Every day, we drive to work, to school, to do errands, or for recreation. And every day, some of us get into car accidents—more than 6 million every year in the U.S. With 15,560,628 licensed drivers in Florida alone, it’s no surprise that car accidents happen.
According to preliminary data from the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, 341,297 car accidents took place in Florida last year. Of those accidents, 3,342 resulted in fatalities, and 212,521 resulted in injuries. These accidents often leave injured victims facing massive medical bills, lost wages, and an uncertain future.
If you were in a car accident, you probably want to know how much money you can expect to receive from a car accident settlement. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer and no “average” settlement amount. Car accident settlement amounts can range from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands, or far more.
About 96 percent of all personal injury cases settle before they go to trial. Therefore, if you suffered an injury in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, your compensation will probably come through a settlement rather than an award by a judge or jury. Every accident is unique, and whether you reach a successful settlement will depend on factors such as details of your accident, injuries, and losses.
Factors That Can Affect the Amount of a Car Accident Settlement
Many elements determine the value of a given accident settlement. Some cases are more complicated than others. For example, if more than two parties are involved, or if there is a prolonged dispute about what happened, the case may be more difficult to resolve.
Some other relevant factors include:
- Who is at fault? The nature of the opposing party’s negligent actions or failure to act can have a significant impact on the amount of the settlement.
- How much are your medical costs? Your medical costs include everything from initial emergency care to hospital care, ongoing doctor’s visits, prescriptions, therapy, adaptive equipment, and more.
- How severe are your injuries? The amount of your settlement is likely to be much larger if your injuries are severe or permanent, such as spinal cord injuries or brain damage. Chronic pain may also be a factor in a larger award. Your attorney may need to obtain expert testimony on your behalf, especially if you need experimental or alternative treatments.
- How much medical treatment will you need in the future? Severe injuries can have enormous personal and financial costs. Tragically, some injured individuals never fully recover and need medical treatment and other types of care for the rest of their lives.
- How much property damage was involved? This refers to how much it will cost to repair or replace your vehicle and/or any personal items damaged in the accident.
- What are the at-fault party’s insurance policy limits? Most at-fault parties do not have the money to pay for accidents out of pocket and rely on their insurance companies to pay settlements. This can mean that the settlement amount is capped by the at-fault party’s policy limits. For this reason, your attorney will work to identify whether more than one party is at fault or if additional insurance policies may apply.
- How strong is your case? A strong case with substantial supporting evidence gives you much greater negotiating power with the opposing side.
- How long can you wait? Most people are understandably anxious to wrap up their case and receive a settlement, but obtaining the settlement you deserve may require patience. The insurance company may stall in the hope that you will give up and accept a lower settlement. Sometimes the insurance company will not start making serious offers until close to the trial or even after the trial has begun.
Florida Car Accident Law
If you have a car, you must have car insurance. However, different states require different types of coverage. In states that require “fault” insurance, the person who was responsible for the accident is liable for the resulting damages and their insurance company pays all accident-related costs. However, Florida is a no-fault state. This means that your own insurance will cover your medical bills and other accident-related financial losses (except for vehicle damage claims) no matter who is at fault.
Most states also require that drivers carry insurance with a minimum policy limit. In Florida, drivers must have personal injury protection (PIP) insurance that covers up to $10,000 in accident-related costs, with some limitations. Coverage includes:
- Up to 80 percent of medical expenses;
- Travel reimbursement for visits to doctors;
- Up to 60 percent of lost wages; and
- $5,000 in death benefits.
PIP will not cover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
You are eligible to file a lawsuit or claim if your medical expenses from an auto accident exceed your PIP policy limit. For PIP to cover medical costs related to your accident, you must seek medical treatment within 14 days of the accident. Any medical care you receive after that time may not be eligible for coverage through your PIP insurance policy.
Under Florida law, anyone who gets into a car accident must contact law enforcement immediately if the accident was severe enough to result in:
- Property damage exceeding $500;
- Personal injury; and/or
What Counts as a Serious Injury in Florida?
There are times when PIP is not enough. You may be entitled to additional relief, depending on the nature and severity of your injuries. If your injuries are “serious” according to Florida law, you may also file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver or file a third-party insurance claim in addition to using your PIP coverage.
The four categories of injuries that meet this threshold include an injury or disease that consists of:
- A significant limitation of use of a body organ or member;
- A significant limitation of use of a body function or system;
- Significant scarring or disfigurement; or
Whether or not the other party was negligent may be important to your claim, as well.
To prove negligence, you must show:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care.
- The defendant breached this duty of care.
- You suffered an injury.
- The defendant’s breach caused the injury.
How Do Injuries Affect a Settlement?
A car accident victim may only suffer minor injuries, and PIP coverage may be sufficient to cover their medical expenses and lost wages. Others suffer serious injuries and must file a personal injury lawsuit against the person or entity that caused the accident to obtain full and fair compensation. Severe injuries generally require expensive medical treatment and a long recovery period. The injured person may be unable to return to work for a long time, if ever.
Some injuries are life-altering. The victim may be unable to participate in activities that were an important part of their life before the injury. They may be unable to enjoy their family relationships the way they did before the accident. They may feel too humiliated by scars or disfigurement to go out in public.
As a result of these losses, the victim has a diminished quality of life. It is difficult to assess the cost of non-economic damages like these and other forms of pain and suffering. In some cases, the victim’s attorney calculates these damages by taking the total cost of economic expenses and multiplying it according to the nature of the victim’s injuries.
Damages depend on the losses the victim suffered in the accident. After an accident, you should always seek medical attention, even if you do not think you have been injured. Some injuries do not show up right away. Also, records of your medical treatment will be valuable evidence if you need to file a lawsuit.
In addition to any property damage to your car, typical damages in car accident cases include:
- Medical bills;
- Lost wages;
- Pain and suffering;
- Emotional distress;
- Disability; and
- Wrongful death.
If the accident involved egregious behavior on the part of the at-fault party, the settlement might also include punitive damages. In Florida, the cap on punitive damages in personal injury cases is generally no more than three times the amount of compensatory damages or a maximum of $500,000, whichever is greater, although there are some exceptions to this rule.
How Does the Settlement Process Go?
No two settlements are alike. However, when a car accident case ends in a settlement, things often happen in this order:
- The attorney and the law firm’s support staff investigate the accident. They typically review police reports, interview witnesses, visit the scene of the accident, and work with accident reconstruction experts to determine what happened and who was responsible.
- The attorney demands compensation from all of the people or entities that may be liable for the accident. They may send letters, file a lawsuit, or both.
- The other party or parties respond to this demand, usually contesting liability and damage. They may dispute the facts of the case or claim that someone else was to blame. If the injured party’s attorney filed a lawsuit, the other side files a response with the court under the rules of civil procedure. The case then moves to the discovery phase, in which both sides gather information regarding the claim.
- Negotiations begin. This can happen in various ways, depending on whether the plaintiff has filed a lawsuit, the number of people or entities involved, and the complexity of the case. Negotiations can take place in person or by phone, email, etc. Sometimes negotiations begin almost immediately. Other times, the parties proceed slowly as they prepare the case for trial. If there is a lawsuit, the judge might order the parties to participate in mediation, thereby starting settlement discussions. Negotiations may continue with several rounds of offers and counter-offers.
- The parties reach a settlement in which they agree on the amount and terms of payment the injured victim will receive.
- The lawyers draw up settlement papers. These typically include details of the accident and the claims, how much money the defendant owes the plaintiff, and the release of claims. Settlement agreements are final. They are a binding contract. The parties sign the agreement and the defendant pays the plaintiff, which concludes the matter.
How Will a Lawyer Improve My Chances of Receiving a Larger Settlement?
Sometimes, the liable party or their insurance representative may offer an out-of-court settlement very soon after the accident, maybe even before you have consulted an attorney.
You may feel tempted to accept an early offer because the accident has left you shocked, in pain, and dealing with serious costs. However, the other party’s goal is to resolve the matter as quickly as possible and for the least money.
By accepting the offer, you lose the right to seek additional recovery in court. If an offer arrives, always discuss the proposed settlement with a qualified attorney before accepting it. You cannot make an informed decision without knowing your rights.
An experienced attorney can help you determine the best course of action given the specific circumstances of your accident and injuries.
They have the resources and skills to help maximize your settlement by:
Being aware of any deadlines.
- Investigating the accident.
- Gathering and preserving evidence.
- Investigating the available insurance resources.
- Proving the full extent of your injuries.
- Calculating your past and future losses.
- Effectively communicating and negotiating with insurance companies to maximize the value of your case.
According to Florida Statutes §95.11, you have a limited amount of time to take legal action after an accident that causes a personal injury. If you do not file a lawsuit before the deadline, you lose the right to do so.
Car accidents can result in severe or fatal injuries. The stakes are usually high in a car accident case, and the laws are difficult to navigate without legal representation. If you or someone you love has been harmed in a car accident, you need to consult a car accident attorney as soon as possible.