You’ve heard that a settlement can help you get compensation for your injuries and losses after a car accident. But how do car accident settlements actually work? How much can you get, what is the legal process, and what kind of timeline can you expect?
First and foremost, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help explain how to file your claim and guide you through the process while championing your best interests the entire time.
Do I Need a Lawyer to Negotiate a Car Accident Settlement?
After getting into a car accident, you may get a settlement offer from your insurance company or another driver’s insurance company. It may even seem like a lot of money – but you may be entitled to so much more. Many insurance companies offer lowball settlements from the get-go to encourage people to settle early and easily for much less than they’re actually owed.
When you have a good lawyer on your side, they’ll know all the tricks that insurance companies use and how to push back and get you the compensation you really deserve. The right attorney can make all the difference in the success of your settlement negotiations.
If you’re worried about how you might afford a lawyer, many personal injury lawyers – including our team at Sepulveda Sanchez Law – work on a contingency fee basis. That means you don’t pay any legal fees unless you win your case and recover compensation. You may even be able to access medical care now and pay for it later out of your settlement.
An experienced lawyer will also know how to accurately calculate your total damages.
What Types of Damages Can I Claim in a Car Accident Settlement?
Damages refer to any losses you may experience after a car accident. The more severe your damages, the more financial compensation you can claim in a settlement.
- Economic damages cover direct monetary losses like medical treatment bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost income from any missed work shifts.
- Non-economic damages cover the non-monetary effects of an accident on your life, such as your pain, emotional suffering, or loss of functioning from a permanent disability.
- Punitive damages come into play to punish the person who caused your accident if they acted in an intentional, malicious, or especially reckless way.
Your damages should cover not just your current losses but any losses you can expect to suffer in the future – for example, medical treatments or supportive care even years after the fact.
Just because an insurance company’s settlement offer covers your current losses doesn’t mean that it’s an accurate reflection of what you will need to recover and thrive. Always speak to an attorney before accepting any settlement offers to make sure you’re not leaving any money on the table. Your settlement should reflect the full impact of your injuries on your life.
How Long Does It Take to Reach a Car Accident Settlement?
Every car accident case is unique, so the timeline on your claim may be as short as 2 months or as long as 2 years. The difference depends on:
- How clear-cut or disputed are the facts of your case?
- How strong is the evidence you have to back up your claim?
The stronger your evidence, the stronger your position is to negotiate a proper settlement agreement. If you can convince the opposing side that you have enough evidence to convince a judge or jury of your claims in court, they will negotiate to avoid going to court against you.
It’s also important to file your car accident claim as soon as possible, for two reasons:
- You don’t want to miss the statute of limitations, or deadline, to file your claim, and
- You can start gathering evidence when the events of the accident are still fresh.
The statute of limitations to file a claim in California after a car accident is generally 2 years from the date of the incident. Talk to an attorney as soon as possible so that you don’t miss this deadline, after which you could lose your chance to file a claim forever.
How Is Fault Determined in a Car Accident Settlement?
California, like many other states, determines car accident settlement claims based on who was at fault. If someone is 100% responsible for causing a car crash, then they are also 100% responsible for paying for any losses or damages that result from their actions.
Legally, you can show fault in a car accident by proving with evidence that another driver:
- Acted negligently or recklessly when they should have taken more care, or
- Broke traffic laws, which makes them at fault for statutory negligence.
For example, a driver could be at fault because they did not look in their blind spot before they merged into another lane. Checking your blind spot is not necessarily required under the law, but it is a standard practice that all drivers are expected to do for safety’s sake.
For another example, a driver may cause an accident because they ran a red light. Traffic laws require drivers to stop at red lights – with the purpose of avoiding accidents just like this. So when a driver breaks the law and crashes because of it, they’re usually at fault.
An experienced car accident lawyer will know how to prove fault. They can give you an idea of what type of evidence you’ll need to successfully back up your claims.
Can I Still Receive a Settlement if I Was Partially at Fault?
Yes. California is a comparative fault state, which means that everyone involved in an accident is responsible in proportion to how much they’re at fault for causing the accident.
For example, if the evidence shows that you were 25% at fault – you failed to check for oncoming traffic but the other driver was speeding double the limit – Then you can get up to 25% of your damages in a claim for compensation.
Even if the majority of the fault belongs to you, you could get compensation for the remainder. For example, if you’re 60% at fault, you could still get 40% of your damages in a claim.
Are Car Accident Settlements Taxable in California?
Generally, personal injury settlements are tax-free in California. This is because settlement damages are not the same as traditional income – they are meant to compensate you for losses that you suffered because of someone else’s actions.
Damages from your physical injuries and even non-economic damages from emotional distress are generally not taxed. However, you may have to pay taxes on damages that reflect income, such as lost wages or property damages. Punitive damages are also taxable since they’re less about “making you whole” and more about punishing the person responsible for their behavior.
A good lawyer can answer all of these questions for you and support you throughout the entire process of filing your claim and negotiating a settlement agreement. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we can help. Contact us now to get started with your free consultation.