To many, it simply means to resolve a car accident claim. You know, finish it up, get it done . . . whether out-of-court or in court.
However, to a car accident lawyer like me, the term “car accident settlements” refers to just one of the two main ways that claims are resolved. To me, car accident settlements occur when your claim is resolved by agreement, not by a judge or jury in a contested trial in court.
The overwhelming majority of claims are resolved by agreement, and this article is about those out-of-court car accident settlements and how to achieve them.
Reaching Car Accident Settlements By Agreement
More than 90% of all car accident claims ultimately settle by agreement.
So this is a topic we should spend some time on.
Car accident settlements are made because both sides – you and the insurance company Bad Guys – recognize that filing a lawsuit and going to trial takes time, costs money and leads to an uncertain result. By “uncertain result,” I mean that you never know in advance what a jury (or judge) will decide in your case. You know what you think they should decide, but you never know if they will.
Not only do most cases settle by agreement, but most settle before a case is even filed in court. This is certainly true of the routine cases you should be handling yourself.
However, car accident settlements can still occur after a lawsuit is filed. In fact, sometimes just filing the case causes the Bad Guys to increase their offer and leads to a settlement. Another time the Bad Guys are likely to ante up more money is at the other end of the court process, near the time of trial. Some claims even settle “on the courthouse steps” or even, occasionally, in the middle of trial.
Generally, there are two reasons why car accident claims cannot be settled by agreement and must be resolved by a trial. One is that fault is an issue and there is a disagreement over who caused the accident. The other is that you and the Bad Guys have dramatically different opinions on how much they should pay you as compensation for all you had to go through.
My advice: fight hard for your settlement position but be practical in your decisions about whether to file a case in court. Make sure the issues you are fighting over are worth the fight. Don’t spend a dollar’s worth of time and money fighting over a 10 cent issue!
How To Reach Car Accident Settlements
Here’s what you do to try to settle your car accident claim with the Bad Guys.
Initially, concentrate on recovering from your injuries. Don’t make an injury claim until you fully recover from your injuries.
When you make a claim, you tell a story – the story of your accident and how your injuries affected you. You don’t know the whole story until you fully recover and return to your normal, pre-accident lifestyle, so that’s when you make your claim.
Once you recover, you gather all your medical bills, your medical records and documentation of any income you lost. You send all of these records to the Bad Guys with a letter telling the story of your accident. This is commonly called a Settlement Letter or a Demand Letter. It concludes with a “demand” – a statement of how much you want to be paid to compensate you for all you have gone through.
Normally, you hear from the Bad Guys somewhere between one week and one month after you send your letter to them. They will write or call you and, in essence, try to poke holes in your case. They will tell you why they don’t think they owe you anything or why they don’t think they should pay as much as you asked for.
Then, after telling you everything that is wrong with your case, they will spin around and (if it is clear that their driver caused the accident) make a settlement offer.
Normally, there is then a back-and-forth, offer-and-counter-offer process that, with luck, will lead to a car accident settlement.
After Car Accident Settlements Are Made
As part of the process of settling your claim, you will have to sign a Release which waives your right to make any other claims arising out of your accident. If you are unsure about the meaning or effect of the Release, consult a lawyer.