Four Factors That Go Into the Answer
According to Florida’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, there are around 165,000 injury crashes each year in the state, resulting in injuries to roughly 250,000 people. If you’ve been injured in a car accident that was caused by someone else’s reckless or negligent actions, you likely have a lot of questions about how to obtain compensation to pay for the expenses that you have incurred due to your injuries. One of the questions that we often hear is: “How much can I expect to receive from a car accident settlement?”
The truth is that just as no two car accidents are alike, neither are any two car accident settlements. Each settlement reflects the unique facts of each case. However, the amount you may receive from a settlement can increase or decrease, due to the factors listed below. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, an experienced car accident attorney can help you understand the legal process of obtaining compensation.
Factor #1: Where PIP Comes In
Florida is a no-fault state when it comes to insurance. What this means is that, if you’re injured in a car accident—regardless of fault—your first resource for compensation will be the personal injury protection policy (PIP) that you were required to purchase before registering your vehicle. If you do not own a vehicle, then the coverage purchased by the individual who owns the vehicle you were riding in at the time of the accident should cover you. If you have a PIP policy for your own vehicle, but you were injured in a traffic accident while walking or bicycling, your PIP policy should cover these expenses as well.
What PIP Covers
Florida vehicle owners are required to have a PIP policy of at least $10,000. The following expenses, up to the limit of the policy, are covered:
- $2,500 for medical conditions not considered emergent
- 80 percent of medical expenses, up to the limit of the policy, for procedures such as medical services and medication; surgical services and hospital expenses; the cost of rehabilitation; diagnostic services; and ambulatory services.
- 60 percent of lost wages if you’re too injured to work or missed work time due to medical appointments related to your injury, as well as the cost of household services that you are not able to perform due to your injury.
- $5,000 for funeral or burial expenses of the policyholder or anyone named on the policy who dies as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident.
If your expenses exceed the limit of your policy or your injuries have been deemed serious, you are then permitted to file a personal injury lawsuit to recoup damages from the at-fault party or his or her insurance policy.
Factor #2: The Severity of Your Injuries
The severity of your injury plays a big part in how much compensation you’re eligible to receive. To file a personal injury lawsuit that seeks compensation for both economic and non-economic damages, your injury must meet the state’s serious injury threshold. Injuries that qualify in Florida include those that cause:
- Significant loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability
- Significant scarring or disfigurement
If your injury has met the serious injury threshold and you are eligible to file a personal injury claim, you can seek compensation for different damage categories, and the amount you may recover will depend on the severity of your injury. Serious injuries tend to require more extensive medical treatment, which increases expenses. Additionally, the multiplier that is used to calculate non-economic expenses, such as pain and suffering, humiliation, disability, and more will also be higher with severe injuries, particularly those that create disability or are highly visible.
Factor #3: Economic Impacts
Your economic expenses—both now and projected in the future—are an important part of your injury claim. Economic expenses are those that result in a bill for service or that are paid out of pocket. Some examples of economic expenses related to your personal injury claim include:
- All medical expenses. If you’re likely to face ongoing or residual expenses due to your injuries, your doctor will make a note in your record to that fact and he or she—or another medical expert with experience in treating the type of injuries you have experienced—may be asked to testify to that. The projected amount of expenses will be calculated according to what treatments are expected and the cost of those treatments.
- Property damage. This includes repair or replacement of the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred.
- The cost of renting a car while yours is being repaired or replaced.
- The cost of household services, such as lawn care or house cleaning, that you can no longer perform due to your injuries.
- Assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or handicap-accessible modifications to your home.
- Lost income due to being too injured to work or for work time that you miss to attend medical appointments relating to your injury.
- Loss of future business opportunities or future earning capacity. This damage relates to permanent disability that would render you unable to work the job you held before the accident or if the extent of your injuries caused you to miss business opportunities that you would have had if you had not become injured.
Factor #4: Emotional Impacts
The impact of a serious injury is not always financial. Your injuries can leave myriad emotional impacts as well. Some of the impacts that may influence a higher settlement in your case include:
- Pain and suffering. Most serious injuries present a considerable amount of pain and suffering due to the injury itself, the treatments required, and the chronic pain that may linger for years or even a lifetime. Particularly painful injuries or those requiring highly invasive treatments often result in higher settlements.
- Loss of companionship or consortium. This category refers to the losses incurred by an injured person’s spouse if the injuries are severe enough to alter the intimacy or companionship that the couple enjoyed before the injury took place. An example of injuries that may result in loss of consortium or companionship includes severe brain injuries or spinal cord injuries that cause paraplegia or tetraplegia.
- Loss of enjoyment of life. Everyone has hobbies and activities that they enjoy doing. But what if your injuries are so severe that you can no longer participate in those activities? This type of damage claim relates to injuries that render an injured individual unable to participate in activities that previously brought joy to that person’s life.
- Emotional distress. Being injured is stressful. Not only is the injured individual trying to physically recover from the injury, which may be extraordinarily painful, but he or she also must worry about being unable to work, to tend to household chores, or to care for his or her family. Florida law allows seriously injured car accident victims to collect compensation for emotional distress as a result of their injuries.
- Permanent disfigurement. As shallow as it seems, society still places value on a person’s physical appearance. In fact, many jobs that require an individual to work with the public are not available to individuals who have severe disfigurement. Many times, individuals who previously worked in a customer service-related job before their accidents find themselves shuffled to a different position that is out of the public eye due to their disfiguring injuries. If you have suffered disfigurement due to your accident, you should seek compensation for your related losses.
- Humiliation. Not only can disfigurement or visible scarring impact your employment, but it can also cause you to be wary of social situations or other activities that require you to be out in public and can hamper your self-image.
- Inconvenience. It is probably an understatement to say that permanent injuries are inconvenient. This is particularly true for those that limit your movement or your ability to complete daily tasks on your own. The inconvenience that your injury places on your daily life are also damages that you may recover in a personal injury lawsuit.
It is often hard to prove all of the intangible ways that your injury has impacted your life. Often, the ability to collect damages for these items hinges on the plaintiff’s credibility as well as medical records and experts who can speak about what an average person experiencing the type of injury you’ve incurred will endure.
Other Factors that Influence Your Settlement Amount
While most of the above-mentioned factors will likely increase the amount of a settlement, some factors may reduce the compensation you can receive for your injuries as well. Some of those factors include:
- Lack of insurance. If you failed to maintain your PIP policy, you will be unable to collect benefits from it in an accident. Likewise, if the at-fault party in your case did not have bodily injury coverage, you may have a hard time collecting compensation, even if there is a settlement or an award issued. Your car accident attorney will carefully examine the facts of your case to determine all potentially liable parties and all sources of insurance that may be available to you.
- Lack of credibility. If the insurance company does not believe that you have been injured as seriously as you’re claiming, it can make obtaining a settlement difficult. Your car accident attorney can help you address credibility issues and knows what documentation needs to be collected and presented to add credibility to your claims.
- Impatience. Many people who are injured in an accident are impatient when it comes to collecting compensation. It is with good reason, as it is stressful to watch the injury-related expenses add up without knowing how or when they will be paid. However, one should avoid the temptation of accepting the first lowball settlement offer that the insurance company sends your way. The insurance company is in the business to make money, and one of the ways they do this is by avoiding paying out large settlement amounts. The problem with this is that those early settlement offers fail to take into consideration the full picture of your injuries, the expenses you’re faced with, or the impacts on your life. Generally, settlement offers increase as time goes by, particularly if the insurance company is faced with a lawsuit being filed in the case. For the highest settlement offer, you often have to wait and let your attorney continue to negotiate.
- Failing to meet deadlines. To obtain compensation through your PIP policy, you must seek medical treatment within 14 days. To collect compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, you must file your claim within the statutory deadline. Generally, this deadline in personal injury cases is four years from the date of the injury.
- Failing to use the services of an experienced car accident attorney. Unless you are an attorney yourself, you should leave the matter of obtaining a settlement to the professionals. An experienced attorney is able to provide you with many services, including an understanding and protection of your legal rights in the matter; powerful negotiation skills and an understanding of how insurance companies operate; an establishment of a value to your case based on all of the factors listed above; and representation in court, if necessary. Just as you aren’t attempting to treat your serious accident injuries on your own, but are instead trusting the expertise of doctors, you shouldn’t attempt to pursue compensation for those injuries on your own either.
For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact a car accident lawyer today.