Five Things to Know About Car Accident Settlement Agreements
A car accident can happen to anyone and often has serious consequences. If you suffer injuries in a crash, it is always important that you understand your legal rights and how the process of seeking compensation works. You should not wait to contact a San Antonio car accident attorney who can assess your options and guide you through every step of the process.
Car Accidents Can Happen to You
According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 43,951 motor vehicle crashes just in San Antonio in one recent year.
Consider the following resulting from those crashes:
- 5,359 non-incapacitating injuries
- 15,501 possible injuries
- 951 suspected serious injuries
- 143 fatalities
The truth is that any time you are driving or riding in a motor vehicle, there is the possibility of an accident occurring and resulting in serious injuries that can change your life. Never assume that a crash will not happen to you, and always be ready to contact an experienced attorney if you suffer injuries and believe another driver is at fault.
Settlement Offers and Agreements
After a crash that causes injuries, you can seek compensation from at-fault parties by filing an insurance claim against that driver’s auto policy. The insurance company will likely make a quick settlement offer, which will likely be very low. They are hoping injured crash victims accept a first lowball offer, so they can resolve the claim for as little as possible. Always have your lawyer review a settlement offer before you accept anything.
If the insurance process does not lead to a reasonable offer, your attorney can escalate the matter by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Just because you have a lawsuit does not mean your case will go to trial, however.
More than 95 percent of accident cases settle out of court due to negotiations between your attorney and the at-fault driver. Whether your case settles before or after filing a lawsuit, it is important to know some basic things about car accident settlements.
1. Know the Value of Your Claim
The most basic principle of a fair settlement is that it will compensate for the actual damages the accident has caused. This includes all economic damages, such as property loss, medical expenses (those already incurred as well as those anticipated in the future), lost wages, and loss of earning potential for long-term injuries or permanent disabilities, and non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. Determining the real monetary value of all of your damages may be difficult to do alone.
Have a skilled injury lawyer calculate your losses. If you later realize you underestimated your losses, you cannot seek additional compensation if you already accepted a settlement offer. You need to make sure you get your damages right from the start.
Car accident attorneys can use different resources to calculate your past and future damages. These include:
- Medical bills from all healthcare providers
- Income statements and letters from your employer showing lost hours and wages
- Medical experts who can estimate the costs of future treatment
- Financial and occupational experts who can estimate future lost income
- Pain journals and testimony of those close to you regarding your pain and suffering
- Psychological examinations
These can all add up to a much higher-value claim than you might expect. Intangible losses like pain and suffering can be valuable but can also be difficult to fully estimate. If you do not ask for the full amount you deserve from the start, your settlement negotiations will stem from much lower numbers than they should.
2. Maintain a Record of Your Injuries
Regardless of whether you believe you suffered injuries, you should always seek medical attention immediately after an accident. Some injuries take hours or even days to fully manifest, such as traumatic brain injuries and soft-tissue neck or spinal injuries. Only a medical professional can accurately diagnose internal and “unseen” injuries, and a complete medical record from the time of the accident forward is essential evidence to support any future claims.
Your medical records need to show a specific diagnosis as soon after your accident as possible. This helps you demonstrate that your injuries were the result of the specific accident.
Your doctor should also make treatment recommendations, and you should keep track of all documentation regarding your treatment plan. You should stick to the treatment plan, as failing to do so might indicate that your injuries are not that serious or that your injuries did not heal faster due to a lack of treatment.
Take notes of all of your medical-related losses, including:
- All prescriptions and over-the-counter medications purchased
- Medical equipment rented or purchased
- Every trip to the doctor or physical therapy, including gas and mileage
Not all of your medical costs will be clear from your bills, so you want to keep careful records of your injuries, your pain and limitations, and other out-of-pocket expenses. These records can only make the claim and financial recovery process easier.
3. The Insurance Company Is Not on Your Side
People have insurance coverage to cover their liability for causing accidents and injuries, so you might expect insurers to pay claims for car crashes without much question. However, always keep in mind that insurance companies are corporations first, and their priority is limiting liability and payouts, and they work to do this in many different ways.
If your accident caused you to suffer long-term injuries or disabilities, you may require ongoing medical treatments and rehabilitation. However, insurance companies may try to cut their costs by denying or limiting medical claims. They may assert that certain treatments were unnecessary or that the medical professional overcharged for their care. The true cost of injuries is, therefore, often minimized in the effort to limit liability.
Even in cases where you may be the insurance company’s own customer (such as when you have been involved in an accident with an uninsured driver, or you have the same insurance provider as the at-fault driver), the insurance company is not on your side. Insurance companies are usually owned by shareholders, and their first priority is protecting profits for them. The insurance adjuster’s job is to achieve the smallest settlement possible. They are working to protect the insurance company’s interests, not yours.
Some insurance companies will offer quick settlements before damages can even be fully known, in the effort to minimize claim payouts. Therefore, do not mistake “efficiency” for compassion. Be cautious about accepting the first offer or any offer without getting independent counsel first.
Some tactics that insurance adjusters use include:
- Trying to get you to make recorded statements against your interest
- Convincing you to accept the first offer even though it is too low
- Telling you that you do not need to consult with an attorney
- Investigating your social media and other aspects of your life to disprove the severity of your injuries
- Challenging the policyholder’s liability for the accident
Any of these can result in a very low offer, and you want the right lawyer reviewing your offers and negotiating for higher amounts if needed. You can expect the insurer to fight against liability, so you want a legal team fighting for your rightful financial recovery.
4. Understand Your Options
Even if you believe you will accept a settlement offer, talk to a lawyer to understand all of your options, so you do not later regret your decision to settle.
Car accident cases resolve in two different ways:
- Accepting an out-of-court settlement agreement with the insurance company
- Taking your case to trial where a jury will decide whether you should receive compensation
While a jury trial requires significantly more resources than a settlement, you should not rush into an agreement just because it is on the table.
Consider why the other party wants to settle your claim. It may be because settlement will be less expensive than any of the alternatives. That means that assessing the fairness of a settlement offer first requires an understanding of all of the options available, including a jury trial, bench trial, arbitration, and mediation.
While jury trials are self-explanatory, in a bench trial, the judge alone hears the facts, considers the evidence, and makes the decision. Arbitration is a type of alternative dispute resolution. In the arbitration process, a tribunal or neutral third party reviews the facts and evidence and decides on the outcome of the case. Mediation is another way to resolve the dispute outside of court. A neutral third party acts as the mediator and tries to reach a fair resolution. All of these options have different costs and benefits to the parties.
When you are deciding whether or not to accept a settlement offer, you should not only consider the amount offered, but also how a settlement might compare to your other options. It is important to have the counsel of a car accident lawyer in San Antonio when you are deciding whether a settlement agreement is the best option in your case.
5. Know the Law
Many people are not aware of all of the laws and regulations that may apply in their case.
Settlement practices are governed by law. The Texas Insurance Code provides that insurance companies may not engage in unfair claim settlement practices, such as knowingly making misrepresentations. However, the protections offered by law may be limited once a victim signs a settlement agreement. After you sign a settlement agreement, the opportunity to pursue any additional damages may be foreclosed, regardless of any new facts or information that may come to light.
The best way to know how a settlement agreement aligns with Texas car accident laws is to have a lawyer you can trust. Knowledgeable attorneys will understand car accident laws and regulations and can review your agreement to see if it upholds your rights and interests.
Consult an Experienced San Antonio Attorney
A car accident can change your life, and each car accident claim takes its own unique path. Some people resolve their cases in court, while others accept settlement offers. The best options will depend on the strength of your case, the value of the offer on the table, and other factors.
Protect your rights to financial recovery, and speak to an experienced personal injury accident attorney before accepting any settlement offer. Contact The Law Offices of George Salinas at (210) 225-0909 or online today, and schedule a free consultation to learn if we can help you.
For more information about car accidents and personal injury law review some of our other blogs such as: