You were in a car accident and you suffered serious injuries. You know the accident was not your fault and your family and friends are encouraging you to seek legal advice and potentially file a lawsuit to recover from the financial losses. Before taking legal action, you might want to know who will pay you compensation if you file a claim after a car accident.
In a way, there is no straightforward answer, because of many factors, and no two accidents are the same. Who pays depends on what type of insurance people carry, whether the other driver was “on-the-job”, and the laws regarding liability based on “fault” for an accident in your state. This piece explores these factors that may determine who pays for your car accident injuries if you file a claim. Consult with an experienced car accident attorney to find out who may pay in your specific case.
Understanding the Role of Insurance Types
Some drivers are under the impression that auto insurance is the same regardless of the state they live in. This simply is not the case. While nearly every state (exceptions Virginia and New Hampshire) has a mandatory statute that requires drivers to maintain insurance, individual states have varying rules about what kinds of coverage the insurance must provide. Let’s take a look at Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey auto insurance requirements and how their differing rules affect who pays when you sue after a car accident.
Pennsylvania Auto Insurance and Car Accident Claims
Pennsylvania is a choice no-fault insurance state. This means you have to opt in or out of the ability to file a lawsuit if you are in an accident. Drivers are required to opt for full tort insurance or limited tort coverage in writing. Drivers who choose the limited tort coverage can pursue compensation for damage to their vehicle, their medical bills, lost time from work, and other out-of-pocket expenses. However, they are not eligible to collect any compensation for pain and suffering, except if the victim suffered a serious injury as outlined in the driver’s policy.
If a victim opted for full tort coverage in Pennsylvania, they retain the right to pursue compensation from the other driver for non-economic damages, which are non-monetary damages like pain and suffering. You can file a claim with your own insurance company, which is known as a first-party claim. If your economic damages exceed your coverage limits, you can file a third-party claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This demand can include pain and suffering and other non-economic damages. Your attorney can tell you more about how Pennsylvania insurance requirements can affect you depending on the circumstances.
What Florida Car Accident Victims Should Know about Insurance
Florida is a no-fault insurance state. There is no option to choose between limited or full tort. This means a driver injured in a Florida car accident files a claim with their own insurance company, regardless of fault. All motorists must carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Property Damage Liability (PDL) coverage, which require motorists to carry at least $10,000 in each type of coverage. PIP coverage will pay up to 80 percent of reasonable medical bills.
If someone suffers a serious injury, they can go outside their coverage and file a third-party claim against the other driver. Florida defines an injury as serious if it is permanent, results in significant or permanent disfigurement or scarring, or causes loss of a bodily function.
Even if you do not believe your injury falls into these categories, you should still contact a car accident lawyer if you suffered an injury. Only then will you have a full understanding of your legal options. You and your family should not have to bear the financial burden of your injuries, time lost from work, and other financial losses caused by another driver’s negligence.
Auto Insurance and Car Accident Claims in New Jersey
New Jersey also has a choice of no-fault coverage but has a feature unlike Pennsylvania. Your options are a standard auto accident policy that allows you the right to sue, or a basic policy that limits you to accepting only no-fault coverage under your policy. The low coverage limits for basic policies, in many cases, will exceed your expenses. You must know which type of policy you opted for. If you don't, your car accident lawyer can find out for you.
Drivers who have a standard auto accident policy might still file a claim with their own insurance company. However, if they have suffered a displaced fracture, suffered a miscarriage, a permanent injury, or other injuries, they may file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Again, these issues are complicated, and the only way to fully understand your rights is to work closely with an attorney. If your injuries are very serious, a car accident injury lawyer can help you understand your right to take further legal action.
Auto Insurance Claims Filing a Lawsuit
If you file a claim with insurance, you will need to work with an insurance claims adjuster. Victims of car accidents have often never spoken with an adjuster before. However, take care what you say to an adjuster, as they are working for the insurance company and their ultimate goal is to maximize the company’s profits. Car accident victims often mistakenly think an adjuster will help them get the most of their insurance claim. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Insurers know if they deny a claim or they make a low offer, the victim might stop there. If a victim has not hired a lawyer who has experience dealing with car accident injuries to negotiate on the victim’s behalf, they will often accept a low offer. In other words, the insurance company wins—they get to pay the lowest amount possible to resolve the claim. This is another reason why you need an attorney, who can help you negotiate a fair settlement with an insurance company and, if the insurance company fails to agree to a fair settlement, file a lawsuit on your behalf in civil court.
How Are Car Accident Lawsuits Settled?
In general, car accident lawsuits settle between victims and insurance companies. Typically, negotiations begin when you file a claim. Insurers will often make a lump sum settlement offer to close out your case. The insurer may tell you this first lump sum is the best offer you will get—but that is seldom the case. Insurers usually make initial offers hoping the victim will settle quickly, allowing the insurer to avoid any future liability for their losses. This is good for the insurance company and bad for the victim of a car accident. To get the insurance company to settle for a fair amount, you will likely need to collect evidence to show you can prove fault and damages in your case.
Obtaining Compensation in More Complex Accidents
Accidents involving truck drivers or rideshare drivers tend to be more complicated than standard passenger-vehicle car accidents because they introduce commercial liability insurance policies with their restrictions and considerations.
However, you will need a lawyer who knows how to bring suit against truck and rideshare drivers, as the damages they cause can often exceed what your policy will cover. There are also different reasons behind these accidents and potentially liable parties. For example, in the case of a truck accident, the truck driver’s employer could bear liability for damages if it poorly trained or pressured their driver to violate hours of service rules to rush in a shipment (resulting in truck driver fatigue), or if it caused an accident by unsafely loading the truck.
Truck and rideshare accident cases can introduce complexity in terms of what policy you look to for compensation, what limits apply, and when you can sue. It is best to consult with an attorney in any car accident case, but especially if you were in an accident with a truck or rideshare driver.
Reasons to Hire an Accident Injury Attorney
Often, car accident victims hesitate to contact a lawyer for various reasons. They might be hesitant to put someone else in financial straits by bringing a claim, they may be concerned about the cost of hiring an attorney, or they may think they can handle their claim and negotiations on their own.
At the end of the day, though, if you did not cause the accident, you shouldn’t have to pay for it—and you can afford the legal representation that is critical to negotiating a fair settlement.
- Placing the other driver in financial straits - in general, this is unlikely because in nearly all cases, their insurance company will pay any final settlement up through the limits of their policy.
- Cost of hiring an attorney - Almost all attorneys make seeking legal representation for a car accident case free. First, a victim can seek a free consultation with an attorney to evaluate their case and determine whether or how to pursue compensation. Second, if the victim and the attorney decide to bring a claim, the attorney will likely work on a contingency-fee basis. This means that instead of sending the victim bills as the case goes along, the attorney will not collect a fee unless and until they are successful in obtaining a settlement or court award on the victim’s behalf. The attorney’s fee is taken from a percentage of the settlement or court award.
- Victims negotiating on their own - some victims think they can negotiate on their own with an insurer. There is no legal prohibition against doing so. And the insurance company would certainly hope to see this happen. Insurance companies know that most victims are unfamiliar with the process and may accept a lower settlement than they would if they had an attorney by their side to advise them about how to handle the claim and about whether or not any given settlement offer is fair.
Thus, never hesitate to bring a claim after a car accident, and you can do yourself an immense favor by getting a personal injury lawyer to represent you. A lawyer can help serve as your advocate from the beginning, make sure your case is prepared to go into court, and fight to recover every dollar you deserve for your car accident injuries and impacts.
Court Cases Versus Settlements
Car accident injury victims should also be aware most cases never see the inside of a courtroom. Rather, in nearly all cases, these matters resolve beforehand by negotiating with the insurance company. While the process may take some time, and the insurance company may make several offers before making one you can accept, this is how most cases resolve.
A reasonable settlement should ensure you are financially whole and able to move on with your life. You and your family should not have to face any financial loss because of an injury you suffered when an accident was not your fault. If an insurance company won’t offer an amount sufficient to cover your expenses and impacts, you might need to take your case to court to get the justice you deserve. If you do go to court, having a lawyer at your side is all the more critical.
How You Receive Your Settlement Money
Once you accept a settlement offer, the insurance company will have you sign a waiver. This waiver will acknowledge acceptance of the settlement and release the insurance company from further liability.
The insurance company will then send a check for your settlement amount to your lawyer, who will deposit it into a trust account. The lawyer will then deduct the fee agreed to in the contingency-fee agreement and any other costs the attorney might have covered, then will send the balance of the funds to you.