The average settlement for a head-on collision ranges anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $1,000,000. The wide range is because there is no such thing as an “average” car accident case. They are all unique. Therefore, there is no “average” settlement, either. However, some factors will likely increase or decrease the settlement amount.
What is the average car accident settlement amount for a head-on collision?
Because every case is different, it would be misleading to say what an average settlement amount would be after a car crash. Every case is unique, so there is no average claim. However, most settlements for head-on crashes are between a few thousand dollars and one million dollars.
When both parties are represented by a car accident lawyer, personal injury settlements usually reflect what an expected jury verdict would be. These verdicts are supposed to compensate the victim for his or her legal damages. There are 2 types of legal damages:
- economic damages, and
- non-economic damages.
There is also a third type of legal damages: Punitive damages. These, however, are very rare in car accident cases.
Economic damages are those that are easily stated in a dollar amount. They include things like the victim’s:
- medical expenses,
- lost wages,
- any reduced earning capacity from an inability to work due to the crash,
- property damage, and
- other out-of-pocket expenses incurred due to the crash.
In some cases, these damages are fairly easy to ascertain. If the victim has finished receiving medical treatment, then the medical bills that they have paid may accurately reflect their expenses. Sometimes, though, there is an element of uncertainty. If the victim still needs more treatment or physical therapy, the amount of medical expenses that they deserve to be compensated for will not be final, yet.
Non-economic damages are those that are not easily stated in a dollar amount. They include:
- pain and suffering,
- emotional distress,
- loss of consortium for the victim’s loved ones, and
- mental anguish from any disfigurement caused by the crash.
These internal ways of suffering deserve to be compensated, as well. However, they are difficult to value because no one else felt them. They can drastically alter the value of a particular personal injury case.
After a head-on collision, the amount of legal damages suffered by the victim will drive the settlement discussions. The following factors will be very important:
- the extent and permanence of the victim’s injuries,
- whether the victim was disabled or disfigured from the crash,
- the victim’s age,
- whether there is a loved one who could add a loss of consortium claim to the personal injury lawsuit,
- the education level and occupation of the victim, for lost wage and reduced earning capacity damages,
- the type of injuries that the victim sustained,
- whether the injuries will prevent the victim from doing the things that he or she most enjoys, and
- whether the victim will ever return to work in a full capacity.
Another big factor will be the shared fault laws of the state in which the accident occurred. Each state’s personal injury laws describe what happens when both drivers are partially at-fault. States fall into one of the following 3 categories:
- pure comparative negligence states, like California1 and Florida,2 which reduce the percentage of compensation the plaintiff recovers by the percentage of responsibility they bear for the accident,
- modified comparative negligence states, like Texas,3 which reduce the victim’s compensation by the responsibility they bear for the accident, but which also bar recovery completely if the victim was primarily at-fault, and
- contributory negligence states, like Virginia,4 which bar the victim from recovering any compensation if he or she contributed to the accident, at all.
Because of these rules, the victim’s role in the accident can drastically reduce the settlement amount.
For example: Marge gets hit by a car driving in the opposite direction. Because she is not wearing her seatbelt, she is ejected from the car and suffers a severe head injury. The jury finds that she has suffered $10 million in legal damages. If the jury finds that Marge is 40 percent at fault for them, she will recover $6 million. If the jury finds that she is 55 percent, she may not recover anything in a modified comparative negligence state.
How does this compare to the average settlement for a car accident case?
The typical settlement for a head-on collision is usually higher than for other types of car accidents.
The higher settlement amount often comes from the injuries that are common in head-on crashes. These injuries are generally far more severe than for other types of car wrecks, like:
The severity of the injuries in head-on collisions tends to come from the speed of the vehicles. When motor vehicles hit each other head-on, the speed of the collision equals the speed of each vehicle, added to each other. This is far higher than for many other types of accidents.
What are some common auto accident injuries?
In head-on collisions, some of the most severe types of injuries that victims can suffer become very common. They include:
- traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs,
- other head injuries,
- back injuries, including herniated discs,
- neck injuries,
- broken bones and fractures,
- lacerations, and
- whiplash and other soft tissue injuries.
In some cases, these serious injuries prove to be fatal. When that happens, the victim’s loved ones can stand in for the victim and file a wrongful death lawsuit on the victim’s behalf.
Does the insurance company pay personal injury settlements?
Yes, the insurance company will pay for the cost of a personal injury settlement, up to the policy limits. For especially severe head-on crashes, those policy limits can fall far short of what the victim deserves. When that happens, the at-fault driver may have to be held personally liable for the remainder.
Nearly all states require motorists to have at least some liability coverage in their auto insurance coverage. This protects the driver’s finances if he or she causes a crash. It also provides a source of compensation for the victim that the driver hurt in the motor vehicle accident.
However, once the liability coverage reaches the insurance policy’s limit, the insurer falls out of the picture. If the victim still deserves more compensation, it will have to come from somewhere else. If the victim has uninsured or underinsured coverage with their own insurer, that can be a source of financial compensation. If the victim does not have this coverage, he or she may have to pursue the negligent driver’s personal finances, instead. This rarely produces enough to fully satisfy the victim and make him or her whole, once again.
Finding additional sources of compensation is something that a personal injury attorney can do. Establishing an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer from a reputable law firm is essential for victims who want to make a full recovery.
When do settlements happen?
Settlements can happen at any time between the accident and the jury’s verdict. In some cases, the accident victim accepts the insurance company’s initial settlement offer. In other cases, the plaintiff and defendant settle their personal injury claim in court while they wait for the jury to return with a verdict.
In the days after a head-on collision and subsequent insurance claim, victims can expect a visit from an insurance adjuster. This representative of the insurance company will offer a payout to settle the claim. This initial offer is rarely enough to cover the victim’s needs. However, the amount and timing of the offer is designed to make it look like a good deal. If the victim accepts it, he or she waives their right to file a lawsuit.
Many settlements happen after the victim hires a personal injury lawyer. Once it sees that the victim has legal representation, the insurance company will take the negotiation seriously.
Settlement negotiations also heat up after a car accident claim is filed in court. Insurance companies see this step as a sign that the victim is serious about getting a fair settlement value. A car accident attorney can help victims file this claim in court.
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975).
- Florida Statutes 768.81.
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.
- See, e.g., Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017).