How do you know if you should accept a settlement for your personal injury after a car accident? First, before accepting any settlement offer you should consult with an attorney. Insurance companies will sometimes make a quick settlement offer to you after your accident. They will try to convince you to avoid hiring an attorney. The insurance carrier will advise you that an attorney will only cost you a portion of your recovery and will delay the settlement of your case. Remember this - the insurance carrier does not have your best interest at heart. Insurance companies exist to earn profits and pay dividends to their shareholders. The less money they pay you for your injury claim, the better off they are.
There are three basic areas that your attorney should be analyzing in determining the value of your case:
- Liability - who was at fault for the accident and how can you prove your case;
- Damages - Did you sustain a "serious injury" as required by law and what medical care was required after your injury;
- What is the extent of the defendant's insurance coverage.
There are many details that must be analyzed within each of these categories and every personal inury or accident case is different. However, in regards to car accident cases in New York you must first prove that the other party was negligent while driving. Negligence is the fauilure to act with reasonable care under the circumstances. The New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law establishes the rules of the road that drivers must adhere to. A violation of the VTL is one way of proving negligence.
New York State Law also allows an injured person to succeed in a lawsuit even if they too are a portion at fault for causing the accident. For example, when there is a collision at an intersection where there are no traffic control devices (stop signs or traffic lights) both drivers may bear a portion of the fault. Any percentage of fault assigned to the injured driver will reduce the injured driver's financial recovery by that percentage. There are also situations where fault for an accident can be determined completely as a matter of law. In most "hit in the rear" collisions, the car to the rear wil be found one hundred percent at fault for the accident since there was nothing the lead car could have done to avoid the accident.
Damages: "Serious Injury"
The most hotly contested element of car accident injury cases is the question, "did you sustain a serious inury". Volumes have been written on this topic. In its most simple form, "serious injury" is death, dismemberment, a fracture, a disfiguring scar, losing a fetus, being out of work for 90 days, total loss of use of a body part, significant lose of use of a body part or the permanent consequential loss of use of a body part.
Additionally, you must establish that your injury or condition was caused by the accident and not a pre-existing condition. If you can not prove that you sustained a "serious injury" as the result of the accident your claim will fail. Therefore the proper medical care must always be obtained and your doctors must properly document your injuries for later use in the courtroom. Your attorney must have the requisite skill and knowledge of medicine to guide you through the process and present your claim to the insurance carrier and eventually to a jury.
The final element - insurance coverage - can be the most frustrating. You can prove the accident was the defendant's fault. You can prove you have a serious injury that is worth a lot of money. You can even take a verdict at trial and convert it to a judgment. However, none of that will provde you with fair, money compensation if there is no insurance coverage to pay the verdict or judgment. For all intents and purposes, your financial recovery will be limited to the extent of the defendant's insurance policy. New York State only requires $25,000 of insurance coverage to place most vehicles on the road. That is not a lot of money if you sustained a serious injury. There are of course many vehicles that have extensive insurance coverage. The amount of insurance is a signficant element in the analyss of the value of your injury claim.
Seek Out Legal Advice First
Each of these elements have a multitude of criteria that must be carefully analyzed before you can determine wether or not to accept a settlement of your car accident inury claim. Speak to an experienced personal injury trial attorney before accepting any settlement.