You can rarely reopen a car accident claim against a party who paid you compensation for your losses. That’s why you cannot settle or take legal action until a lawyer has advised you about your rights and options.
Here’s an overview of how car accident claims resolve, why it’s hard to reopen them, and what other options an experienced car accident lawyer may find to get you compensation for the losses you suffered in a crash.
Car Accident Claim Overview
A car accident claim is any assertion of a legal right to receive compensation for physical, emotional, and financial injuries you suffered in a car accident caused by someone else.
In general, the law requires a person, business, or entity whose unreasonably dangerous conduct caused your accident to pay for your:
- Medical expenses treating accident-related injuries and health complications
- Costs of repairing or replacing your damaged car or other property
- Other accident-related expenses
- Lost income and job benefits due to missing work
- Loss of future earning potential and career opportunities, if the crash causes you to become disabled
- Physical pain and discomfort from your injuries or medical treatments
- Emotional distress and trauma
- Diminished quality of life
- Scarring, disfigurement, or loss of bodily function
You may also receive other payments, such as punitive damages to punish the at-fault party for extreme or intentional misconduct. The most reliable way to learn about the compensation you can claim is to consult an experienced car accident lawyer.
It’s Difficult to Reopen a Resolved Car Accident Claim
Most car accident claims get resolved through a settlement, court decision, or trial verdict. Any of those outcomes could result in a significant payment for your crash-related losses.
But it’s difficult (and sometimes all but impossible) to reopen them once they’ve happened, which is why you should consult with an experienced car accident lawyer about your claim immediately.
You Can Almost Never Reopen a Car Accident Settlement
Most car accident claims resolve through a settlement. In the typical car accident settlement, the injured party receives money from an at-fault party or an insurance company. In exchange, the injured party releases the paying party (and sometimes others) from further liability for the claim and drops any pending lawsuits against them.
A settlement is a legally binding contract. To receive settlement money, you almost always must sign a written agreement with the party who pays you. Once you’ve signed and gotten your money, your claim against that party ends. You’ve released them permanently from any more liability to you for your car accident damages. It’s virtually impossible after that point to reopen a settlement and get more money from the party who paid you.
The settlement agreement can also release other parties from having additional liability to you. For example, it’s common for an at-fault party’s auto liability insurance to pay the settlement amount to you. But to get that money, you usually agree to release the insurance company and the at-fault party from further liability. Even though the at-fault party didn’t pay you a dime out of their pocket, they’re still off the hook for your losses once you settle with their insurer.
Reopening a car accident settlement to get more money from the at-fault party or insurer you released from liability almost never happens. You can’t reopen a settlement just because it turned out to be a bad deal. To make any headway in court against parties you settled with, a lawyer would likely need to be able to prove that they defrauded you, materially breached the settlement agreement, or seriously violated state insurance law. That’s not impossible, but it’s rare.
The permanence of a car accident settlement highlights why you should always hire an experienced lawyer to negotiate with at-fault parties and insurance companies on your behalf. Car accident attorneys handle settlements every day. They know how to maximize the value of your claim and convince insurance companies and at-fault parties to pay what they owe. They can also advise you when a settlement offer values your claim fairly and when you should reject it and keep negotiating or fighting in court.
Appealing a Court’s Pretrial Decision
If your lawyer files a lawsuit against an at-fault party or insurance company seeking compensation for your car accident damages, your claim could end in a court decision before trial. It’s far less common to resolve a car accident claim this way than through a settlement, but it happens occasionally.
In a lawsuit, both sides can ask the court to decide the case in their favor immediately without holding a trial. The most common time to do this is after the parties have exchanged information and investigated each other’s claims.
In a written argument submitted to the court called a motion for summary judgment, each side can try to convince the judge that the undisputed facts show they should win. If the judge agrees with either of them, the case can end with the court issuing a decision called a judgment. If the judge disagrees, then the case moves forward to a trial.
A court that decides the injured party should win the case immediately without a trial can issue a judgment directing the opposing party (the at-fault party or an insurance company) to pay damages. But if the court decides that the other side should win immediately, the case could end, and the injured party might get nothing.
Court decisions before trial are final. But parties who disagree with them can appeal the outcome to a higher court. In that sense, you can reopen a claim you lost in court (or even a claim you won but that awarded you less than you deserve in damages) by appealing it. If the appeals court agrees with you, it could revive the claim and give you another chance to obtain fair compensation.
But appealing an unfavorable decision involves meeting tight deadlines and presenting complex written and oral arguments to an appeals court. The only realistic way to win a car accident claim appeal is to entrust it to an experienced attorney.
Appealing After Trial
Car accident lawsuits that do not settle or get resolved by the court on a summary judgment can end up in a trial before a judge and jury. Very few car accident claims go to trial, but it can happen. In a car accident trial, lawyers for both sides present evidence and arguments in favor of their position. Then, a judge or jury decides whether the injured party wins and, if so, how much to award as damages.
A trial verdict is final. But a party who disagrees with the outcome may have a basis to appeal, and if they succeed, the verdict could get reversed. For example, suppose you win a car accident case at trial, but the jury only awards you a dollar because it misunderstood the judge’s instructions on calculating damages. In that case, an appeals court might void the trial outcome and give you another shot at proving the compensation you should receive.
Still, upsetting a trial verdict on appeal in a car accident case is exceedingly difficult. As above, the only realistic way to prevail is to have a skilled car accident lawyer handle the appeals process for you.
Reopening a Claim Might Not Be Your Only Option
Reopening a car accident claim against someone you’ve already settled with or gone to court against might not be your only option for getting more money. Why? Because someone else might have liability for your damages.
Multiple parties can have liability on a car accident claim. So even if you already settled with or went to court against one of them, you might still have a claim for damages against another. An experienced lawyer can review your circumstances and identify any parties who may still owe you compensation.
For example, car accident victims frequently receive a settlement from their auto insurance covering damages to their vehicle, medical expenses, or lost income. But the paperwork you sign with your insurer usually doesn’t prevent you from suing others like an at-fault driver and his liability insurance carrier for additional compensation.
Even if you already resolved your car accident claim against one at-fault party or their insurance company, you might still have others to pursue payment.
- An at-fault driver’s employer might separately owe you damages if the driver crashed while performing job duties;
- A bar, restaurant, or social host may have liability for damages you suffered in a crash with an underage drunk driver;
- The manufacturer of one of the vehicles involved in the wreck could face strict liability for your losses if a defective auto part or system contributed to the cause of the wreck; or
- A government entity could be financially responsible for your losses if it caused or failed to correct unreasonably hazardous road conditions that led to the accident.
Talk to an experienced car accident lawyer ASAP about whether you can pursue compensation from other parties. You may have only limited time to take action before your window of opportunity closes.
Contact a Car Accident Lawyer Immediately
Contacting a car accident lawyer as soon as possible after a car crash gives you peace of mind knowing that your claim is in good hands. A lawyer can fight for the maximum compensation and push for the best resolution possible through negotiations with an insurance company or defense lawyer. Hiring a lawyer also gives you an advocate, ally, and trusted advisor to rely on when making critical life, personal, and financial decisions that may affect your rights. And it ensures that you won’t miss any deadlines that impact your ability to seek compensation.
Never Accept a Settlement Offer Without Talking to a Lawyer
If you have already received a settlement offer from an insurance representative or at-fault party’s lawyer, do not agree to it or sign any papers they send you until you’ve consulted with an experienced car accident attorney. Settlement offers made directly to accident victims like you almost always fall well short of the true value of your claim. If you agree to it, you could sacrifice your rights to receive far more money later.
Contact a lawyer immediately and explain your situation. In nearly all cases, a skilled lawyer can take over negotiations and get you far more money than what the insurer or defense lawyer has offered.
Understand the Terms of a Settlement Agreement Before Accepting
A car accident lawyer must present you with all settlement offers from an insurance company or other party. The lawyer should also explain the pros and cons of the settlement to you in clear terms. Most car accident lawyers excel at laying out the finer points of a settlement in language you can understand. But you must speak up if anything feels unclear.
The decision whether to settle belongs to you and you alone. A lawyer can guide and advise you, but you must make the final call. So be sure you understand what accepting the settlement means for your accident claim, and don’t decide until your lawyer answers your questions.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
Reopening a car accident claim is never easy. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Even if you’ve already received money for your losses from an insurance company or at-fault party through a settlement or lawsuit, you might still have the right to seek additional damages from others.
Don’t wait to learn about your rights. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney in Philadelphia today for a free case evaluation.