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How do car accident settlements work?

  1. How do car accident settlements work?
  2. Contact a Washington car accident lawyer
  3. Report the accident to the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  4. Once you’ve submitted the paperwork, the investigation begins
  5. The insurer makes a settlement offer
  6. Filing a lawsuit
  7. I’ve settled my case. Now what?
  8. Zach Herschensohn Law: Helping the injured maximize their car accident settlements in Washington

How do car accident settlements work?

how do car accident settlements work

So, you’ve just been in a car accident, and it wasn’t your fault. You know you need to file a claim with the insurance company to cover your bills, lost wages, and other expenses. Ideally, this would be a straightforward process where you file a claim and then get a check. But unfortunately, it isn’t always that simple.

In this blog, we’ll take a closer look at what you can expect from the personal injury settlement process, and how you can get the ball rolling toward a fair settlement for your injuries.

how do car accident settlements work

Contact a Washington car accident lawyer

how do car accident settlements work

Contact a car accident lawyer as soon as possible for legal advice and guidance—ideally before speaking with the insurance company. They can help you throughout the entire process, from investigating the crash to preserving critical evidence to negotiating with the insurance company on your behalf.

how do car accident settlements work
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Report the accident to the at-fault driver's insurance company

how do car accident settlements work

You’ll want to make this report as soon as you can; this shows good faith on your part and protects you from accusations that unnecessary delays prevented the insurer from investigating the claim.

When making this report, do not get emotional, provide unnecessary details, or discuss the particulars of your case at this stage. You’re simply notifying the insurance company of your claim. They will perform their own investigation. If you have questions about making this report, a car accident attorney can guide you through the process.

Calculating the value of your claim and submitting a demand letter

Figuring out how much your car accident case is truly worth usually isn’t a simple calculation.

Some costs are obvious, like medical bills or lost income; others are less obvious. Say you’ve permanently lost the use of a limb or suffer from chronic headaches that won’t go away. The damage to your quality of life is indisputable, and only an experienced Washington car accident attorney can calculate the monetary value of those losses.

Many people who attempt to handle negotiations on their own don’t really have a grasp of how much their claim is truly worth. So, they end up either undervaluing their damages (and potentially leaving a lot of money on the table) or shooting for the moon and getting their claim outright rejected. Working with an experienced attorney can help you get an accurate understanding of your claim’s value.

Once your costs have been calculated, your attorney can submit a demand letter to the insurer, along with the supporting evidence.

You might have to make multiple claims

Unfortunately, it’s common for injured people to make multiple insurance claims to get fair compensation. That’s because, in Washington state, drivers are only required to carry $25,000 in injury insurance coverage (or $50,000 total if there are multiple injuries resulting from an accident). If your losses exceed the at-fault driver’s policy limits, you’ll have to also look elsewhere—such as your own uninsured/underinsured motorist (UI/UIM) auto insurance coverage, if you have it.

Again, your attorney will help you figure out every possible source of compensation you can draw from to ensure you maximize your total payout.

RELATED: What to expect from your personal injury claim

how do car accident settlements work

Once you’ve submitted the paperwork, the investigation begins

how do car accident settlements work

The insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to your case, who will investigate and review the evidence. This includes the police report, photographs, witness statements (both eyewitnesses and expert witnesses), your medical records, and more. Technically, you have to give them permission to see your medical records, but if you don’t consent you can pretty much guarantee your claim will be denied.

If you remember only one thing, remember this: The claims adjuster is not your friend. They might act friendly, but ultimately their job is to settle your case as cheaply and quickly as they can. They’re less concerned about your financial wellbeing and more concerned about saving their company money. If you speak with one, remember to always stick to the facts. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “I don’t know”—don’t guess.

This is another reason why you don’t want to go through this processes without an experience car accident attorney. It’s very common for claims adjusters to try to get you to make statements that could hurt your case. A lawyer can help you avoid falling for their traps.

how do car accident settlements work

The insurer makes a settlement offer

how do car accident settlements work

After a period of information-gathering, the insurance company will either deny your claim, accept it, or make you a counteroffer.

Because the insurance company wants to settle your car accident claim quickly, their initial settlement offer is almost always less than what your case is worth. Many people accept anyway—because they don’t know how much money their case is worth, they’re under financial pressure, or they simply don’t want to deal with the company anymore

However, you don’t have to take an offer that’s unfair. If you settle, you give up your right to sue for more later. And if you run out of cash with medical bills left to pay and limited options for earning more income, your options will be extremely limited.

We strongly recommend against you trying to negotiate a fair settlement amount on your own. Remember, the insurance company has tons of experience handling settlement negotiations. An experienced attorney can put you back on even footing.


how do car accident settlements work

If you and the insurer can’t agree on a fair settlement that covers all your costs—including pain and suffering and other non-economic “damages” that might arise from severe, chronic, or life-altering injuries—you’ll need to sue for those benefits within three years of the accident.

Just because you filed a car accident lawsuit, that doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have to go to trial. You can continue to negotiate behind the scenes as long as you want, right up until the date of the trial. And, in fact, most car accident lawsuits do eventually end in a settlement rather than a trial, which can be both expensive and risky for both sides.

Filing suit shows that you’re serious about getting a fair deal from the insurance company and starts a legal process that will ultimately end with either a settlement (an agreement made out of court) or jury verdict (award made in a court decision).

RELATED: How long does a car accident settlement take in Washington?

how do car accident settlements work

I've settled my case. Now what?

how do car accident settlements work

Once you’ve arrived at a fair settlement, you’ll fill out a release form and some paperwork before the insurance company writes your attorney a check. The money will be deposited into a trust account, and you’ll wait for it to clear.

Typically, there will be several bills (like medical liens) that will need to be paid right away out of the settlement check. Your personal injury attorney can then negotiate on your behalf to try to reduce the liens, passing the savings on to you.

After bills are paid, and the agreed upon lawyer’s fees are subtracted, you’ll get the rest.

how do car accident settlements work

Zach Herschensohn Law: Helping the injured maximize their car accident settlements in Washington

Negotiating a fair settlement after a car crash can be a minefield, especially for those not familiar with the rules or the process. The insurance company isn’t going to fight fair, especially if they know you’re unrepresented. That’s why injured individuals who hire a personal injury lawyer tend to get more on average in compensation, even after fees.

At Herschensohn Law, we have extensive experience helping our clients handle all aspects of their car accident cases, from filing a claim to reaching a fair settlement agreement—and when necessary, filing a personal injury lawsuit and taking a case to trial.

Whether you’ve just recently been in an accident, or you’ve already gotten a settlement offer from the insurance company and don’t know what to do next, give us a call to schedule your free consultation. We can provide you with solid legal advice and help you understand the steps you need to take to maximize your settlement. You can reach our law office in Kent, Washington at (206) 588-4344, or by completing our online contact form.

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.

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