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Home  »  Personal Injury   »   California Car Accident Settlement Guide

California Car Accident Settlement Guide

Experiencing an accident on the road is something we all hope to avoid. The thought of what can be required after such an unfortunate event — such as potentially having to haggle with your insurance company, face costly medical bills, and undergo time lost at work due to injuries — is not a subject on which any of us wishes to dwell. Although California ranks lower than the national average for car accident fatalities, and is considered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to be one of the safer states in which to drive, being prepared and informed in the event that a car accident affects you or someone you know can prove to be invaluable.

This will serve as a one-stop guide for any and all inquiries you may have concerning what steps you would be wise to take after a major or minor car accident, and features accurate statistics (often difficult to find due to the amount of disinformation on the internet) for your reference. We’ll look at everything from the average time for a car accident settlement case to be completed, what you can expect in terms of a financial award from your specific car accident case, and much more. In other words, everything below can be considered relevant information, regardless of whether you’ve experienced the unfortunate effects of a car accident or simply wish to become better informed on the subject. 

What to do after a car accident:

Though it may seem like stating the obvious, the first priority after any kind of car accident is your health. Experiencing a car accident can often feel like your world has suddenly been thrust into a state of chaos. Nevertheless, everything else is secondary to your health. Given how car accidents can be extremely traumatic — both physically and psychologically — remaining vigilant about your health can’t be overstated. 

If your health is a concern, you should obtain medical care immediately. For many, this may be an additional stressor due to the financial implications that can be involved (however, as we’ll discuss later, that’s where your personal injury attorney plays an important role). Receiving medical attention and following the instructions of your physician is absolutely critical, not only for your health but also because, should you eventually file a lawsuit, you will need to not only demonstrate proof of your injuries, but also that you are taking the necessary steps to recover from those injuries. 

Provided that your health has been properly addressed, you will want to consider obtaining as much proof as possible immediately following the accident. This includes pictures (of damage to property, any traffic signals that may have been violated by the at-fault party, and even your injuries) and, if possible, videos (of everything aforementioned as well as possible witness statements). All of this can be useful in the event that the cause of the accident is disputed in a court of law. 

Moreover, in addition to exchanging information with the other individual(s) involved in the accident, you will want to obtain the contact information of any witnesses who can help corroborate your version of the events. Keep all interactions professional, however, as it is important to note that you should never make statements that could be construed as admitting guilt. 

When should I contact a car accident attorney?

It’s always best to err on the side of caution when it comes to whether or not you should contact a personal injury attorney for your car accident claim. In general, there are some factors that tend to necessitate hiring a car accident attorney such as:

  • Serious injury requiring medical attention
  • Fatalities
  • Police reports that do not accurately reflect the events in question (particularly when you believe the other party to be at fault)
  • Your injuries may affect your ability to work (note that these injuries can often produce delayed symptoms, often in cases of pinched nerves or spinal injuries)
  • The accident is clearly the result of another person’s negligence (whether or not they accept responsibility)
  • You have or anticipate outstanding bills resulting from the accident

In terms of time, it’s always best to contact an attorney as soon as possible. For one, there is a statute of limitations on when you can file a claim (typically two years in most states, although in California there is a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims, and a three-year statute on property damage — both beginning on the date the accident occurred).

Additionally, the at-fault party will inevitably contact his or her insurance company immediately following the accident. Hence, you can expect to be contacted by an insurance representative, and it’s important to keep in mind that, as you are not the client, your best interests are not being considered. This is why it is advisable to allow a personal injury attorney to negotiate the process on your behalf. You have enough to worry about following a car accident, you shouldn’t have to experience additional stress over potentially saying something that could be misconstrued as incriminating to the insurance company, and used against you at a later date. 

Furthermore, an attorney is your best resource in instances when the insurance company acts in bad faith. Qualified car accident attorneys will have previous expertise in fighting insurance companies on behalf of their clients. Examples of bad faith behavior by an insurance company can include denying you coverage for which you have paid your premiums, failing to pay your claim in a timely fashion, or denying your claim without explanation. 

What is the average time for a car accident settlement to be completed?

One of the first questions a car accident victim has is ‘How long does it take to get a settlement after my accident?’While keeping in mind that each case is unique, one can typically expect the settlement process to take an average of four-to-six weeks. However, this time frame can be extended (at times significantly) in cases where the settlement involves a large sum of money or the injured party is continuing to recover from his or her injuries. Speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer is the best way to receive an accurate estimate for when your settlement will be completed. 

What is the average settlement amount for a car accident case?

Again, it’s important to consider that each case is different. That said, in 2013 the average amount for a personal injury car accident settlement was approximately $24,000. However, myriad factors can affect this number including whether the injuries you sustained are entirely new, whether your medical treatment was extensive, etc. Additionally, the aforementioned figure assumes that the at-fault driver carried the proper automobile insurance. The minimum requirements for comprehensive collision coverage in California are:

  • $15,000 for injury or death to one person
  • $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person
  • $5,000 for property damage

If you are involved in an accident with someone who does not have car insurance, you will want to file a police report and contact a car accident attorney immediately.

How much can you expect from your car accident settlement?

Calculating an average settlement amount for a car accident case is not an exact science. In fact, it can often seem counterintuitive (yet another reason why you would be wise to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney). The truth is that the auto insurance injury does not have one precise formula for determining the value of a car accident settlement. Therefore, how that settlement is calculated (and how you are treated) can vary greatly among insurance companies. 

In a very broad and general example scenario, let’s assume you’re involved in a minor T-bone car accident that leaves you with some medical expenses and a bit of time away from work resulting in lost wages. If the sum of those two variables is $10,000, the insurance adjuster’s opinion will be the primary factor in determining your initial settlement offer (noting that this can, of course, change dramatically if you are represented by qualified counsel). If the adjuster multiplied your sum ($10,000) by a factor of two, your settlement would be $20,000. Or, $40,000 if multiplied by a factor of four. While multiplying your overall damages by a factor of two or four can be a common occurrence (with a factor of three typically considered a general industry guideline), the fact is that your settlement figure is ultimately decided according to a matter of opinion, and one insurance adjuster’s opinion can differ considerably from another’s. 

This is why demonstrating abstract factors such as pain and suffering, or a change to one’s quality of life, is so important. Your personal injury attorney should not only be an expert in this regard, he or she should be your ultimate ally in proving your case and securing the largest settlement on your behalf. Which leads to our next, quite critical point:

How do I choose the best car accident attorney to represent me?

Perhaps one of the most important factors you will want to consider when hiring your personal injury attorney is whether or not they value you and your time. This should be readily apparent from the moment you meet, with the attorney demonstrating a genuine interest in your case that includes empathy and a sincere drive to be your advocate. Additionally, experience and proven results are essential.

You want to be able to verify that your personal injury attorney has experience securing car accident insurance claim settlements for clients in various types of accidents, including your specific type (if you were involved in a rear-end car accident that left you with moderate injuries, ask for an example of a similar case that your prospective attorney handled successfully). 

Additionally, while you should come prepared with a number of questions, one that is key to nearly all accident victims is whether or not they will have to pay for medical bills from the settlement amount. This is one of the primary examples of how a qualified personal injury attorney can be a true asset. In addition to negotiating a settlement figure with the insurance company, your attorney should have experience negotiating the cost of any unpaid medical bills. As the cost for medical procedures can vary dramatically from hospital-to-hospital, there is always room for negotiation regardless of your specific situation. A good car accident attorney will have experience in this process. 

The Dordulian Law Group advantage:

Our legal team combines a breadth of experience in securing the highest possible car accident settlements for our clients while treating you as an individual, with empathy and dignity in each and every case. 

We know how difficult enduring a car accident can be, and we’re proud to serve as your first line of defense in putting your worries at ease, handling all the details, and ensuring justice in the form of a fair and adequate settlement.

For a free consultation, please contact us via email or phone at (800) 880-7777.