What Does a Minor Car Accident Really Cost the Victim?
Every car accident is unique. This includes even minor fender benders. That means that there is no single answer to what a car accident settlement is worth.
There is no shortage of factors that goes into determining the total of a settlement. Working with a car accident attorney, victims of auto accidents need to total what the accident has cost them. This means taking a look at the individual expenses that they will incur, both immediately following the accident and later on.
Immediate Medical Bills
Just because an accident is minor does not mean that it won’t cause injuries. The nature of the accident, the vehicles involved, and a person’s age and underlying conditions can all affect whether he or she will suffer injuries.
For instance, a simple fender bender can be much more serious if one vehicle is a large truck and the other is a small car. A small collision can lead to serious injuries in an older individual. A victim with certain underlying medical conditions may be seriously injured in an accident that would cause only minor injuries to a healthy individual.
Any medical bills that you incur as a result of an accident should be included when factoring what your settlement is worth. This often represents one of the largest totals of your settlement value.
An ambulance ride to the hospital can cost anywhere from $500 to several thousand dollars. This is often not covered by insurance companies, especially if the city where your accident takes place uses a private ambulance service. The average hospital stay costs over $10,000. If you have to stay multiple days, you could incur that total for each day of your stay.
Surgeries, treatment for broken bones, and other expenses can quickly turn into a hefty medical bill.
Anticipating Ongoing Medical Bills
Immediate medical care isn’t the only expense you will incur as a result of your car accident. Depending on your injuries, you may also require ongoing care.
Therapy, rehabilitation, and medications are other medical expenses that could be included in your settlement. These are tough to calculate. Your attorney will likely file for your claim before you are finished receiving these treatments. For that reason, the total value of your ongoing care will likely be an estimated value.
Repairing Your Vehicle
The damages to your vehicle may not be factored into your settlement total. That is because most insurance companies will pay for those damages as they are submitted.
It is harder for insurance companies to fight these charges, as compared to medical bills or pain and suffering. However, if the insurance company has denied your claims for damages or tried to pay less than what you are owed, they may be added to your settlement total.
Getting in a car accident can lead to more than just pain and a visit to the hospital. If you get in a wreck on your way to work, or have to miss work because of your injuries, you could miss out on income you would have otherwise earned.
Whether you are living paycheck to paycheck or doing okay financially, this loss of income can still be a major blow. For that reason, lost wages are something that can be included in your settlement total. Your attorney will work with you to get the necessary documentation from your employer to prove the total amount of your lost wages.
Putting a Price on Pain and Suffering
Proving the amount of income that you lost because of a car accident is easy. Putting a price on your pain and suffering is less so.
The stress, pain, and anguish suffered as a result of a car accident is very real. It can lead to lasting mental illnesses, including PTSD and depression. Even if it does not reach this level, you are still owed something from the person responsible for your accident for the pain and suffering that you have endured.
Personal injury lawyers are experts at helping you put a value on your suffering. Based on your injuries and the circumstances of the accident, he or she will help you determine exactly how much to add to your settlement.
Other Expenses Car Accidents May Cause
Other expenses incurred may be added to your settlement total on a case-by-case basis. Some examples of expenses that your attorney may recommend adding to your settlement include:
- The cost of childcare you had to pay because of your injuries or as a direct result of the accident.
- Property damage incurred during the accident, including damage to property you had in your car at the time.
- The value of college classes that you missed because of the accident or your injuries.
- Expenses you suffered because of your lost wages. For example, if you were unable to pay rent and got evicted because of the income that you lost as a result of the accident, you may be able to add a portion to your settlement to represent this loss.
How Is a Settlement Total Calculated?
Adding up all of the above expenses that you have incurred or will incur as a result of the accident will help you figure out a rough estimate of what it will cost you. However, that total is not what your car accident lawyer will ask as a settlement. Instead, attorneys typically use a formula to determine what to ask for in a settlement.
The formula is usually the total amount of bills and expenses you have incurred and will incur, multiplied by around 3.
For instance, say that you incur the following expenses following an auto accident:
- $2,000 in medical bills
- $2,000 for ongoing therapy and rehabilitation for your injuries
- $1,000 in lost wages suffered
The total cost of your car accident is therefore $5,000. Multiply that total by 3 and you have $15,000. This is the average amount that your settlement would be worth. However, your attorney may recommend asking for a settlement around that total. It could be anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, depending on the severity of the accident and of the injuries that you suffered.
How Do Insurance Policy Maximum’s Effect a Settlement Total?
All insurance policies have maximums defined in their fine print. States typically define minimum totals that insurance policies must have. But it is up to the insurance company to set their maximum. They may offer a variety of policies with different maximums for customers to choose from.
State Minimum Requirement for Insurance Coverage
State minimums are usually listed for several categories. This includes accidents that cause bodily injury, those that cause a death, and a total minimum for damage to property.
Utah’s state minimum requirement for payment coverage include:
- $25,000 per individual for bodily injuries
- $65,000 per accident for bodily injuries
- $15,000 per accident for damage to property
Utah’s minimum car insurance requirements are about average compared to other states. Some states have much higher minimum requirements, which can also mean that insurance policies in those states are more expensive for drivers.
However, some states have much lower minimum requirements. For instance, Florida has a minimum coverage requirement of just $10,000 for property damage and $10,000 for personal injury protection.
One state, New Hampshire, does not even require that drivers have car insurance. The state has a minimum limit for coverage, but it only goes into effect if a driver chooses to purchase auto insurance.
If you are the victim of a car accident in a state with low minimum requirements, you could be left dealing with hefty medical bills or damages not covered by the other driver’s insurance policy.
Dealing with Maximum Insurance Payout Limits
Insurance policy maximum payouts will have an effect on the settlement that your attorney requests. A settlement filed against an auto insurance provider cannot equal more than the policy maximum. If an insurance policy has a maximum limit of $25,000, they will not settle for $30,000.
Instead, what you will need to do is file two separate cases. The first will be for the maximum limit of the insurance policy. This is filed against the insurance company. Then, your attorney may advise you to sue the individual that is responsible for the accident for the remaining $5,000.
Filing Claims with Your Own Insurance Company for Under-Insured Drivers
Many drivers on the road today carry only the minimum amount of car insurance required by their state. Some do not realize that they are carrying the minimum. Others do so to try to keep their monthly policy costs down.
If you are injured in an accident and the insurance policy of the person responsible has a maximum that is too low to cover your injuries, you can sue the individual. However, you do have another option as well.
Your own insurance policy may include under-insured motorist coverage. That means that you can file a claim with your own insurance provider for the bills you have incurred that are not covered by the settlement you got from the other driver’s insurance policy.
What Percentage of a Settlement Does a Car Accident Lawyer Take?
What your settlement is worth and what you actually receive are not the same total. In some cases, your settlement may be rejected, and you and your attorney may choose to settle out of court with the offending party for a lower amount.
If you do choose to hire a car accident lawyer to help you fight your case, you will also need to pay them a percentage of your final settlement.
Most personal injury lawyers operate under a contingency fee agreement. This means that rather than paying for their services by the hour or for a set total, you instead agree to pay them a percentage of your final settlement.
The percentage included in a contingency fee may vary from one lawyer to the next, or even from one case to the next. The average percentage is about one-third or 33 percent. Depending on the case, its complexity, and the projected total of the settlement, that percentage could be somewhere between 33 percent and 40 percent.
Does Settling Out of Court Affect the Settlement Total?
Unlike other types of legal cases, most car accident cases actually settle out of court. Depending on the circumstances of the accident and the amount asked for in the settlement, settling out of court could have an effect on the actual settlement that you receive.
Taking a lower settlement in order to settle out of court can be a tough decision to make. However, there are a number of reasons that a defendant and their attorney may choose to settle.
To start, settling out of court will usually mean gaining access to your settlement faster. If you have been dealing with medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses, you might be eager to get your settlement sooner rather than later. Taking a case to court can prolong it. In some cases, it could take anywhere from several months to several years to settle a case in court. In the meantime, you will be left to deal with your bills and expenses on your own.
Settling out of court can also help keep your legal costs down. A contingency fee means that you only have to pay your attorney if you win your case. And even then, you pay a percentage of your settlement instead of an hourly rate or set total. However, there are other expenses that clients are responsible for. This includes those incurred while your lawyer is building your case, like making photocopies or obtaining expert witnesses.
Determining What Your Settlement is Worth
A settlement for a car accident is as unique as the accident itself. But your car accident lawyer will be able to help you navigate determining exactly what your settlement should be worth. Using evidence from your case, research, and their own expert knowledge, they can help you determine a settlement that accurately represents the damages, pain, and suffering that you have endured.