If you’ve recently been involved in a car accident, you are aware of the many questions that swirl through the mind. How much is it going to cost to fix the car? What are you going to do about the lost wages from the missed work days? Who’s going to pay for the surgery that may be necessary?
Navigating conversations with insurance companies, attending depositions, and providing medical records is confusing, time-consuming, and overwhelming. So much so that it may be tempting to get the process done and over with as quickly as possible. But what about those costs? How do you know you’re not getting short-changed? And if the other party’s insurance company makes a settlement offer, can you turn it down?
Do I Have to Accept a Car Insurance Company’s First Settlement Offer?
There are many things that influence how much a car accident injury is worth. Generally, insurance companies will look at the following factors:
Special damages. This includes medical bills, mechanic costs, car rental, lost wages, and loss of future earning capacity (in cases of significant disability).
General damages. This includes damages that don’t have a specific monetary amount attached to them, such as a permanent injury or disfigurement, the loss of a loved one, and loss of consortium (companionship associated with marriage, such as child-rearing, household chores, and intimacy with your spouse).
Punitive damages. This is an economic amount that’s added to what could be awarded to an injured party if the person who was at-fault was driving with reckless disregard of human life or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol). These damages are not unlimited. Florida law places a cap to either three times the amount of special and general damages or $500,000.
During litigation, both parties will exchange a vast amount of documentation: medical bills, mechanic bills, paystubs, tax return forms, proof of training and education (if the injured party is also claiming loss of earning capacity). Doctors and other experts may provide their professional opinions as well.
Based on all of the documentary evidence and testimony, an insurance company will make a settlement offer. If the settlement offer is made in good faith and you reject it hoping for a windfall, you’ll proceed to trial, and if the Judge rules in favor of the insurance company, you could be ordered to pay for the opposing party’s attorney fees.
Can I Make a Counter Offer?
Yes, you can make a counteroffer, but the good faith standard still applies. Let’s say your current losses are $20,000 but your doctor says that in five years, there’s a strong likelihood you’ll need corrective surgery due to an injury from the accident. If the insurance company offers $20,000 to cover all of your losses to date, you could present a counteroffer that includes the cost of surgery and lost wages while you recuperate from that surgery.
The Importance of Speaking With an Attorney Before Settlement Negotiations
While both parties are expected to act in good faith, it’s important to note that plenty of car accidents may look like the damages are less extensive than they actually are. Insurance companies know this and often use this knowledge to lowball the first settlement offer. They may or may not be acting in bad faith. The fact is that if you’re making a claim, you need documentation to back it up. Present all evidence of what you’re claiming as damages are in fact, legitimate damages. This cannot be ascertained unless you have what’s called a “Discovery” (when both parties exchange extensive information and take sworn testimonies).
No matter how nice the insurance adjustor may sound, their job is to save money for the insurance company they work for. They are watching out for their best interest; not yours. This is why it’s crucial to never speak with an insurance adjuster for the other party after a car accident. Anything you say may be construed as an admission of fault (full or partial) or to make your damages sound as if they are less than what they actually are.
In addition, because car accident lawyers have seen so many different types of cases, they will think of scenarios that may not even be on your radar, but that could significantly impact the amount of compensation you’re entitled to receive. But, if you agree to an insurance company’s offer, you give up your right to pursue any additional legal action against them.
How Long do I Have to Sue After a Car Accident?
In Florida, the statute of limitations for negligence is four years. However, as explained above, to prove your claim, you have to provide evidence of damages, and obtaining all of the information you need could take a long time. In addition, the longer you wait to file, the more likely it is that injuries could be attributed to causes other than the accident. As time passes witnesses statements and/or video footage could be harder or impossible to obtain as well.
Call us at Clark Law for a Consultation
As you can see, there are many factors that affect the outcome of a case. If you or someone you love was involved in a car accident, call us at (855) 680-4911 or schedule a free consultation. We’ll consider all circumstances to determine your best next step.
Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.