Dealing with a car accident can be incredibly difficult—not to mention more complex than you may initially have anticipated. You may find yourself with questions about how the process works, how long it may take to get a settlement offer in hand, and what happens if you do not accept the initial settlement offer made by the insurance company.
What Does the Car Accident Settlement Process Look Like?
After a car accident, whether the accident involves significant property damage or injuries of any kind, you should report the accident to the police. Then, contact a lawyer. A lawyer can then file a claim on your behalf with the liable driver’s insurance company.
Once the lawyer files your claim—or, if you choose to file your claim on your own, you get in touch with the insurance company—the insurance company will look at your accident and the circumstances that led to it.
That may include:
- Talking to the driver covered by that company
- Taking statements from any witnesses
- Looking at the police report
- Evaluating photos or video records from the accident scene
In some cases, the liable driver may take full responsibility for the accident, making it easier for you to get compensation for the damage to your vehicle and your injuries. In other cases, you may need to work with your lawyer to prove that the other driver’s actions caused your auto accident.
Initial Settlement Offers
Frequently, once the insurance company has the opportunity to evaluate the accident, you will get a settlement offer. In the case of property damage, that may mean an offer based on the amount it should cost to repair or replace your vehicle. On the other hand, in the case of serious injuries, that offer may represent just a percentage of the financial damages you suffered as a direct result of the accident.
When you receive a settlement offer, you have two choices: you can either accept that offer or continue to negotiate. If you need to negotiate for the compensation you deserve, working with a lawyer can make it easier to evaluate the full compensation you deserve and present your claim to the insurance company.
The negotiation process may continue for some time after an initial settlement offer, especially in disputed liability cases. You may need to work closely with your lawyer as you deal with the insurance company.
Most car accident claims settle through the negotiation process.
In some cases, especially cases of disputed liability or extreme injuries that require a great deal of compensation, like spinal cord injuries or amputations, you may have to go to court to reach a fair agreement regarding the compensation you expect for your injuries. Mediation occurs between the insurance company, you and your lawyer, and a mediator who can help lay out what a fair offer looks like and help you agree.
If you cannot reach an agreement through mediation, you may have to go to court to receive a court award for your car accident injuries. In most cases, car accident settlements occur out of court.
What Should I Do If I Disagree with a Settlement Offer?
Ideally, if you suffered injuries in a car accident, or you have extreme property damage that you need to deal with, you should already have a lawyer on your side. However, for some accident victims, a low initial settlement offer comes as a shock. Many victims do not realize the full extent of the damages they may deserve from an accident or how hard the insurance company might fight to reduce the compensation it has to pay out.
If you do not agree with a settlement offer, you have options.
Do Not Accept a Low Settlement Offer
Depending on how the insurance company handles your claim, you may receive a settlement offer over the phone or in writing. Do not accept a settlement offer that does not reflect your actual needs, including an offer that does not include compensation for your medical costs after your accident. Instead, tell the insurance company that you need time to consider the offer.
Avoid Giving In to Pressure
The insurance adjuster that contacts you to offer a settlement may pressure you to accept fast. The adjuster may tell you that the offer will not remain on the table long-term or try to convince you that accepting the offer quickly offers the best way to get the money you need in hand. Ignore pressure tactics. If you already have a lawyer, that lawyer can help you avoid the pressure that often comes from the insurance company. If you do not have a lawyer, a low settlement offer could indicate that you need to contact one as soon as possible.
Determine How Much You Deserve
Work with a lawyer to put together an estimate of your actual expenses following your accident. What medical costs did you face? Did you miss time at work because of your accident and your injuries? What about your pain and suffering: did the settlement offer take that into account? A lawyer can help you put together a more realistic demand package that reflects your actual needs.
Arriving at a settlement agreement that works for both you and the liable party’s insurance company may mean considerable negotiation. You may need to go through several rounds of offers and counteroffers before reaching an agreement. Working with a lawyer can make that process more manageable and less stressful while also providing you with a better idea of what a fair settlement offer for your car accident injuries might look like.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer for Help
Dealing with settlement offers on your own can leave you feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Many car accident victims ultimately accept a settlement offer that does not reflect their needs because they become frustrated with the process. Contact a lawyer as soon after your accident as possible for help moving through the process.