How much can I get for my auto accident claim and injury in California? How much is my case worth?If you were involved in an automobile accident in which you sustained injuries as a result of someone else's negligence, you are entitled to be compensated for your economic and non-economic damages. Whether you suffered minor injuries, such as a slight whiplash or cuts and bruises, or more severe injuries, such as broken limbs, internal bleeding or severe soft tissue sprains or strains, the at-fault driver has a responsibility to make you financially whole and to put you back to where you were before the accident occurred. This is true whether that driver has auto insurance or not. If he does not, you will likely have to sue him to recover your damages. If he has insurance, you, or your attorney, will be working with a claims adjuster employed by his insurance company to try to obtain a settlement. This may or may not involve filing a lawsuit and going to court, depending on whether or not you and your attorney, if you have one, see eye to eye with the insurance company with respect to the value of your claim.
Evaluation of your claim
How an adjuster evaluates an injury claim depends on the company's procedures, but in general the following are criteria taken into account when determining how much money an injured individual should receive to settle his or her claim:
- Facts of the accident
The basic facts the adjuster will consider are what happened, at what speed, where, who was involved, were any laws broken, were the police called to the scene, was anyone ticketed, etc.
Claims adjusters must evaluate a claim for fault before offering any settlement. If one party is clearly liable and there is no question, it is not a difficult issue. But there are accidents where it is difficult to determine who was responsible, such as those in an uncontrolled intersection, or a left turn made in front of a speeding car entering the intersection. Sometimes reconstruction experts are employed to evaluate the accident scene and the damage to the cars in order to determine how the car wreck occurred to figure out liability. Sometimes it is determined that both parties were negligent and, in California, fault will be apportioned.
- Extent of Injuries
The adjuster will request certain information to determine the severity of your injuries. Adjusters sometimes look at injuries with a rather skeptical eye. Since fraudulent claims are fairly common, don't take it personally. Just provide what they are asking for. Usually they want a medical report from your physician with a diagnosis and a prognosis for your recovery. They want to know what treatment and/or medication was prescribed and what the status of that treatment is now. Their experience helps them to determine if the treatment was reasonable and necessary for your type of injuries. They may ask if your doctor told you to take time off from work. This way the adjuster gets a complete picture of the difficulties you have had since the accident.
This is fairly simple. How much did you spend on medical bills as a result of the accident? How much did you lose in wages? Were there any other expenses? You will need to provide documentation to support your claim such as copies of medical bills and statements, wage stubs, receipts for medicines and other expenses. It may be difficult to prove how much money you lost if you have your own business and you had to miss work. Sometimes a financial expert is required to help determine the losses. Then there is the damage to your property that needs to be submitted, unless your own insurance pays for it. If the at-fault driver's insurance will be paying, you will need to provide at least one repair estimate; they will likely want to take a look at the vehicle themselves if where, or to what extent the car is damaged will help determine liability.
- Other Factors
Sometimes there are other factors involved that should be taken into account and you should point them out to the adjuster who is evaluating your claim. For example, if you were caring for young children or an elderly relative before the accident and now you cannot, you may need to hire someone to do so. If you were working in a job requiring physical activity that you can no longer do either temporarily or permanently, let them know. If you can no longer do housework and have to hire someone or your spouse has to take time away from work to do that, tell them. All of these factors affect the value of your claim.
Making an Auto Accident Settlement Offer
Once the adjuster has all of the necessary documentation to evaluate your claim, the process is quite subjective. He or she will come up with a value range based on all the information and make you an offer, likely from somewhere near the bottom of their range. There is no set formula, such as 3 times the medical bills, although many use that as a guide. They do not expect you to take their first offer; they expect you to negotiate. If you have an attorney, he or she will do the negotiating for you. If you do not, you are on your own.
Remember that insurance companies are not in business to spend a lot of money on claimants. They want to protect themselves and their bottom line and not pay more than they have to or than they believe is a fair amount. Still, if you negotiate wisely, you can get them to the top of their range and walk away satisfied.
If you believe their range is too low, and your attorney agrees, it is time to go to court. If you didn't have an attorney before, you will need one at this stage. The value of your car accident claim, once it becomes a lawsuit, may or may not change. Your attorney will evaluate your possible car accident injury compensation based on past jury verdicts in similar cases, as well as all of the other relevant factors. Your attorney will likely still try to negotiate a settlement with the adjuster as the case moves along, making a demand for what he believes the case is worth.
It is important to keep in mind that if you have an attorney, you will be sharing your settlement or jury award with him or her. In California, your attorney's fee may constitute up to 40% of the money you are awarded. However, it is important to remember that it is also likely that an experienced injury attorney will assist you to obtain a higher settlement amount or jury award than if you had handled the claim on your own.
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