After a car accident, you have a lot to worry about. Vehicle damage, urgent medical care, rehabilitation time, follow-up doctor’s visits and more can keep you up at night. You fret about when you can return to work. You want to get healthy as quickly as possible, but it’s not easy. Treatments and rehab leave you in pain.
You deserve fair compensation for your injuries. An experienced and qualified car accident attorney can help. In many cases, a skilled lawyer can negotiate a favorable out-of-court settlement of your claim that gets you paid the money you deserve.
To answer the question above, however, the value of an average settlement does not give us much useful information in an individual case. The specific facts of your injury and its impact on your life will largely determine the amount of money you should receive.
Instead, let’s take a closer look at how bodily injury claims get settled, the categories of damages a settlement pays for, and what a lawyer can do to secure the highest settlement available in a given case.
Bodily Injury Settlement Basics
“Settlement” is one of those words that people associate with a bodily injury claim, without always having a clear understanding of what it involves.
Fundamentally, a settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal claim. In the typical settlement of a bodily injury claim, the injured person receives money as compensation for an injury. In return, the injured person agrees to release the paying party from further liability for that injury, and to terminate any lawsuit that has been filed seeking damages.
A settlement is final and binding on the parties. With rare exceptions, you cannot undo it. The settlement payment you agree to is all that you will receive from the party paying it, even if you later discover that you should have pressed for more.
Most bodily injury settlements get paid by the insurance company that sold liability insurance to the party at fault for an injury. Sometimes, however, the at-fault party pays part or all of a settlement out-of-pocket.
Lawyers representing the injured person and the at-fault party negotiate settlements, sometimes with the involvement of the insurance company that will usually end up writing the settlement check. The lawyers then advise their clients about whether to accept or reject a settlement proposal. Clients, not lawyers, have the final say in whether to agree to settle a bodily injury case.
How Florida No-Fault Insurance Affects Bodily Injury Settlements
Florida is a “no-fault” auto insurance state. All Florida drivers must carry a minimum of $10,000 personal injury protection (PIP) insurance.
In an accident, PIP insurance covers drivers against:
- Up to 80 percent of their own medical expenses.
- Up to 60 percent of their own lost wages.
- Other incidental expenses related to seeking medical treatment.
PIP is called “no-fault” insurance because it pays benefits to injured drivers and passengers without regard to who caused an accident. Each injured person turns to his or her own PIP insurance policy first to pay for accident-related medical care and disabilities.
For many bodily injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents in Florida, PIP insurance eliminates the need to negotiate a settlement with an at-fault party, because PIP takes care of many expenses and losses you suffer. In fact, by law, in many cases, you simply cannot pursue a legal claim for anything more than what PIP pays.
But not always. Sometimes, PIP policies fail to cover you completely for bodily injuries that are considered “serious” under Florida law. In those cases, you may have the right to take legal action against an at-fault driver or anyone else answerable for the driver’s conduct. Significantly, legal action for serious injuries can seek pain and suffering damages, which PIP insurance does not cover.
Florida law defines a serious injury as one that causes:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function;
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement;
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; or
Keep in mind that these limitations only relate to bodily injuries suffered in a motor vehicle-related accident (which includes collisions between vehicles and pedestrians or cyclists). No-fault insurance usually has nothing to do with bodily injuries suffered in other types of accidents.
Also, even if you suffered your injuries in a motor vehicle accident, Florida’s no-fault scheme generally does not limit your right to take legal action against parties other than at-fault drivers or those who must answer for their conduct. For example, if you suffered bodily injuries in a motor vehicle accident caused by a defective part in your car, you may have a claim for damages against the part manufacturer, regardless of whether your injuries qualified as serious under the law cited above.
No-fault insurance, in other words, can affect settlements by limiting or shaping the types of damages you might seek, and who you might seek them from, if you suffered your bodily injuries in a Florida motor vehicle accident. Talk to an experienced lawyer to learn about your options, if that’s what happened to you.
What can a bodily injury settlement pay for?
Every case is different, but in general, a lawyer negotiating a bodily injury settlement on behalf of a client can seek payment for damages such as:
- Ambulance costs.
- Emergency room treatment.
- Hospital expenses, including any surgeries and diagnostic tests.
- Ongoing medical expenses associated with your serious injury, including follow-up doctor’s visits or hospitalizations.
- Any necessary rehabilitative care required to recover from the injury.
- Any long-term care or skilled nursing help needed in your day-to-day life.
- Anticipated future care, which is based on the extent of our injuries.
- Lost earnings, as well as diminished future earning potential
- Pain, suffering, and emotional distress, including costs of treatment for mental health impacts like depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
- Diminished enjoyment of life and impacts on your personal relationships, such as loss of companionship or consortium.
- After a wrongful death, loss of a loved one’s income, guidance, and contributions.
This is not an exhaustive list. As we said, every bodily injury claim differs in its specifics. The general idea, however, is that a settlement can seek payments to compensate you for just about every type of physical, emotional, or financial harm you suffered because of someone else’s careless or wrongful conduct.
The list above helps to illustrate why the notion of an “average” bodily injury settlement does not tell us much. Lawyers calculate what might constitute a fair settlement of an individual case based on specific facts about a specific injury to a specific client.
Factors Affecting When, How, and For How Much a Bodily Injury Claim Might Settle
Achieving a favorable settlement of a bodily injury claim takes skill, determination, and preparation. It’s part art, part science, and part hard work.
Lawyers for victims of bodily injury know that numerous factors can affect the timing, terms, and outcome of a settlement negotiation. Here are some of the most important ones.
Availability and Strength of Evidence
At bottom, a bodily injury claim has value if a lawyer can prove, through evidence, that someone other than the victim engaged in wrongful conduct that led to the victim’s injuries and losses.
What is evidence? It’s any piece of information that a lawyer can use to prove a fact in court. In a typical bodily injury claim, evidence helpful in proving a victim’s case might include:
- Testimony of witnesses given under oath.
- Photographs, video footage, and other visual records of the scene of the accident or incident that resulted in bodily injuries.
- Electronic data related to the accident or bodily injuries, such as cell phone records, voicemails, or text messages.
- Physical items related to what happened, such as torn clothing or a damaged vehicle part.
- Medical records of the injury.
- Pay stubs and other documents showing wages and income the victim lost, or expenses the victim incurred.
- Expert witness reports and testimony.
Strong evidence tends to lead to favorable settlements, because it demonstrates to the parties at fault and their insurance companies that the claim has merit and that it might make sense to settle rather than to continue fighting.
Lawyers consider evidence to be strong if it clearly, definitively proves the facts necessary to make a case for bodily injury damages. Lots of evidence does not always mean strong evidence. Sometimes, a single item of evidence can make the difference between a case settling for top-dollar, or not settling at all.
The Lawyers’ Level of Experience and Skill
Lawyers who have years of experience and well-honed skills in bodily injury cases tend to achieve favorable settlements more consistently than lawyers who lack those traits.
Hiring a lawyer who knows the legal terrain and has a track record of success does not guarantee a fair bodily injury settlement, but it can improve your odds significantly. As in any profession, personal injury lawyers tend to garner successes by gaining experience and building a reputation in their field.
Defense lawyers and insurance companies who know they would have to face off against a skilled, battle-tested trial lawyer in a bodily injury trial will usually weigh that as a factor in favor of finding a way to settle a case, even if it means paying more money than they would prefer.
The Size of the Bodily Injury Claim and the Money Available to Pay It
In the main, small-dollar bodily injury cases tend to settle more easily than large-dollar bodily injury cases. Parties on both sides of a small-dollar case have an incentive to settle before spending too much money on litigation. Likewise, insurance companies tend to have an easier time writing relatively small checks than large ones.
That is not to say that large-dollar cases fail to settle. In fact, more often than not, even the largest bodily injury claims settle out-of-court. It’s just that as the size of a claim rises, its influence on the probability of a settlement becomes more unpredictable. For instance, an insurance company might tend to fight harder with a large potential liability on the line. Then again, it might feel even greater pressure to settle, so as not to run the risk of having a disastrous outcome at trial.
Similarly, the injured victim in a bodily injury case might shy away from a settlement if going to trial holds the potential to end in a grand slam jury award. Or, the victim might not want to roll the dice on a huge win at trial, when a settlement would still pay a hefty sum and has the benefit of certainty.
Of course, those considerations all depend on money actually existing to pay a potential claim. Even the largest bodily injury claim will have a low value if the at-fault party has no assets or insurance, or if the insurance available has low policy limits. Lawyers for bodily injury victims pay close attention to the potential sources of payment of a claim, so as not to spend their own and their clients’ time on cases that have little prospect of actually resulting in a payment.
The Human Factor
Every bodily injury case involves human beings whose lives have been disrupted by an accident or incident, or who face stress and potential difficulty because of it. Victims often live in discomfort and under financial strain. At-fault parties may feel terrible about what happened, and under attack by lawyers and others who blame them for someone else’s injuries. Insurance adjusters may feel pressure at work not to settle a bodily injury claim for too much, or, conversely, not to expose their employer to financial liability. Even lawyers feel a personal and professional need to deliver for their clients.
All of these crisscrossing, interwoven motivations and emotions play a role in settling a bodily injury claim. In fact, oftentimes they provide the “X” factors that push settlements across the finish line, by giving the parties the peace of mind they need to decide that settlement serves their interests.
Injured? Hoping for a Settlement? Contact a Skilled Lawyer Today.
If you suffered a bodily injury because of someone else’s carelessness or wrongdoing, you may have the right to significant amounts of financial compensation. A skilled, experienced personal injury lawyer can help you get it.
Contact an attorney who has the knowledge, resources, and experience to achieve top-dollar bodily injury settlements today.