While we’re always hoping for the best, it’s very likely that every driver will be involved in an accident at some point in their lives. The sheer number of drivers on the road makes it a statistical likelihood. In Ohio alone, the state police have investigated over 20,838 car accidents in the first four months of 2015. This is down a from the year prior, but if the trend continues then it will be over 60,000 car accidents by 2016. Likewise, there were over 900 deaths associated with car accidents in 2013 and this figure does not even include motorcycle-related accidents, heavy truck accidents or those involving drunk drivers.
It’s also unfortunate that car accidents usually result in disputes of fault and money. There is obviously no universal amount you can receive in a lawsuit centered around a car accident; various extenuating circumstances affect every case. Some things that come into play are: how negligent the drivers were, how much damage occurred, and how serious the injuries sustained were. Let’s take a look at the process by which you can value your claim and get the compensation you deserve.
Filing A Claim
After exchanging all necessary information with the other driver, the obvious first step that’s taken after any accident is filing an insurance claim. It’s important to make the distinction between which type of claim is being made: first party or third party.
A first party claim is a claim you file with your primary insurance provider. Notifying them promptly is key so they can get an accurate assessment of what happened. This is especially crucial if the person making the claim is the one at fault in the accident. Very likely, though, filing a third party claim is also in order. A third party claim is a claim you file with the other party’s insurance. You should file both claims 24 hours or less after the accident occurs.
Your claims should include a police report, the names and contact information of everyone involved in the accident, names and contact information of any witnesses, photos of the scene, and any other relevant information. The insurers will frequently require a medical examination by one of their own doctors as well.
Calculating A Claim
A claim is calculated by an insurance company through very specific formulae. In addition to being reimbursed for obvious medical expenses and lost pay from work, the insurance companies use damage formulas to calculate a person’s physical suffering and put a monetary value on it.
This is typically done by first adding up medical expenses endured and then multiplying that figure by 1.5 or 2 to determine the amount of “special damages” one has suffered in the accident. These totals, depending on how serious and life-altering the injuries are, can even be multiplied by five or 10. This sum, whatever it may be, is then added to the amount of wages a victim has lost and that figure is considered the worth of the claim as a whole. For example, if you incurred $20,000 in medical expenses and healed completely afterward, you’d probably get a multiplier of 1.5, which is $30,000. If you missed $10,000 worth of wages, your total claim is worth $40,000. The more serious your injuries, the higher the multiplier.
A claim can be denied for a variety of reasons, such as being in an avoidable accident or doing something that rendered the coverage ineffective (I.E. – drunk driving, driving without a license, texting, putting on makeup, etc.). Similarly, a claim can be denied if it’s been found that the injury or pain endured by the driver is not the result of the accident. A common mistake made by drivers is not immediately seeking medical attention after an accident. Going to the hospital right away and keeping records of this will help the insurance company see that an injury is not exaggerated or the result of a preexisting condition. That way you can show a clear link between your injuries and the car accident.
Remember that insurance companies make money by paying you as little as possible. You should examine every part of your claim to ensure that you’re getting paid what you deserve. You should never accept an insurance settlement without consulting an experienced local attorney. Most car accident lawsuits happen when people feel they were not offered enough compensation by the insurers or when their claims are denied.
The Alternative Process(es)
There is often an immediate impulse among drivers who have been in an accident to go straight to court. However, there are other, easier options for drivers who feel their insurance settlement offer is unfair. If an insurance company denies a claim the two parties can pursue mediation. This is similar to court, but in a more informal, less strict setting in which a trained mediator attempts to intervene and find resolution among the two parties involved. Many matters can be resolved in just a couple of hours.
Mediation is not admissible in court – that means you won’t be held legally accountable for what you say about your case in mediation. In some cases, a judge will require you to go to mediation. Most courts offer mediation services even when they’re not ordered by a judge. Mediation is much more cost-effective than a lawsuit and can be a simple way to get to a resolution.
Another option in resolving car accident cases is arbitration. This process functions, essentially, like a more serious and intensified mediation. While a mediator will try to reach a mutually agreed upon resolution that satisfies everyone, an arbitrator will hear evidence from the both parties and make a judgement based on the arguments presented. The key advantage to arbitration is that both parties are guaranteed to reach a definitive and sound conclusion. It is worth noting too that the arbitrator’s judgement is final, meaning no appeal can be filed and you’ll be bound by the arbitrator’s decision.
This process is very similar to an actual court room procedure, although the arbitrator is a trustworthy expert rather than a judge, witness testimony is not necessary (though still encouraged), and the participants can include a “High-Low” agreement. This is something the insurance company will, likely, insist on. In this type of arrangement, both parties agree to not take less than a certain amount and not more than a certain amount. As an example, if a “high” is $20,000, and an arbitrator awards $25,000, only $20,000 will be given. Likewise, if the “low” is $5,000 and the arbitrator awards only $2,000, then $5,000 is still given to the winner. In order to avoid biasing the proceedings, the arbitrator is not made aware of these amounts until the arbitration is over.
Should all of these options fail, it’s likely that a case will go to trial. The case for compensation from the insurance company is a civil claim. Remember that there may also be a criminal case depending on the specific facts of the case. For example, a death that occurred that resulted from a driver texting could result in a murder charge.
The most important witness in car accident cases is usually the plaintiff. They can speak first-hand to the injury they sustained, the pain the endured and what was happening at the given moment when they were hit. Medical testimony is frequently required in order to establish the plaintiff’s injuries and link them to the accident.
It’s very likely that the defendant will not try to argue his or her total innocence, but rather assert that the plaintiff’s injuries are not as severe as they’re presenting them to be. They’ll also argue that the plaintiff bears some of the guilt.
Once the court has heard all the facts, the jury will render a verdict. They’ll decide who is guilty and to what extent. Ohio has a comparative fault rule, which means that the jury will assign a percentage of the fault to each party. For example, you may be 20% guilty while the other party is 80% at fault. This affects the amount of your compensation. If the other party bears only 80% of the blame, you’ll get only 80% of the compensation that would be due if you were completely free of blame.
Remember that unlike arbitration, either party can appeal a verdict they don’t like. However, the appeals process is very expensive and doesn’t guarantee a different outcome.
Have you been injured in a car crash?
You may be entitled to compensation. Contact one of our experienced car accident attorneys today for a free case evaluation and consultation. We’ll help you decide if you want to pursue legal action against the other party in the crash. We can also help you evaluate a settlement offer from the insurance company.