Most car accident cases do not go to court. Instead, they end up settling long before they see the inside of a courtroom. Car accident victims, at-fault parties, insurance companies, and lawyers tend to favor the efficiency and certainty of a settlement over the risk and cost of going to trial.
But that doesn’t mean you can safely assume your car accident case will settle. The most reliable way to ensure that you receive the compensation you need to pay your bills and rebuild after getting hurt in a crash is to hire an experienced car accident injury lawyer who is equally capable of winning at the negotiating table and in front of a jury.
The Role of Settlement in Car Accident Cases
Settlements play an outsized role in personal injury law. Here’s an explanation of what a settlement is and why they’re so common in car accident cases.
What is a car accident settlement?
A settlement is an agreement to resolve a legal dispute between two or more parties. Settlements can take many forms and serve many purposes, but they virtually always involve parties reaching a compromise in order to bring a lawsuit or legal claim to a definitive end. The terms of a settlement constitute a binding contract between the parties to it. With rare exceptions, a settlement cannot be undone or revisited once it’s finalized.
In the typical car accident case, an injured accident victim sues or makes a claim for money damages against the party at fault for the crash and that party’s liability insurance carrier.
A settlement of that claim usually involves:
- The at-fault party and/or its insurer paying the injured crash victim an agreed amount of money in a lump sum or over time;
- The crash victim releasing the at-fault party and its insurer from future liability for the victim’s damages; and
- The crash victim voluntarily terminates any pending lawsuit or legal claim against those parties.
Lawyers for the injured party and at-fault party, and often an adjuster working for the at-fault party’s insurance carrier, negotiate most car accident settlements. Negotiations can happen in person, by phone, or in writing. They may take place all at once or stretch over weeks or months.
Most often, settlement negotiations involve a back-and-forth exchange of demands, offers, and counter-offers culminating in a written agreement. Once the parties or their representatives sign the agreement, it becomes legally binding on them.
Why do car accident cases settle so often?
Car accident cases usually settle because settling allows the parties to control the outcome of their dispute. Having a say in when, on what terms, and for how much a claim ends is something parties on both sides tend to value highly. The certainty of a settlement will often facilitate future planning and relieve financial stress for everyone involved.
The only alternative to settling a car accident claim, once it has been formally initiated, is litigation—that is, going through the process of presenting evidence and legal arguments to a judge, arbitrator, or jury and asking them to decide who wins and how much the loser must pay. Litigation takes time and effort, which is one reason settlements can be preferable. It’s often the case that one or both parties want to get a car accident claim over and done with on a faster timetable and at less cost than would be possible if they went to court.
Litigation also entails unavoidable uncertainty. No matter how skilled your lawyer or how strong your case is, you never know exactly how a car accident claim will turn out once you put it in someone else’s hands to decide.
Many parties to car accident cases would rather compromise by paying a little more than they’d prefer or accepting a little less than they want, rather than take the risk that a judge or jury might hand them a far more costly defeat.
The fact that many car accident cases involve relatively straightforward, two-party claims for purely monetary damages also fosters settlement. If the at-fault party’s liability is relatively clear-cut, as is often the case, settling a car accident claim largely becomes a numbers game.
The parties weigh the extent of the crash victim’s injuries and losses, the amount of insurance available, and their costs and odds of going to trial, and as long as their analyses put them in the same ballpark dollar-wise, they’ll usually end up coming to an agreement.
Reasons Not All Car Accident Cases Settle
Some car accident cases don’t settle. And it can be difficult to predict at the get-go which ones those will be.
Strong Differences of Opinion About the Merits of a Car Accident Claim
Most of the time, a failure to settle boils down to the opposing parties harboring completely incompatible views on at least one of the two key questions in any car accident case:
- Who should bear the legal and financial liability for the crash; and
- How much (if anything) the injured crash victim should receive as damages.
When the parties and their representatives have strong and divergent opinions on these issues, achieving a settlement can become challenging, if not impossible. This doesn’t happen very often because, as we explained above, most car accident cases are pretty straightforward. But when it does, the parties have little choice but to press forward with litigation until one of them changes their views enough for a compromise to be possible.
Unpredictable Factors that Get in the Way of Negotiations
A difference of viewpoints on the merits of a case isn’t the only factor that can derail a settlement.
Other hurdles to a negotiated resolution of a car accident claim can include:
- A business choice, usually by an insurance company, not to settle a particular type of car accident claim because of the precedent it might set for future cases or because the amount at stake is so large that fighting is the only viable option;
- A party’s strong desire to “have their day in court” regardless of the outcome;
- Disagreement between the parties on when or how settlement negotiations should proceed;
- A need for multiple victims and/or liable parties to participate in a settlement in order for the case to be resolved; or
- Prolonged uncertainty about the availability of evidence or evolving legal principles could affect a case’s outcome at trial.
These and similar factors can be difficult to foresee at the beginning of a car accident case. They often only become apparent over time as each party evaluates and reevaluates the strengths and weaknesses of their positions and as new facts or legal arguments emerge.
Look for an Experienced Trial Lawyer
It might seem counterintuitive, but picking a lawyer with lots of courtroom experience usually pays dividends in a car accident case, even one that’s destined to settle. That’s because car accident cases generally only result in top-dollar recoveries when the victim’s lawyer is ready, willing, and able to take the case to trial.
After all, the risk of suffering a costly loss in court often motivates parties to settle. If the defense lawyer and insurance company think your lawyer instead hopes to avoid trial at all costs, they will use it to their advantage to push the settlement value of your case down.
Hiring a trial lawyer can also help resolve your car accident claim favorably because it takes meticulous preparation to build a winning case for the courtroom. A trial lawyer approaches every step in handling a car accident matter with an eye toward presenting it to a judge and jury. That focus tends to add strength to the evidence and precision to the legal arguments the lawyer deploys on your behalf—all of which your lawyer can also use to your advantage in settlement negotiations.
Insist on a Track Record of Successful Car Accident Settlements and Jury Verdicts
Of course, it’s not enough for lawyers to say they’re ready to go to trial for you. The right attorney for your car accident case is the one who can back up those claims with a proven track record of success in car accident cases, both in and out of the courtroom.
A track record does not guarantee results. No lawyer can promise you a favorable outcome for your claim. But it does serve the important purpose of giving you the peace of mind of knowing that your lawyer knows how to deliver results for people in your situation.
It can also help your lawyer achieve a high-value settlement. In negotiations, successful car accident lawyers can point to their past victories as proof that they know how to win in the courtroom and that defense lawyers and insurance companies have taken them seriously in other cases. In effect, the lawyer puts the track record itself to work on your behalf.
Tips for Achieving a Favorable Outcome in Your Car Accident Case
Choosing the right car accident lawyer isn’t the only thing you can do to enhance your odds of achieving a strong settlement or jury verdict in your car accident case. Following the tips below can also protect your rights and put you in a favorable position to secure the money you need to pay your bills and heal from your trauma.
Seek Medical Attention
Always go to the doctor as soon as possible after getting into a car accident, even if you feel okay or think you only suffered slight injuries. Some severe trauma can masquerade as minor aches and pains but could threaten your life if not treated promptly.
In addition to protecting your health, seeking medical attention also enhances your legal rights. Car accident cases achieve top-dollar outcomes when the injured victim can prove the nature and extent of the harm the crash caused. The most powerful and persuasive evidence of a car accident injury often consists of records of medical treatment the victim sought soon after the wreck. Those records can also go a long way to prove that you took care of yourself and that you don’t bear any of the blame for the severity of your injuries.
Do Not Try to Settle on Your Own
As the discussion above reflects, the fact that most car accident cases settle does not mean that settlements are always easy to achieve. It takes the skill, experience, and reputation of a seasoned car accident lawyer to maximize the value of your claim.
Trying to settle a case on your own is virtually always a terrible idea. Defense lawyers and insurance companies will not take your claim seriously. They will also take full advantage of your relative inexperience to undermine your case at every opportunity. In our experience, crash victims who try to act as their own lawyers inevitably end up with far less money than the law entitles them to receive, and many receive nothing at all.
Don’t Wait to Get a Lawyer
You may have only a limited period of time to take legal action on your car accident claim. The longer you wait to connect with an experienced lawyer, the greater the chances that you will miss a critical deadline or opportunity to gather key evidence. Waiting too long could even strip you of your rights to compensation altogether.
All reputable car accident lawyers offer free case consultations. They also represent their clients on contingency, meaning they only receive a fee if they win for you. You have nothing to lose, and potentially lots to gain, by contacting a car accident attorney immediately after suffering injuries in a crash.
Contact a Skilled Car Accident Settlement Lawyer Today
Your car accident case will probably settle, but you can’t take that for granted. An experienced car accident lawyer can advocate for your interests and give you the best shot at a top-dollar financial recovery, whether that means settling your case or taking it to trial.