What is the Average Car Accident Settlement Amount?

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Introduction

In this article we’ll be answering the question, “What is the average car accident settlement amount?” 

If you’ve been injured in a car accident, you’re probably curious to know what to expect from your car accident claim. You may have heard of some myths, like the 3x medical bills settlement calculation. 

But actually a car accident settlement is a lot more complicated than a simple calculation. It’s largely based on your verifiable economic and non-economic damages. It’s also dependent on insurance coverage and who was at fault for the accident. These circumstances can get complicated, so you may wish to get the advice of a Gainesville car accident lawyer to help you with your claim.

Don’t trust car accident settlement calculators

There is no auto accident settlement formula that really works.

If you search online for information about settling your car accident, you will probably find “settlement calculators.” These are tools on legal information sites. They ask you to enter information into a form about your injuries and costs related to the accident. They then produce a money range for what you might expect to get in an average car accident settlement with the insurance company. These tools can be helpful for you to start to understand the process of settling an auto accident claim. But they are simple tools that don’t take into account the many factors that ultimately determine how much you can recover. They certainly shouldn’t be used to replace advice from a car accident lawyer. 

There are just too many factors that affect a car accident settlement for these simple calculators to handle. Some of these factors revolve around insurance coverage. They include your insurance policy, the insurance of the at-fault driver and the insurance of any other involved or related people. The settlement calculators also can’t capture the complexity of the liability dispute and who was at fault in the accident. The liability issue, which is the determination of who was negligent, is best left to the judgment of an experienced injury lawyer. Sometimes fault is clear, like in most rear-end collisions. But there are often issues of comparative fault, where both drivers had some fault in causing the wreck. Your share of the total fault will reduce your recovery of damages in Florida. 

Finally, settlement calculators rely on a “multiplier” to determine your non-economic damages like pain and suffering and permanent injury. These multipliers may capture the way insurance adjusters look at your claim, but they are not specific enough to your case to be reliable. And they certainly won't produce an average car accident settlement amount you can trust. Every car accident case is different. All the factors that affect what a fair settlement would be need to be examined by an experienced car accident attorney.

Even state laws will affect what the average car accident settlement might be. For instance, in Florida the law is pure comparative negligence. That means that if the case were to go to trial, the jury would be asked to determine your percentage of fault in causing the accident. Maybe you were speeding or did something else wrong. They might determine that you were 20% at fault in causing the accident. That means you would only be compensated for the other 80% of your damages. Your award would be reduced. States other than Florida have different comparative negligence laws. There are also issues of setoffs in Florida. Your No-Fault Personal Injury Protection benefits pay out first in Florida. If you won an award for damages in court, the amount that your insurance paid you in PIP damages would be subtracted from your award. 

These are some of the reasons why relying on a settlement calculator is rarely a good idea. They can be useful if you are just starting to learn about car accident claims, but they shouldn’t be used to replace a consultation with a good personal injury attorney.

In this article, we’ll do our best to walk you through both the economic damages and non-economic damages that can affect your car accident claim. In addition, we’ll tell you about special considerations that affect liability and causation, two critical factors in any car accident settlement or trial.

Will hiring an attorney get me more than the average car accident settlement?

Yes, and in the vast majority of cases, hiring a lawyer does not mean your case will go to trial. A good car accident lawyer has the knowledge to analyze your claim and make a compelling argument to the insurance companies for a fair settlement.  

According to recent research by lawyers.com, claimants who work with an attorney receive a payout on average $60,000 higher than if they work alone. Having a lawyer also means you’re far more likely to receive a payout rather than walking away empty handed. Another study by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) found that people who have a lawyer handle their car accident claim recover on average 3.5 times more money. Even after the attorney’s contingency fee is subtracted out (typically about 33% of the settlement), people with attorney representation will often recover far more than if they handle the claim by themselves.

As a general rule, if your medical costs exceed $3,000 or you’re going to miss more than a week of work due to your injuries, it’s best you at least consult with a personal injury attorney. Many attorneys offer a free consultation. You should take advantage of that opportunity to find out if a lawyer can help you maximize your recovery.

When you find the right lawyer, you can focus on your recovery and not worry about all the details of getting a good settlement. But let’s dive into the factors that affect the typical car accident settlement now.

Primary factors that affect the average size of a car accident settlement

There are a number of factors that combine to determine what a fair settlement is for your car accident injury claim. These are some of the most important factors in that determination.

Insurance Coverage

Your own insurance policy will help to compensate you for your losses from a car accident. The Florida No Fault Law requires you to have at least $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection (PIP). This coverage is the first to pay for your medical treatment and lost wages. It pays without a determination of fault, so it is usually a straightforward matter of submitting your bills to your insurer. However, PIP only pays 80% of medical and 60% of lost wages up to the $10,000 limit. So you won’t be able to recover all your damages through PIP. That’s why you need to have Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage too. UM will pay for your damages if the other, at-fault driver does not have adequate coverage. There are other types of insurance you can purchase that will also help you after a car wreck. Collision coverage will help pay for damage to your vehicle. Medpay coverage will pay your medical bills that exceed your PIP limits. Also, any umbrella policy might cover you as well.

If another driver was at-fault in the accident and caused your damages, you will want to make a claim on their insurance policies. Florida requires $10,000 minimum of Property Damage Liability coverage. That is the policy that you will make a claim on for any damage to your vehicle. Then you will want to make a claim on the driver’s Florida Bodily Injury Liability (BI) policy. This policy should pay for your damages that aren’t covered under your own PIP coverage. This includes economic damages and non-economic damages. 

The two key coverages for your claim will probably be how much coverage you have in Uninsured Motorist (UM) and how much coverage the other driver has in Bodily Injury Liability (BI). Unfortunately, people often find out that the combined coverage is not enough to pay for all their damages if they’ve been badly injured. We recommend that you purchase as much UM as you can afford to protect yourself.

The Presence of a Police Report 

Having a police report is important to getting a good start towards a fair car accident settlement that is considerably higher than the average.. Florida requires most car wrecks to be reported to the police, who will then make the report. The report is not admissible in trial, but it will contain useful information that your attorney will use to start pursuing your case. The report includes the police officer’s conclusions about what happened in the accident. It also documents the names and insurance information of the drivers and lists witnesses. You will be given a form that tells you how to access your free copy of the police report by the police who comes to the accident scene. Make sure to give your attorney a copy of the police report as soon as you can.

Evidence Collected

Evidence collected at the scene by the police or other investigators can help make the difference in your settlement. Pictures are often the most valuable evidence. They will document the damage to the vehicles, the position of the vehicles after the collision, the appearance of any skid marks, the weather conditions, and many other factors that may have contributed to the accident.

Witness Testimony 

The testimony of witnesses can help in proving liability or who was at fault in the accident. If there are cooperative eyewitnesses who are willing to give a statement it will help your case.

Car Inspection

After the initial investigation, your lawyer may want to have your car inspected prior to it being repaired. The inspection might look for damage to the vehicle that requires measurements or a trained inspector. The black box in your car may be analyzed for data about the crash. Air bags will be investigated to see whether they should have deployed or not. If there are possible problems with your car that caused the crash or your injuries, those will also be analyzed for a product liability case. For instance, tire failures or seat-back failures often require a separate product liability suit against the manufacturer.

As your case progresses your medical treatments will be the major piece of evidence for proving your damages. It’s important to be proactive in getting medical treatment. Gaps in treatment will be used by the defense to try to undermine your case.

Liability Dispute

If liability is disputed, the other driver’s insurance company will use this to try to pay you less. Florida has a comparative negligence law. That means that the other driver only has to pay for damages caused by their proportion of the overall faults that caused the accident. For example, if you were speeding and the other driver ran a red light, you might be found to be partially at fault in the accident, say 20%. Then the other driver would only have to pay 80% of your damages. Ultimately this is a question for a jury, but the insurance adjusters will try to predict what a jury on liability in coming up with their settlement offers.

Negligence

Pure comparative negligence states like Florida allow you to recover from another driver even if you were more at fault than they were in causing the accident. For instance, if you were 95% responsible for an accident and the other driver was 5% responsible, you could recover that 5% from them. However, if they were injured in that accident, they will probably be making a claim against you too.

Partial comparative negligence states have a limit of fault that bars any recovery. Typically, it is 50%. So in a state with partial comparative negligence laws, you would only be able to recover from another driver if you were less than 50% at fault in the accident. If so, your recovery would still be reduced by your proportion of the fault. If you are 50% or more at fault, you will recover nothing.

Contributory negligence states don’t allow you to recover anything if you had any fault in causing the accident. This is a harsh rule and is only used in four states. Under this law, you would not be able to recover damages from the other driver even if you only had 5% of the fault in causing the wreck.

Property Damage

The amount of property damage to your vehicle will affect how much your overall claim is worth. The property damage is usually handled separately from the bodily injury claim. That’s because there is a separate property damage policy that you can make a claim on. It’s also because the property damage claim is easier to value than the bodily injury claim.

Medical Bills / Current and future

Did you receive prompt medical attention? Any delay in seeking medical treatment will be used by the at-fault driver’s insurance company to minimize the settlement they will offer. They will say that your injuries must not have been serious if you didn’t seek immediate medical treatment.

Existing Injuries

Were there existing injuries before the accident? The insurance company will not pay you for pre-existing injuries, those that you had before the accident. They will scrutinize your medical records in order to argue that you had pre-existing conditions that are the real cause of the accident. However, the at-fault party is liable for aggravations to pre-existing injuries. So we will counter their arguments by showing that the accident made any of your pre-existing conditions worse.

Medical Care & Severity of Injuries

Was the care appropriate or excessive?

The insurance company might try to argue that you did excessive treatments in an attempt to inflate the value of your claim. Insurance companies play hardball to protect their profits. They are quite willing to accuse people of being liars if it will save them money. 

Were there gaps in treatment?

A major way people hurt the value of their settlement is by letting long periods of time go by where they don’t receive follow-up medical care. Insurers will argue that this shows they didn’t have a serious injury or that their injury was caused by something other than the accident. It’s important for your health and for your claim to keep seeking medical care until your condition is stable.

Are the injuries temporary or permanent?

Florida only allows you to be compensated for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, if you have a permanent injury caused by the car accident. A doctor will need to make the determination of permanent injury. Even if you don’t have a permanent injury, you can recover for all economic damages caused by the auto accident.

The 3 times medical rule is a myth.

People have often heard that you should receive 3 times your medical bills in a car accident settlement. This is an oversimplification of the process of getting a settlement and it isn’t realistic. As we’ve shown, there are too many factors that affect how much you can get in a settlement. Every case is different. Some cases can result in much more than 3 times your medical bills, and other cases will be worth less

Lost Wages / Current and future

Lost wages are a type of economic damages that you should recover in your settlement. If the injuries from your accident cause you to miss work and not be paid, then you should be compensated for those losses. If you sustain a permanent injury you may have to miss future workdays, you might have to find a new type of job, or you might not be able to work at all in the future. Your car accident settlement should compensate you for your future losses of income as well as your past losses of income.

Pain and Suffering

The multiplier method is one method insurance companies use to determine how much to offer you to settle your claim. They will add up all your economic damages, also called “special damages,” and then multiply it by a number (usually between 1 and 5). The resulting number is how much they will offer you. The size of the multiplier depends on how serious your injury is and whether you can prove a permanent impairment or disability from it. Your portion of fault in the accident will also affect the multiplier. The multiplier method is arbitrary. How much is permanent pain worth? If your medical bills were only $10,000, but you are left with permanent pain and disability, would $40,000 really compensate you for that disability?

The daily rate method is another way to reach a settlement number. It is used like the multiplier method to come up with a value for pain and suffering. In the daily rate or “per diem” method, you total the number of days you expect to suffer from the pain from the injury. Then you put a value on a day of suffering. That value is often related to how much you earn in your job. If you earn $150 per day, you would multiply that by the number of days you suffered from the pain. The resulting number is how much you are willing to settle your non-economic damages claim for. As with the multiplier method, the daily rate method is a pretty arbitrary way of putting a value on pain, especially permanent pain.

Special Considerations that affect your claim in Florida

Florida’s No Fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) law will affect the value of your settlement. That’s because your own PIP coverage should pay you up to $10,000 of your economic damages. You can only seek a bodily injury liability claim from the other driver for bills that your own PIP doesn’t cover.

Florida also limits your ability to recover for pain and suffering damages. You must have a documented permanent injury to get compensated for pain and suffering.

Any comparative negligence you have in causing the wreck will reduce your claim.

Coming to a Final Value

Now that you know all the important elements that go into determining a fair settlement, it’s important to understand how working with an attorney can affect whether or not the insurance company will actually pay you more than the average car accident settlement.

Whether or Not You Work with a Lawyer

Whether or not you work with a car accident lawyer is a major decision you must make in your pursuit of a car accident settlement. You are not required to have an attorney represent you, but in the vast majority of cases, having a personal injury attorney will help you recover more money. 

Being represented by a lawyer will also save you a lot of stress and work. You won’t have to learn how to communicate with insurance companies, you won’t have to create a settlement proposal, and you won’t be in a position to make mistakes that compromise your claim.

Negotiations

Negotiating with insurers can be the most stressful part of your injury claim. Negotiation requires experience and the willingness to walk away when the offer isn’t reasonable. 

Knowing fair value

Your lawyer will have the experience and knowledge to come to a fair value for your claim. That way he will make a fair settlement proposal to the insurance company. If the insurance company counter offers with and unreasonable value, negotiations will proceed until a fair value is reached that you agree to accept. 

Knowing the insurer 

Different insurance companies may use different methods in negotiating settlements. An experienced attorney will know the different insurance companies and how they operate, and thus be able to negotiate with them effectively.

Negotiation is an art, not a science

You want to be represented by an attorney who will do his best to get you a fair settlement. You don’t want to hire a big injury firm that is a “mill.” Those mills often have non-attorneys or junior attorneys handling your case and the negotiations with insurance companies.

Leveraging the Threat of Trial

Insurance companies are known to want to underpay claims whenever possible. They will try to minimize your claim to pay you less. With a good car accident lawyer you can often get a settlement that is fair and avoid the stressful and time-consuming process of trial. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the insurance company will dig in its heels and refuse to pay you a fair settlement. That’s when your lawyer will have to file a lawsuit and get a jury to value your damages. It’s important from the start of the settlement process that the insurance company know you are represented by a lawyer who is not afraid to go to trial. There are many law firm “mills” that only settle cases and never go to trial. It is best if you can settle your case without the risk, delay and stress of trial. But if the insurance company won’t pay you fair value, you want a lawyer who can handle a trial.

Conclusion

Coming up with a value for your car accident settlement is a complex process. You can use the information in this article to get a good overview of how your claim value will be determined. However, this information is general in nature. Your own case will have specific issues that affect your settlement. It’s best to consult a car accident injury lawyer and see if he or she can help you with your case. If you have a very small claim, you might be better off handling it yourself. But in most cases, having a lawyer represent you is the way to go.

"Eric Kem was a Fantastic Lawyer...knowledgeable, patient as well as kind. He helped me understand the law, know my rights and not feel like an idiot for asking so many questions. I had a better outcome then I ever expected. I would highly recommend him!!!"

Crystal DeJesus, Gainesville Florida

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