Victims in car accidents can often expect anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $1,000,000 in a car accident settlement. The wide range is because there is no such thing as an “average” car crash. By the same token, there is no “average” settlement.
The settlement should reflect the victim’s legal damages. Other factors can change the expected amount, as well.
How much can I expect in a car accident settlement?
Car accident victims can expect to receive a settlement that reflects their legal damages. This can be quite high in severe accidents. For minor crashes, it will be far lower. Personal injury attorneys and insurance companies try to estimate what victims and plaintiffs would recover, should they take their claim to court. The settlement that they negotiate often reflects this amount.
A victim’s legal damages from a car accident include:
- medical expenses, including the costs of medical treatment that may not have taken place, yet, like physical therapy,
- lost wages,
- lost earning capacity, if the crash led to injuries that will impair his or her professional success,
- pain and suffering,
- property damage,
- emotional distress,
- loss of consortium, for the victim’s loved ones, and
- punitive damages, though these are rare in car accident cases that are based on negligence.
The settlement would provide financial compensation for all of these legal damages. The goal of the settlement is to make the victim whole, once again.
Note that the value of your claim is not restricted to the costs of medical care. An auto accident settlement should cover all of the losses that the victim incurred – physical, financial, emotional, and mental. This includes non-economic damages that are difficult to state in a dollar amount, like pain and suffering and emotional distress.
The amount of compensation that will cover the victim’s legal damages will depend on the severity of the crash and his or her injuries. A minor accident that did not cause a physical injury and very little property damage will generally lead to a smaller settlement than a fatal crash.
Some common elements of the most severe car accidents that lead to large settlement amounts include:
- a high-speed collision,
- extremely painful injuries,
- injuries that are so debilitating that the victim will never work, again,
- reckless driving by the responsible party, and
- a victim who did nothing to cause the crash.
Some of these elements are especially common in certain types of car accidents, like:
However, no two accidents are the same. Large settlements can come from any type of car crash, even when none of these factors were present.
Generally, though, the value of your case will be based on the severity of your injuries. Life-threatening or disabling injuries tend to drive the amount of many of a victim’s legal damages, like their medical bills. Therefore, the average car accident settlement value is generally higher if there were serious injuries, and lower if there were only minor injuries. Some types of car accident injuries that tend to lead to large settlements include:
- traumatic brain injuries,
- spinal cord injuries,
- severe cases of whiplash,
- chronic pain,
- serious concussions,
- nerve damage,
- dismemberment, and
- other injuries that come with a high degree of impairment.
One way to maximize the settlement in a personal injury claim, though, is to hire a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm. Insurance companies increase their profits by lowballing as many car accident insurance claims as possible. When victims get legal representation, insurance adjusters are far more likely to begin making fair settlement offers to end the personal injury case.
If the settlement offers are still inadequate, a car accident attorney can help the victim file a personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations has expired.
What if I was partly to blame for the auto accident?
The victim’s role in causing the motor vehicle accident is a significant factor in the potential settlement amount. This is because states use shared fault rules that reduce the amount of compensation the victim is entitled to receive by their percentage of responsibility for the crash. The settlement offers will reflect this reduction.
Many accidents happen because both drivers were negligent in some way. In cases where the victim was partially to blame, states use their shared fault rules.
There are 2 types of shared fault:
Both of these types require the jury to assign a percentage of fault to each party.
Under contributory negligence, if the plaintiff was to blame at all for the accident, he or she will be denied recovery. Even if the victim suffered severe injuries, the fault that he or she brought to the crash will mean that they will not recover any compensation.
For example: Judy is hurt in a car wreck. The jury finds that she has suffered $500,000 in legal damages. However, they also find that she was driving while distracted. They say that she was 10 percent at fault for the accident. Under contributory negligence rules, she would not recover anything.
Because contributory negligence is seen as unfairly harsh, few states still use it. Virginia is one of the only states that still does.1
Under comparative negligence, the victim’s recovery is reduced by his or her percentage of fault. However, there are 2 types of comparative negligence:
- pure comparative negligence, and
- modified comparative negligence.
In pure comparative negligence states, like California,2 victims can recover compensation, even if they were primarily at-fault. In modified comparative negligence states, like Texas,3 they are barred recovery if they were more than half at fault.
For example: Judy suffers $500,000 in legal damages in her car accident. The jury finds that she is 60 percent at fault. If her accident happened in a modified comparative negligence state, she would recover nothing because she was more than half at-fault. If it happened in a pure comparative negligence state, she would still recover $200,000 after her total amount is reduced by her percentage of responsibility.
Because settlements are meant to reflect what a victim would likely receive if the case were brought to trial, these shared fault rules will influence the settlement offers. Victims who suffer terrible injuries but who were likely more than half at-fault for the crash will likely see settlement offers that do not reflect the extent of their injuries.
Will the insurance company pay for the car accident claim?
If the responsible driver has liability insurance coverage, then the driver’s insurance company will pay the car accident settlement amount. This payout, however, is capped at the policy limit. Any amount remaining will have to come from another source, or the victim will go undercompensated.
The best case scenario for a victim is when the at-fault party has liability insurance with a policy limit that is higher than the victim’s legal damages. In these cases, the insurance company will cover the entire verdict or settlement.
However, if the policy limit is lower than the victim’s damages, he or she may go undercompensated. Victims in this situation will recover some, but not all, of what they deserve. They will have to look for the remainder from another source. This can come from:
- the victim’s insurer, if he or she has underinsured motorist coverage,
- another party responsible for the crash, like the manufacturer of a defective car part, or
- the defendant’s personal assets.
If the responsible driver was uninsured, the victim will struggle to recover much compensation, at all. The only potential sources of financial compensation for an injury settlement will be:
- the responsible driver’s personal assets,
- some other responsible party, or
- an insurance claim against the victim’s own insurance provider, provided that the victim has uninsured motorist coverage.
Having a car accident lawyer on hand is especially important when the at-fault driver’s insurance policy will not fully cover the victim’s losses.
- See, e.g., Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017).
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975).
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.