Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident, especially the settlement process, can cause a strain on your life. In addition to putting your life back together – healing from any illnesses and repairing damage to your vehicle – you are also facing the potential headache of navigating the world of car accident settlements.
Calculating Average Car Accident Settlements
Recovering from a car accident can be painful and expensive. The estimated annual cost of car crashes around the country is $230.6 billion.
If you are injured in a car accident, you can seek compensation for any losses you suffer from the other driver’s insurance company. This kind of settlement is not like winning the lottery – instead, the goal is to make you whole again, to put you back in the position you were before the accident took place.
Calculating the average settlement in these cases will largely depend on the extent and type of injuries you suffered, as well as how much property was damaged as a result of the crash. If you walked away with minor injuries and minimal damage to your car, a settlement would be significantly lower than an accident resulting in a total loss to your vehicle.
There are two types of calculations that should be made when making accident claims – special damages and general damages.
Special damages are the easiest to calculate because these are the damages that you will have receipts for.
Anything that you have to spend money on, or anything that you will lose money on can be included in your special damages when you make a car accident injury claim. These include, but are not limited to:
- Medical expenses, including hospital bills, or fees for your general practitioner, physical therapist, mental therapist, chiropractor, or even your dentist
- Money spent repairing or replacing your vehicle
- Car rental fees
- Gas money spent traveling to and from appointments
- Lost wages from time spent away from work
Because these losses have specific numbers attached, it is easy to receive compensation for them.
For example, after an intense car crash, you may pay $10,000 out of pocket because of hospital, doctor, and physical therapist bills. You may also miss three weeks of work, which could be another $2,000 gone due to lost wages. Your car may be written off as a total loss, meaning that you have to spend another $15,000 for a car. Before you can go buy a new car, however, you are forced to spend $200 in car rental fees. Your special damages in this scenario would come to $27,000.
Insurance companies will try to contest everything, so keep a copy of every receipt or medical bill in order to prove your expenses.
General damages represent compensation for intangible losses. These are much harder to place a number on because they are thought of as “pain and suffering.”
Pain and suffering may include:
- Sleepless nights, when your aches and pains keep you awake;
- Being unable to maintain your normal fitness routine because of broken bones or migraines;
- Coping with additional stress every time you get into a vehicle; or
- Severe back pain if you bend over to pick up your child.
These are all normal outcomes in the aftermath of a car crash. Unfortunately, they can be very difficult to quantify. Since you cannot put a price tag on a good night’s sleep, or going on a satisfying run, general damages are typically based off of the total price of your medical bills, which are quantifiable. You may receive 1-2 times the amount of your special damages as your general damages.
Speak with your personal injury attorney to discuss a likely range of general damages, based on the nature and extent of your injuries.
What to Take Into Consideration When Calculating Your Car Accident Settlement
Another factor that may play into the amount you are able to receive as part of your car accident settlement is what the policy limits of the other driver’s insurance is.
In Arizona, drivers must have minimum liability insurance:
- $15,000 bodily-injury liability for one person and $30,000 for two or more people
- $10,000 property-damage liability
While these minimum requirements may be enough to compensate for some injuries and certain repairs for your vehicle, they may not be enough to completely replace your vehicle – after all, the average car now costs $34,000, more than three times the property damage liability minimum.
What’s worse, the other driver may be driving without insurance. If this is the case, you may need to speak with your own insurance provider to determine what your own policy coverage is.
If the insurance is not enough to cover your damages, you should speak with your personal injury attorney to determine whether you should file a lawsuit against the other driver. In Arizona, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit is 2 years from the date of the accident. This gives you some time to physically recover and determine what your actual losses amounted to.
Finally, if the other driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you may be able to receive additional punitive damages. These types of damages are not available in every car accident case, but due to the severe risks of driving drunk, Arizona allows plaintiffs to seek punitive damages to punish the driver who was under the influence in these situations.
Four Tips for Maximizing Your Settlement Amount
1. Seek medical attention as soon as possible
If you are in an auto accident, you should get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible for common car accident injuries. After intense events, like being hit by another car, our bodies produce a lot of adrenaline, which masks symptoms of serious and potentially life-threatening injuries. Call 911 at the scene of the accident if you think someone is seriously hurt.
In addition to getting much needed medical care for any injuries resulting from the crash, seeking immediate medical attention will create a contemporary record of injuries suffered as a result of the car accident. Make sure you discuss all of your symptoms with your doctor, and do not downplay any pain you feel. Headaches are especially common after car accidents, and they can be a sign of a traumatic brain injury.
If you wait to seek medical treatment, the insurance company may try to argue that the injuries came from something else. This can make it more difficult to receive compensation for your medical bills.
2. Document everything
Beginning from the time of the accident itself, document everything. Take photographs of everything you can think of, including:
- Your vehicle;
- The other vehicle;
- Street signs at the intersection; and
- Any personal property damaged in the accident
As you begin to receive medical treatment and heal from your injuries, continue taking photographs to document your progress. This is especially true for bruises that may appear on your face, shoulder, or knees that might not fully develop until several days after the accident. If you are struggling to walk after the accident, you could consider filming your progress through physical therapy as further evidence of the challenges you are facing.
You should keep every receipt and bill you receive while receiving treatment for your injuries and repairing your vehicle. This will help you prove how much money you spent on recovering from your injury. Keep track of your mileage to and from medical appointments so you can include gas money in your expense calculation.
Maintain a file for all of these documents so they do not get lost. You may need to keep them for more than a year, so create a safe spot for your documents.
3. Keep a calendar
Keep a calendar or diary as you recover. This will also be a contemporaneous record of how the quality of your life has suffered as a result of the car accident.
You should include:
- Every medical appointment, whether you are getting an x-ray, visiting the chiropractor or physical therapist, or speaking with your general practitioner on the phone;
- A record of how much pain, and what type of pain you experience every day;
- Notes on what you are physically unable to do as a result of even minor injuries stemming from the accident; and
- The date you return to work, and any work you are unable to complete due to injuries.
These notes may be invaluable for receiving higher compensation for pain and suffering due to the accident. This type of settlement can take months to finalize. Having specific evidence documenting the impact the car accident had on your life will strengthen your claim considerably.
Maintaining a daily or weekly record now is excellent evidence to present to a judge or jury. Remember – it’s very difficult to recreate notes from memory. Even if you are able to recall specific information from months, or even years, ago, the accuracy of your memory can be challenged by opposing counsel if you go to trial.
4. Don’t accept a quick offer
Insurance companies may try to offer you a low settlement quickly. Resist the temptation to take it. Often, car accident victims may not know the extent of their injuries immediately after the accident. Instead, continue to seek medical treatment and focus on your healing.
Before you accept an offer, make sure you understand what it will and will not cover. One viral story shared a woman’s first-hand experience of getting hit by a drunk driver when she was 19. She accepted a settlement offer before realizing it did not cover dental work. The accident resulted in a severe tooth problem, which affected her ability to get jobs down the road.
Waiting to accept an offer may seem like a risk when bills are piling up and if you are out of work because of the accident. However, taking the first offer may create more problems and result in unnecessary hardships down the road.
How Petersen Johnson can Help You Navigate Your Car Accident Settlement
Our team of personal injury lawyers has helped negotiate settlements for more than 20 years. We understand the ins and outs of the settlement process and have worked with many insurance adjusters over the years.
Your life doesn’t stop after an accident, and we don’t either. We meet with accident victims within two hours of the initial call because we believe in getting the ball rolling right away.
We also maintain relationships with medical practitioners in Arizona who will wait to collect payment for services. This offers relief to our clients, who may otherwise have trouble paying their medical bills.
Finally, we do not collect any fees from you until we win your claim. We do the heavy lifting for you so you can focus on getting your life back on track while recovering from your car accident.