannot be identified because they left the scene of the accident, the plaintiff’s damages would be covered under their own uninsured motorist insurance.
  • Underinsured motorist coverage: If the defendant does not carry enough liability insurance to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries (for example: their liability policy limits are only $25,000 but you sustained a severe injury incurring $50,000 in medical bills), the plaintiff’s remaining damages after the amount exhausted from the defendant’s liability coverage would be triggered as a source of recovery.

How a car accident lawyer can help you recover compensation

A car accident lawyer can help you maximize the compensation of your car accident settlement by collecting evidence, handling the legal process, and negotiating with the insurance company. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, immediately seek medical attention. Due to the statute of limitations, it’s important to get started on your claim as soon as possible. Request a free case evaluation from a personal injury attorney at Brown & Crouppen, or call 888-795-0694 to get started.

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