If you’ve ever sustained injuries in an Atlanta car crash, you understand the challenges of negotiating a fair settlement. If you’re dealing with your first injury claim, you’re probably in the dark about the car accident settlement process. Friends and relatives gladly share their stories. They talk about the compensation they received, but they can’t usually explain how the liability insurer calculated the damages they paid.
As you work through your recovery, the potential for future compensation becomes critical. Medical, therapy, medication, and rehabilitation costs add up. Even if your health insurance covers some of your expenses, large copayments and deductibles still strain your budget. When you’re temporarily or permanently disabled, lost wages put an additional strain on your finances.
Don’t Wait for the Insurer to Call
Liability insurers sometimes walk a fine line between negotiation strategy and bad faith. Remember this as you wait for a call about your car accident settlement. Claim representatives don’t always initiate negotiations. In fact, once they complete their investigation and they’ve given you their phone number and address, they might not contact you at all.
If you’re ready to talk about your settlement and you don’t hear from the liability insurance company, don’t wait. Contact your claim representative and ask specific questions about their settlement process and timing. If you need to know more about injury settlements, consider consulting with a personal injury attorney.
How Do Insurance Companies Determine a Car Accident Settlement?
When an Atlanta claim representative negotiates your claim, they base it on compensable damages outlined in Georgia’s code O.C.G.A. § 51-12-2. This statute divides damages into three categories: special, general, and punitive:
This category includes calculable economic expenses incurred during treatment and recovery. A liability insurer owes all of your accident-related medical expenses. If you’re still under your doctor’s care when you settle your claim, they also owe your future expenses.
Special damages often include:
- Ambulance and EMT services
- Emergency treatment and hospitalization
- Physician’s and surgeon’s treatment and follow-up
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Alternative treatments
- Medical devices and structures
- Lost income
- Loss of earning capacity
- Funeral and burial expenses in the event of wrongful death
- Property repair or replacement costs
General damages often become an obstacle to settlement. Injured victims easily prove their special damages with receipts, bills, and health insurer documentation. It’s different when attempting to measure pain and psychological or emotional issues. Doctors can treat these conditions, but they have no objective way to measure how they impact your life. Insurers understand that these damages are genuine, but they don’t always trust the person who claims to have them. As a liability insurer must rely on the injured person’s self-assessment, they often dispute the value.
General damages often include:
- Pain and suffering
- Anxiety and emotional distress
- Loss of consortium (spousal relationships)
- Disruption of family relationships
- Permanent impairments
Juries and judges may award punitive damages based on O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1. These damages serve to punish the party responsible for a victim’s injuries. A plaintiff must produce “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant’s actions showed willful misconduct, fraud, wantonness, or oppression.
Not All Insurers Calculate Car Accident Settlements the Same
Liability insurance representatives don’t always acknowledge that each person’s claim has a unique value. Every injured person responds differently to an injury. Their age, physical condition, ability to endure pain, and other pre-accident issues affect their injury severity and recovery. Instead of considering the injured person as an individual, insurance companies calculate car accident settlements using one-size-fits-all methods.
- Formulas: Some insurance companies use vintage formulas to calculate car accident settlements. For example, they may add up your special damages and multiply by a factor, usually between 1.5 and 5. Some insurers deduct diagnostic costs before they multiply. They believe that diagnostics inflate special totals and they don’t treat the injury.
- Claim Evaluation Software: Some insurance companies use claim software to calculate car accident settlements. A claim representative inputs your claim data and the software determines your claim value.
- Experience: Some insurance adjusters have enough years on the job that they rely on past claim handling experience to help them determine current claim values.
Atlanta Attorneys Evaluate Cases Methodically
Car accident attorneys conduct research-based evaluations. They calculate your economic damages. They determine your general damages by learning as much as possible about you: your injuries, pain, suffering, and disabilities. They also document how your injuries affect you, your income, and your family relationships. Before calculating a reasonable settlement range, attorneys research prior settlements and recent court judgments.
Settlements Are More About Compromise Than Calculations
Negotiations often go off-track because the parties are too far apart; but, eventually, they settle anyway. Insurers, injured people, attorneys, and claim evaluating software calculate car accident settlements based on vastly different standards. If your attorney files a lawsuit because the other parties won’t negotiate fairly, the courts might push you to settle anyway so they can avoid a trial.
Fulton County’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program follows state rules designed to encourage settlement negotiations. Georgia courts don’t mandate ADR for every case, but they recommend it in most instances. ADR in Fulton County is a system of programs designed to encourage negotiation and settlement. The program includes:
- Mediation: A neutral mediator facilitates settlement negotiations.
- Arbitration: A panel hears evidence and issues a binding or non-binding decision.
- Case Evaluation or Early Neutral Evaluation: A lawyer with relevant expertise evaluates the legal issues and helps attorneys narrow the legal theories and facts. This encourages a more streamlined discovery process and potential settlement.
- Summary Jury Trial: A judge or magistrate holds a nonbinding trial.
- Mini-Trial: A neutral (arbitrator, mediator, etc.) presides over an abbreviated trial that’s similar to a summary jury trial.
- Settlement Week: The court calls a moratorium on trials. They hold mediations instead, often with volunteer mediators.
Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
When you sustain an accident-related injury, a personal injury lawyer begins protecting your legal rights immediately. If you’ve handled your own claim and you’re ready to negotiate a settlement, an attorney can still assist you. When you schedule a free consultation, you have a chance to discuss your case and learn more about your legal options. Personal injury attorneys talk to you, answer your questions, and determine if their law firm can help you win the largest settlement available to you.