Settling Your Car Accident Case
Most car accident cases never go to court. Rather, they are resolved through a negotiated settlement out of court.
As a car accident injury victim, you want to be sure that any settlement offered by the at-fault motorist’s insurance company is fair and fully covers your losses. That is why is important to have an experienced auto accident lawyer on your side.
At Hardison & Cochran, our attorneys have extensive experience negotiating settlements of car accident cases on behalf of accident victims and taking cases to trial in North Carolina courts when insurance companies won’t agree to fair settlements. We know how the process works and we are passionate about protecting our clients’ rights. To learn how we can put that experience to work for you, call us today or use our online contact form. We can provide a free review of your case.
What Does It Mean To Settle Your Car Accident Case?
When you settle your case, two things will happen: First, the insurance company will agree to pay you a specified amount of money. Second, you will sign a release and give up your right to make any further claim against the defendant.
When both parties sign the settlement agreement, it becomes final. Generally, you will not be able to change your mind. This means that you must know the full extent of your losses before you settle your case. This is why you should seek the guidance of a lawyer to make sure that any settlement appropriately compensates you.
Investigating Your Car Accident Case
The process starts with investigating how your car accident occurred and who was responsible for causing the accident. Obtaining these answers can require a detailed investigation.
At Hardison & Cochran, our legal team will examine evidence such as:
- Interviews with the drivers involved and any passengers
- Crash scene evidence
- Photographs of the vehicles involved in the accident
- Toxicology reports including drug tests and blood alcohol test results
- The other driver’s medical records
- Cell phone records
- Vehicle maintenance records
- Restaurant or hotel receipts
- Hours in-service logs if the crash involved a commercial truck or bus
- Toll receipts
- Text messages
- Social media evidence
- Black box data from vehicles
- Video from nearby surveillance cameras
In complex accidents, we may work with accident reconstruction experts who can help us determine how the accident occurred and provide expert testimony. The evidence gathered and presented will shape the outcome of your case. An attorney at Hardison & Cochran can conduct a thorough investigation and help you build the strongest case possible.
A detailed accident investigation allows our legal team to approach settlement negotiations from a strong position.
What Goes Into Settling A Car Accident Injury Claim?
Few people personally pay damages after a crash. Instead, their insurance company pays. This is why settlement negotiations will involve the at-fault party’s insurer.
First, the insurance company will need to accept that its insured driver was at fault or is likely to be found at fault for the wreck. If the insurance company acknowledges fault, then the process will move to the next stage —determining the proper amount of compensation.
Sending a demand letter and settlement package can get the negotiations started. This can give you a strategic advantage by starting the negotiations at the full amount that you view as just compensation for your losses. It also shows the insurance company that you have a strong case and are serious about protecting your rights.
The insurance company may agree to the demand letter or may make a counter offer. A lawyer can handle negotiations on your behalf and prevent a seasoned insurance company negotiator from taking advantage of you. In some cases, a mediator may become involved to help all parties reach agreement.
The fact that you are represented by an attorney shows the insurer that you are serious about your rights and that the insurer cannot pressure you into accepting a low settlement.
It is also important to know what the insurance policy’s limits are. Insurers won’t pay more than limits mandate they must pay. While you could go to court and try to collect more, the money would have to come from the defendant’s personal assets if the jury awarded damages in excess of the insurance coverage limits.
Defendants often don’t have sufficient assets to pay damages. Going to court to try to get compensation above the insurance limits may be a waste of time since you often are unable to collect the money anyway. Your car accident lawyer can help you determine what the insurance policy limits are.
Once fault and damages are agreed upon, the next step is to draft an agreement that outlines all the terms of the settlement. It may include a confidentiality clause, for instance, or other stipulations specific to the case. All parties involved will then sign the settlement agreement. The injured victim will be paid, and the claim will be closed.
Trial VS. Settlement
Our attorneys generally try to settle personal injury cases without going to trial when possible. A settlement provides the accident victim with money more quickly and avoids the time and uncertain outcome of a jury trial.
However, insurance companies sometimes refuse to pay a claim because the insurer disputes that their driver was at fault or will not come to terms on a settlement amount. If the insurance company will not accept fault, a trial may be necessary.
Car Accident Case Going to Trial
Our attorneys are experienced trial lawyers. Our legal team is prepared to seek justice in court when the insurer refuses to accept a reasonable settlement offer.
The case begins when a civil lawsuit is filed, typically in a court in the county where the car accident occurred. The at-fault individual or individuals and their insurers who are named as the defendants will be notified of the lawsuit and given a chance to respond.
- Responding to Allegations – The defendant has a set time to respond to your complaint, either admitting or denying your allegations.
- Discovery Process – Both sides will have a chance to build their cases by sending written questions to witnesses, obtaining sworn statements from witnesses and collecting other evidence such as cell phone records or vehicle maintenance records.
- Pre-trial process – Both sides can file motions with the court asking the judge to rule on certain legal issues, such as whether a specific piece of evidence can be admitted or whether a request for information has to be complied with.
- Trial – A civil trial is a complicated process with procedural requirements to follow. Both you and the defendant have an opportunity to present evidence during the trial. You will have the legal burden of proving that the other driver was negligent and caused your injuries.
- Verdict and damages – The jury will decide if they believe the defendant was liable for the car accident that caused your injuries. If the defendant was to blame, then the jury will decide how much compensation you should receive.
Resolving Liens on Your Settlement or Jury Award
If you have unpaid medical bills after a serious car accident, healthcare providers, insurance companies or government agencies such as Medicare will put liens on your car accident settlement or verdict and then claim a portion of your compensation.
North Carolina law contains limitations on when liens can be used and when money can be taken from your car accident recovery. An experienced car accident lawyer at Hardison & Cochran can help you resolve any liens.
Under North Carolina law, doctors, hospitals, ambulance services and other medical professionals can place a lien on your car accident settlement to collect for the services they provided. If the healthcare provider perfects the lien, your attorney will be required to disburse a designated portion of the settlement or damages to the healthcare provider.
The amount of the lien is capped at 50 percent of a settlement or verdict after attorney fees are deducted from the settlement. This usually means that the lien is capped at about a third of the total settlement you receive. This limit protects your rights.
A federal law called ERISA allows health insurers to make a claim against your car accident settlement in certain cases. If an insurer claims that the ERISA rule applies, the insurer may put a lien on your car accident settlement or jury award and take some of the money that you receive when your case is resolved.
Healthcare Liens By Medicare and Medicaid
Medicare is insurance provided to the elderly and to certain disabled individuals and is administered by the federal government. Medicare is considered a “secondary payer” of services. If there are other sources of money to pay medical bills, they need to be exhausted first before Medicare pays out.
When you receive compensation from an insurance company for medical bills after a car accident, this money—and not Medicare—should pay your bills for treatment. Medicare can pay healthcare costs before you receive a settlement. But the federal government can place a lien against the proceeds from your settlement or verdict to recoup the costs.
Similarly, when Medicaid, a need-based government insurance program, pays for car accident injuries, the government can place a lien on any settlement or jury award you receive. The Division of Medical Assistance (North Carolina’s Medicaid program) cannot take more than a third of your car accident recovery.
Healthcare Liens By Tricare
Tricare provides medical coverage for military members, veterans and spouses and children of veterans. As with Medicaid and Medicare, a lien can be placed on a car accident settlement if Tricare pays for accident injuries. However, the government can waive this right. The lien is also subject to adjustments, which means it can be reduced.
At Hardison & Cochran, we will explain any liens placed on your settlement or verdict and make sure that no liens are placed in violation of law. You can be held responsible for paying the full amount of the bill from the healthcare provider. However, our attorneys are often able to negotiate with the provider to resolve your outstanding bill for less than the full amount owed so you can keep as much money as possible.
Contact N.C. Car Accident Attorneys
At Hardison & Cochran, our attorneys have a reputation for being tough negotiators and top-notch litigators who will fight for our clients and take their cases to court if needed. Our attorneys have helped many injured North Carolinians seek full compensation after serious crashes.
To learn more about how we can help with your car accident settlement, give us a call or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation.