When an auto accident causes injuries or damages a vehicle, the victim may be entitled to receive damages. Specifically, this might entail monetary compensation for the losses suffered, the costs of medical care, and other considerations. However, a victim may need to clear a number of hurdles before receiving any compensation, and many factors will likely affect the size of that payment. Car accident cases are complex, and a victim should always think about consulting with an attorney before seeking compensation for losses suffered in an accident.
An important step in the legal process requires identifying the person or persons who caused the accident. This is known as fault. If the person filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff, caused the accident, the plaintiff might be unable to recover from anyone else involved in the accident. However, the driver’s insurance coverage will likely still cover the driver within the limits of the applicable policy. Alternatively, a plaintiff who was partially at fault for the accident would likely recover less than he or she would have otherwise.
When more than one person caused the accident, then the insurance company will estimate how much at fault each person is. For example, imagine that Joe is speeding down a street when Mary runs a red light, and Joe runs into her. Mary is likely the main cause of the accident because Joe probably wouldn’t have hit her if she had not run the light. However, Joe may have contributed to the causes of the accident if he was driving too fast and failed to stop in time after seeing Mary’s car.
In the example, the insurance company may find that Joe contributed to the accident and is partially at fault. For example, the insurance company might decide that Joe’s speed was about one quarter of the cause of the accident. Joe’s speed would be a factor establishing contributory negligence in the crash, and the insurance company might only offer Joe three quarters of the amount he would have received otherwise.
The insurance company will offer a payment, which is called a settlement offer. If the victim chooses to accept the offer, that person will likely not get other payments related to the accident unless the accident involved the faults of more than one driver. In a case with multiple drivers, a plaintiff or their attorney will have to work with each driver’s separate insurance company. On the other hand, the insurance company may offer an amount which would not be enough to compensate for the plaintiff’s injuries. In some scenarios, the insurance company might not offer any settlement at all. In a case with no settlement offer, the injured person will need to decide whether or not to sue the other driver or drivers in the accident.
If the insurance company does not offer a settlement, or if the offer is too low, the victim may want to consult with an attorney about filing suit against the other driver involved in the accident. The other driver would ultimately be responsible for ensuring the payment of any court-ordered award, even though it’s likely that the insurance company would actually pay. The defendant’s side can choose to offer a settlement at any time, and at that point, the plaintiff would decide whether to accept the settlement and dismiss the lawsuit.
If the parties can’t reach a settlement, the lawsuit will need a trial. At the end of the trial, a jury will determine if the defendant is at fault, and if so, calculate how the amount of the award payable to the plaintiff. A trial often becomes the end of the road — the plaintiff might only be able to get the amount awarded at trial, regardless of the amounts offered during settlement negotiations.