There is no specific limit to how much a plaintiff can seek in a car accident lawsuit. Car accident victims can sue the responsible parties for the full extent of their legal damages. This can range from anywhere from a few thousand dollars to over $1,000,000. The severity of the injuries, the extent of the other party’s negligence and the size of the insurance policies are major factors in determining the value of a case. These factors can substantially increase or decrease the settlement or verdict.
How much can a victim sue for a car accident?
Car accident victims can sue for an amount of compensation that would cover their legal damages. They can also demand punitive damages, though these are rarely awarded in claims based on negligence. The legal representation of a personal injury lawyer is the best way to maximize this amount.
After a car accident, the victim will suffer legal damages. These are all of the ways that the car crash set the victim back. They include:
- medical expenses,
- lost wages and any reduced earning capacity,
- pain and suffering,
- loss of consortium for the victim’s loved ones, and
- property damage.
Because the victim was not at-fault for the crash, they deserve to be compensated for all of these losses. Even if the crash was not deliberate – very few of them are – the negligent party is still the one who should be held responsible. He or she should pay financial compensation for the costs of these legal damages. Victims deserve to be made whole, once again.
The amount of financial compensation that would cover a victim’s legal damages will depend on the crash. Victims in fender-benders who did not suffer a bodily injury and only a small amount of vehicle damage may only be entitled to a few hundred dollars to repair their car. The family of a victim who was killed in a fatal motor vehicle accident will likely be entitled to far, far more in a wrongful death case.
Some types of damages, like pain and suffering, are difficult to put into a dollar amount. The best way for victims to recover the compensation they deserve for these types of damages is to get the legal advice of a personal injury attorney. Car accident lawyers have represented similar victims in the past. They are in a good position to know how much the victim can recover in a personal injury claim.
Hiring a car accident attorney from a reputable law firm can also increase the amount of a settlement or verdict in a car accident claim. Insurance companies often prey on unrepresented victims by having their adjusters make lowball offers to settle the case. These offers are usually made at a time when medical bills begin to accumulate and the victim is under financial strain. When car accident victims retain a lawyer, insurance companies often see that as a sign that they will have to make a fair settlement offer.
If the insurance carrier does not make a fair car accident settlement, a lawyer can help victims file a personal injury lawsuit before the statute of limitations has run.
Am I only entitled to my medical bills in a car accident lawsuit?
No, victims are entitled to all of their legal damages. Medical expenses are only one type of those legal damages.
This is contrary to what many insurance companies will lead injured drivers to believe. Worse, auto insurance companies may claim that the victim is only entitled to compensation for the medical bills that have already been paid. This is not the case. Victims are entitled to compensation for all of their medical treatment, including what will likely be needed in the future. In a car accident case, a victim’s recoverable medical expenses include:
- emergency room care,
- ambulance fees,
- testing and diagnostic care, like X-rays and an MRI,
- surgical care,
- post-operative care, even if it involves a hospital stay,
- physical therapy,
- occupational therapy, and
- any other medical expenses that stemmed from the accident.
This is in addition to the other forms of legal damages that the victim incurs, like pain and suffering.
What if I was partially at fault?
Shared fault rules depend on the state. In many states, victims may see their share of compensation reduced by their percentage of fault. In many others, victims may be barred from recovering any compensation if they were more than half at fault. In a couple of states, victims can be barred from recovering if they contributed any fault to the car accident.
When the person suing over a car accident was partially to blame for it, there is shared fault. Different states in the U.S. have come up with different solutions for shared fault problems. There are 3 general answers:
They all require jurors hearing the case at trial to assign a percentage of fault to each party.
In states that use pure comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s compensation is reduced by his or her percentage of fault. Many states, including California1 and Florida,2 use pure comparative negligence.
For example: Leon is hurt in a car accident. At trial, the jury says that he suffered $100,000 in legal damages, but also that he was 55 percent at fault. Leon’s compensation will be reduced by 55 percent, dropping it down to $45,000.
Modified comparative negligence also reduces compensation by the plaintiff’s share of fault. However, modified comparative negligence bars recovery if the plaintiff was more than half at fault. Many states, including Texas,3 use these rules.
For example: Leon is found to have suffered $100,000 in legal damages, but was 55 percent at fault. He will recover nothing in a modified comparative negligence state. If he had been found to be 30 percent at fault, his award would have been reduced accordingly, down to $70,000.
Plaintiffs in states that use contributory negligence are barred from recovering anything if they contributed to the crash, in any way. Very few states use this rule, though Virginia still does.4
For example: Leon suffered $100,000 in damages, but the jury finds that he was 3 percent at fault because he was speeding by 5 miles per hour over the limit. He will recover nothing.
Does the car insurance company pay the settlement or verdict?
Yes, though the responsible driver’s insurance coverage will be a big factor in the victim’s recovery. If the responsible party was adequately insured, then the insurance company will pay for the settlement or verdict. If the responsible driver was not insured with liability insurance, though, he or she will have to pay out of their own pocket. This can leave the victim drastically under-compensated. If the at-fault driver is underinsured, then the driver’s insurance company will only pay a portion of the compensation.
The best outcome for the victim in a personal injury case stemming from an auto accident is if the responsible party’s insurance coverage is higher than the victim’s legal damages. This means that the at-fault driver is fully insured. In this case, the insurer will pay for all of the verdict or settlement.
If the at-fault driver’s insurance policy has a limit that is lower than the victim’s legal damages, then the driver is underinsured. The insurer will compensate the victim, up to the policy limit. Whatever remains will have to come from some other source. This can be:
- the responsible driver’s personal assets,
- the victim’s underinsured motorist policy, if he or she has one, or
- some other party.
An uninsured driver has no liability coverage to pay for a verdict or settlement against them. Victims who get hit and hurt by uninsured drivers often struggle to find a source of financial compensation. They may have to turn to:
- any assets that the uninsured driver has,
- an insurance claim against their own uninsured motorist coverage, if they have one, or
- some other party.
- 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).