Some car accident claims settle almost immediately. If liability (legal responsibility for the wreck) and damages (amount of compensation) are clear, the insurance company must promptly investigate the matter and make a “fair and equitable” settlement offer to a victim, usually within thirty days. Very few car accident claims are this straightforward for the reasons outlined below. So, in most cases, unless the victim is willing to take an initial, low-ball offer, the victim must go through the litigation process.
Back in the day, these issues didn’t matter too much. As recently as the 1990s, plaintiffs won about 70 percent of civil jury trials in Washington. Insurance companies did almost anything to avoid trial, such as writing a big check early in the process, to avoid the slightest risk of a trial. Today, the tables have turned. The plaintiffs’ trial winning percentage has tumbled to about 30 percent. As a result, insurance companies don’t make generous offers, or even reasonable offers, until they’re backed into a corner. Instead, they make low-ball offers and then say, “I’ll see you in court.”
So, rather than settle a personal injury case early for pennies on the dollar, a Walla Walla car accident lawyer diligently prepares a strong case that, as mentioned, backs the insurance company into a corner. Strong cases address both liability and damages issues to ensure maximum compensation. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well, in some extreme cases.
How Much Is the Average Settlement for Car Accident Back and Neck Injury?
It’s hard to put an exact number on the average settlement amount for car accident back and neck injuries. Every car accident case is different, and the severity of the injury makes a big difference in how much is awarded in damages. Spinal cord injury settlements are larger than whiplash, soft tissue injury, or lower back injury settlements.
The state you’re in also makes a difference. Because laws vary so much, some states are likely to have higher average car accident settlement amounts. For example, Washington courts typically use the collateral source rule. If John’s insurance company pays part of his medical bills, his car accident settlement still includes the full amount of medical bills. So, his settlement is larger. The collateral source rule is quite complex, so don’t take anything for granted.
With all this taken into consideration, the median injury settlement amount in the U.S. for a severe neck and back injury is probably somewhere between $100,000 and $500,000.
Proving Liability in a Car Accident Injury Claim
Just like there’s a difference between a football game’s halftime score and final score, there’s a difference between accident fault and liability for damages.
Additional evidence, like information from a vehicle’s Event Data Recorder, reinforces the evidence in a car crash claim, moving a toss-up claim into the win column and increasing a back injury settlement.
EDRs, which resemble the black box flight data recorders in commercial jets, are onboard computers that measure and record data like:
Vehicle speed, and
If Bill says the tortfeasor (negligent driver) turned illegally and smashed into the victim, but Bill wasn’t wearing his glasses, his testimony is not credible in court. The tortfeasor’s EDR conclusively establishes that the car moved at X angle just before the wreck.
Car crash evidence is also relevant to car crash pain and suffering, and therefore the size of the accident injury settlement. Bad wrecks cause much more emotional distress.
Furthermore, such electronic evidence also resonates very well with tech-savvy Walla Walla County jurors. Many jurors trust gadgets more than they trust people.
This vital proof is usually unavailable unless a Walla Walla personal injury attorney acts quickly. Insurance companies usually destroy wrecked vehicles within a few days. So, they also destroy all the physical evidence in the vehicle, including the EDR. A spoliation letter, which creates a legal duty to preserve evidence, is the only way to stop this “accidental” destruction of evidence and ensure a large settlement.
Legal Doctrines That Increase or Decrease Car Accident Settlement Amounts
Legal issues could affect motor vehicle accident liability as well. Let’s stay with the above example about a swerving vehicle. The last clear chance defense sometimes applies in these situations. If the victim anticipated the crash and didn’t change lanes or otherwise avoid it, the victim could be legally responsible for damages, cutting off the possibility of a settlement.
Significantly, there’s a big difference between the last clear chance and any possible chance. So, this defense usually doesn’t hold up in court.
Defenses like sudden emergency might not be strong enough to prevail at trial. Furthermore, the burden of proof in a civil claim is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, Bill’s shaky testimony might hold up in court.
At this stage of the game, the insurance company doesn’t have to “win” the case. Its lawyers must only delay, or reduce, an accident settlement.
Damages (Amount of Compensation) Issues
Even if the defendant cannot possibly contest liability, it usually can contest the amount of a neck injury settlement or other settlement. Medical bills, which are usually the largest damages component in a car crash case, are a good example.
Adrenaline masks back pain. Therefore, many victims tell their doctors they “feel fine.” They may even decline medical treatment at the scene. In these situations, insurance company lawyers typically claim the victims’ injuries are exaggerated. So, if a doctor identifies physical problems later and the case settlement comes too quickly, the victim could be left holding the bag for these expenses.
The takeaway is obvious. Even if you “feel fine,” never decline medical treatment and always see a doctor who focuses on injury-related conditions. Only a Walla Walla personal injury attorney can determine your legal options, and only a qualified doctor can determine how badly you are or aren’t, hurt.
Medical bill reasonableness could be an issue as well. In Washington, car crash and other injury victims are only entitled to medical bill compensation if the treatment was reasonably necessary. Insurance companies often rely on doctors’ reports to redefine “reasonably necessary” as “cheapest possible.”
To counteract this threat and obtain a fair settlement, attorneys usually partner with independent physicians who review the treating physicians’ work and give it their stamp of approval.
Once again, these questions often aren’t enough to defeat a claim in court. But they are sufficient to give an insurance company an excuse to further delay the settlement process.
Contact a Determined Walla Walla Car Accident Lawyer
Most injury claims eventually settle out of court, but unfortunately for victims, “eventually” could be a very long time. For a free consultation with an experienced Walla Walla personal injury lawyer, contact the Hess Law Office, PLLC. We have several office locations in the area.