What to Know About the First Settlement Offer
It’s not uncommon for the other driver’s insurance company to make an initial offer within hours or days of your car accident. However, it’s typically in your best interest to decline that offer as it rarely represents everything that you are likely entitled to under California’s personal injury laws. Instead, it’s generally best to consult with a personal injury attorney who can review the settlement offer and determine whether it is worth accepting.
Why Should You Avoid Taking an Initial Offer?
The key reason why you want to avoid taking the first offer in a personal injury case is that it’s unlikely to be worth what you are entitled to. This is because the insurance company is hoping that you will be so worried about resolving the case quickly that you will accept a lowball offer.
If you do agree to settle the case quickly, it allows the other driver’s insurance company to save money, which could be good news for its executives and shareholders. However, it also means that you might not have enough to pay medical bills, recoup lost wages and pay other future costs related to your car accident.
Unless you are a personal injury attorney yourself, you have no idea if the first offer that you see represents the best offer. Even if you are a legal professional, you can’t know how much your case is worth until you have had a chance to review it with the help of outside counsel.
It’s worth noting that you generally cannot seek future damages after the case has been settled. Therefore, if you underestimate how much you’ll need to maintain a reasonable lifestyle after your car crash, you’ll be liable for any damages that you didn’t account for.
You Might Be Entitled to More Than the Cost of Medical Bills and Lost Wages
At a minimum, a California law attorney will likely attempt to recover the cost of medical bills related to your accident. This person will also attempt to recover wages lost because you were unable to work after a crash. However, you may also be entitled to lost future earnings, a financial award for mental anguish and damages for the loss of consortium with a spouse.
The value of lost future earnings is determined by a number of variables including your level of education, where you are located and projected inflation during the course of your career. This calculation will also take into account any raises that you would have likely received during the course of your career.
After a car crash, it’s not uncommon for individuals to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Symptoms may include nightmares, an inability to get into a vehicle or an inability to drive past the scene of an accident. In many cases, this condition can be treated with medication, therapy or a combination of the two.
A loss of consortium means that you are no longer able to have a romantic relationship with your spouse. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you won’t be able to maintain relationships with friends, family members or others who you interacted with prior to a crash. Therefore, additional compensation may be added to a settlement to account for those losses.
However, it’s unlikely that these types of damages will be included in the initial offer made by the insurance company. Therefore, you could be losing out on thousands of dollars or more by accepting the first offer that you receive.
What Happens If the Other Driver Has Inadequate Coverage?
It’s important to understand that an insurance company is only liable to pay damages up to the limits established in a driver’s policy. For instance, if the defendant in your case only has $100,000 in bodily injury coverage, the insurance company representing that motorist can only offer up to $100,000 for medical bills and related costs.
While this may seem like a substantial figure, it may not be enough to cover your losses. In such a scenario, you would likely need to engage in settlement talks with both the insurance company and the motorist who was responsible for your injuries.
Although you may be entitled to compensation from both parties, it’s generally worthwhile to consult with a California law attorney prior to making any decisions about the case. This will help to ensure that you retain the right to file a lawsuit against any party that may be liable for damages in the matter.
You Have the Right to Take the Case to Court
In the state of California, you have two years from the date of an accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. This means that you have the ability to seek compensation even if you don’t agree to an insurance company’s offer to settle the matter. In some cases, you’ll have more than two years to file a lawsuit.
This may be true if you were a minor when the crash occurred or if you were not mentally fit to file a lawsuit within that period of time. If you were incarcerated for any reason during the statute of limitations period, that clock would likely toll until you were released.
Ultimately, your ability to take the matter to court should relieve you of any pressure that you might feel to settle as quickly as possible. There is a good chance that any legal fees that you incur will be paid by the defendant as part of any compensation package awarded by a judge or jury.
It’s also worth pointing out that you can still settle the case at any time after a trial has begun. In fact, it’s not unheard of for parties to a personal injury case to come to a settlement after a verdict has been reached in court.
How Can an Attorney Help You Get a Favorable Outcome In Your Case?
One of the first things that an attorney will likely do is review the facts of the case itself. This will help your representative get a feel for how the crash happened and how the facts in the case might influence his or her legal strategy.
After learning more about the case, your attorney will then take a look at the initial offer made by the insurance company or other parties in your case. Your legal advocate will then explain the terms of the deal and what it would mean to accept it.
Although you will likely be advised to decline the offer, you have the right to take the deal if you feel like it makes sense to do so. Regardless of your decision, an attorney is ethically bound to ensure that you have all the information that you need to make an informed decision.
If you do decide to decline the offer, your attorney will likely take a variety of steps to help you get the best possible outcome in your case. For example, this person might hire an expert witness to interpret data to a jury. This may help to convince those serving on the jury that you weren’t responsible for the crash.
Furthermore, your attorney may use the discovery process to find evidence that might negate the need to take a case to court. During discovery, your attorney might discover that the other driver was impaired, distracted or otherwise engaged in activities that violated his or her duty of care.
If you are presented with a settlement offer from an insurance company after a car accident, it’s generally a good idea to turn it down. At a minimum, you should present it to an attorney who may be able to tell you more about the pros and cons of agreeing to the deal. Regardless of how you choose to resolve your personal injury case, working with an attorney may provide you with enough information to navigate the legal process with confidence. Contact us today for your FREE consultation !