Five Things to Know About Car Accident Settlement Agreements
A car accident can happen to anyone, and often has serious consequences. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were 43,951 motor vehicle crashes just in San Antonio in 2017.
More than 95 percent of accident cases settle out of court, and in many of those cases, victims try to negotiate their accident settlement on their own. If you have been in an accident and are working toward a settlement agreement, you should first consider these important points:
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.
2. Maintain a Record of Your Injuries
Regardless of whether you believe you have been injured, 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.
3. The Insurance Company Is Not on Your Side
If your accident has 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” as compassion. Be cautious about accepting the first offer, or any offer without getting independent counsel first.
4. Understand Your Options
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 review the facts and evidence and decide 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.
5. Know the Law
Many people are not aware of all of the laws and regulations that may apply in their case. Under Texas law, claims are decided under a modified comparative negligence rule. This means that if a jury would find the plaintiff 51 percent or more at fault in the accident that caused their injuries, they cannot recover damages.
Settlement practices are also 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 a settlement agreement has been made, the opportunity to pursue any additional damages may be foreclosed, regardless of any new facts or information becoming known.
Consult an Experienced San Antonio Attorney
A car accident can change your life. Protect your rights, and speak to an experienced car 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 may be able to help you.