The process to settle your car accident case may seem unclear and confusing. You may not know how much compensation your case is worth, and you might not understand the steps involved in obtaining that financial payout. Understanding how car settlement negotiations are handled can help reduce the impatience and worry that can sometimes accompany uncertainty about the process.
The Stages in a Car Accident Settlement
The first step in negotiating a settlement is to decide when to make a first offer. While you may be tempted to start the process soon after your accident, it may be in your best interests to wait to do so. Once you settle your case, you cannot reopen your claim to ask for additional compensation. If you are not completely healed or uncertain if you’ll need continued treatment, waiting allows you to include all of your medical expenses and lost wages in your settlement offer.
While you are waiting to make an offer, your attorney will work to collect all your medical bills, doctor reports, and proof of lost wages. Once your attorney starts the process, the negotiations may go through the following stages:
- Demand package. During this stage, your attorney sends a demand package to the insurance company for the negligent driver. This package will include a demand letter documenting how the accident occurred, why the other driver was negligent, the extent of your injuries, how your injuries have impacted your life, and the amount of compensation you are asking for. He will also include documentation of your injuries, medical expenses, and lost wages.
- Insurance adjuster response. The insurance adjuster will evaluate the demand letter and then contact your attorney with a response either by telephone or letter. This could take weeks or a month. Usually, he will respond that the driver was not negligent. Even if liability is clear, the adjuster will most likely argue the damage amount and say you were not injured as much as you claim. Additionally, he may say that your medical care was too expensive, or you are well enough to return to work.
- Attorney response. Your attorney will review the letter and then respond. Using the information gathered in the investigation process, he will point out facts and evidence to support your version of what happened and how your injuries will be perceived by the judge or jury.
- Insurance company offer. The insurance company’s first offer will most likely be very low. The adjuster is trying to see if you will settle for a much lower amount to get a quick settlement. Assume the offer is too low, and say no unless your attorney advises you to accept it.
- Further negotiations. There is no set rule for how long the negotiations will take. Your attorney and the adjuster could go back and forth several times making offers and counteroffers before your attorney believes he has obtained the best settlement for you.
- Filing a lawsuit. In some cases, where the statute of limitations will expire soon or your attorney does not feel negotiations are productive, your lawyer may recommend that you sue the negligent driver. He may want to take the driver’s deposition—where his statements are taken under oath and can be used against him in court—before renewing his attempts to settle your case. This is common, and most cases will settle at some point during the litigation process prior to a trial.
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