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 How Do Car Accident Settlements Work?

Under Florida’s no-fault insurance laws, if you own a car you are required to carry a minimum of $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage. In a no-fault insurance state, you file a claim under your PIP insurance policy to begin to recover losses related to injuries after a traffic accident regardless of who caused the accident. Below the car accident attorneys at Michael T. Gibson firm will discuss what that process is like and what factors contribute to

Michael T. Gibson
Car Accident Lawyer, Michael T. Gibson

Severe accidents, however, quickly exhaust low PIP policy limits and Florida PIP insurance only covers 80 percent of medical treatment costs and 60 percent of lost wages related to an accident. When PIP insurance does not cover all the losses related to a car accident, Florida law permits accident victims to seek compensation for damages from the at-fault party in civil court, which begins the car accident settlement process.

The aftermath of a serious car accident resulting in severe or catastrophic injuries can leave you and your family overwhelmed with physical pain, emotional trauma, and financial stress. Some accident victims have no other choice but to take legal action to alleviate some of their financial burdens.

If you settle with the insurance company or the at-fault party, you can receive money for medical expenses and lost wages not covered by your PIP policy, future medical treatment costs, lost earning capacity, and non-economic losses such as physical and emotional pain and suffering, loss of consortium with a spouse, scarring and disfigurement, other applicable non-economic losses, as well as punitive damages in cases that involve intentional harm or gross negligence.

Car accident settlements can be complex and each claim has different underlying facts and circumstances that influence the settlement process and final outcome. In many situations, the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier pays the settlement amount to the accident victim, but sometimes the at-fault party directly pays the victim. Below we delve deeper into the car accident settlement process to give you a better understanding of what is to come if you are considering filing a car accident claim.

Filing a Claim Against the At-Fault Party

After you have exhausted your PIP insurance policy limits, your next step is to file an accident claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier. Under Florida law, drivers must buy a PIP policy that covers $10,000 in damages for bodily injury or death per person and $20,000 per car accident. Most Florida residents comply with the law by purchasing bodily injury liability (BIL) insurance coverage through an auto insurance provider. If you have a loan or you have leased your vehicle, Florida law requires you to carry additional coverage, which includes $100,000 in BIL insurance coverage per person and $300,000 per accident.

Immediately after the car accident occurred, you may or may not have collected insurance information from the at-fault driver. If you do not have the at-fault driver’s carrier and policy information, you can usually find the information you need in the responding police officer’s official accident report. Today, most insurance companies allow you to report an accident or file a claim through the company’s website.

Investigation by the Insurance Carrier

After you file a car accident claim with the at-fault party’s insurance carrier, they will initiate an investigation into the accident to determine liability and gather information to decide whether they will pay the claim or deny it. Some evidence that is typically part of the insurance company’s investigation includes the official accident report, witness statements, expert opinions from accident reconstruction specialists, and opinions from medical experts. A representative from the insurance company will also likely want to interview you about the accident.

Remember that insurance adjusters, representatives, and investigators are not your friends, even if you are the policyholder. Insurance companies stay in business because they don’t pay out every time someone files a claim. When they cannot deny an accident claim, they will go the extra mile to devalue the claim to protect their bottom line.

It’s common for an insurance adjuster to take your statement regarding the accident and your injuries. This allows the adjuster to elicit information that can devalue your claim.

It’s in your best interest to let an attorney handle communication with insurance companies. Sometimes insurance carriers will push ethical standards to get the information they need or want to devalue your claim. Do not give them access to your medical history or sign any waivers until you get the chance to consult with an experienced car accident attorney.

When the Insurance Carrier Denies Your Claim

After the at-fault party’s insurance carrier completes their investigation of the car accident, they will decide whether to pay or deny your claim. You can expect the insurance company to look for any reason to deny your claim. Insurance companies have been known to cite technical reasons to refuse to accept liability for their policyholder. If your claim is denied, your chances of a car accident settlement go out the window unless you contact a skilled car accident attorney to help you recover your losses.

When the Insurance Carrier Offers to Settle

If the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier chooses to accept your car accident claim, they will usually make a quick settlement offer. Insurance companies want to avoid paying out on large claims. One strategy they use is to offer victims a quick settlement. This is especially true when they know their policyholder is liable for damages.

If the insurance company offers a low but attractive settlement quickly, they won’t have to pay a much larger settlement or jury award later. You should never accept a settlement offer without speaking with an attorney. It’s standard procedure to have a victim give up their right to sue when they settle, so the carrier will have you sign a waiver before they hand over a check. Once you make this decision, there is no turning back, so make sure to consult with a lawyer.

Settlement Negotiations After a Car Accident

You should view an early settlement offer from the at-fault party’s insurance company as a starting point for negotiations. Your claim is likely worth more than their first offer. Insurance companies will use all the tools at their disposal to convince or bully you into taking their first offer. Personal injury lawyers are trained negotiators who are used to dealing with tricky insurance company tactics and often secure larger settlements for their clients compared to what they would receive without an attorney.

A qualified auto accident lawyer can also place a defensible monetary value on your claim. Some damages are easy to calculate because you can quantify them yourself. For example, you can add up your medical treatment costs and lost wages. Other damages, such as future lost wages and future medical treatment expenses, are not easily quantifiable. Car accident attorneys often have a network of specialists who help them place a value on damages that are more difficult to quantify. Some examples of experts that your attorney might call upon include accident reconstruction specialists, life care planners, and medical experts.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Sometimes informal accident claim negotiations don’t lead to a settlement agreement. These situations can lead to one or more forms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

Mediation and arbitration are the most common in car accident claims.

  • Mediation is a non-binding form of ADR, and generally involves one or more representatives from the insurance company, you, your lawyer, and the mediator. The mediator serves as a facilitator and recordkeeper while parties discuss the value of damages and potential settlement amounts.
  • Arbitration is a binding form of ADR which typically occurs before litigation. The meeting and purpose are similar to mediation, but the arbitrator makes a final decision about your car accident claim. Both parties must agree to participate in the arbitration and neither you nor the insurance company can choose not to comply with the decision if you are unhappy with the outcome.

Filing a Lawsuit After a Car Accident

After negotiations or mediation, or considering arbitration, your last resort to recoup losses related to your car accident injuries is to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver and their insurance company. Filing a lawsuit doesn’t always mean you will go to court. In fact, the vast majority of car accident claims settle before the court date. Depending on your situation, you might need to file a lawsuit to get the insurance company to take your claim seriously, get them to negotiate, or convince them to agree to participate in mediation or arbitration.

Exceptions to the Car Accident Settlement Process

If you have suffered injuries in a car accident, file a claim, and expect a settlement from the at-fault driver, their insurance company will typically pay the settlement. Yet, some exceptions exist where you can receive compensation from other parties. Examples include:

Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists

If the driver who caused your car accident isn’t insured or doesn’t have enough insurance, you may recover losses by filing a claim under your own underinsured or uninsured motorist policy. This coverage is not mandatory in Florida, so you may or may not have it. Talk with your insurance carrier to see what coverage you have.

If you have this coverage, your carrier will investigate your accident and potentially pay the claim up to your policy limit. If you do not have this coverage, you will have to file a personal injury lawsuit directly against the at-fault driver. In some cases, uninsured motorist coverage can also kick in if a hit-and-run driver caused your accident.

Multi-Vehicle Crashes

As we explained the process above, we assumed you were involved in a car accident with only one other driver. This isn’t always the case; sometimes multi-vehicle accidents occur. Multiple parties usually mean more than one insurance company, which can muddy the already complex waters of determining liability in a settlement. You must inform your insurance carrier about the accident and provide any insurance information about others involved in the accident. Some insurance companies will pay a claim for their policyholder and then go after other drivers involved to attempt to recover the money.

Drivers Involved Have the Same Insurance Carrier

If you learn you and the other driver(s) involved in your car accident have the same insurance carrier, you can expect some difficulties with your car accident settlement. Your insurance company must carefully investigate claims and avoid a conflict of interest. Most often this process includes assigning each claim a separate adjuster to investigate.

In these situations, you must use special caution when communicating with your adjuster. Although you are a policyholder, you can expect the adjuster to try to reduce the value of your car accident claim in any way possible. A qualified car accident attorney can handle communications with your insurance company and protect you from these tactics.

Self-Insured Drivers

Florida allows drivers to provide their own insurance, which means they have enough money in the bank to pay for damages from a car accident and do not need to purchase typical auto insurance. If the driver who caused your accident is self-insured, you won’t have to deal with insurance companies, but you still need to report the accident to your own carrier.

Many companies require drivers to report an accident if their coverage might apply, whether under your PIP policy or the other driver’s insurance company. Whether or not you need to sue the self-insured driver really depends on the situation. In some cases, you, with the help of an attorney, can negotiate with the driver, and other times the driver will refuse to cover your losses.

The vast majority of Florida car accident settlements work in similar ways, but sometimes accident victims run into tricky situations that fall outside of the normal process. Regardless, having a skilled auto accident attorney in your corner can help you through the claims process and advise you on the right course of action as you proceed through negotiations. Not only can this help your settlement go more smoothly, but an attorney can protect you from tricks and tactics that insurance companies use against claimants.

Michael T. Gibson P.A.
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814
Phone: 407-422-4529

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Baldwin Park Office
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Suite 150
Orlando, FL 32814
P: 407-422-4529
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