If you're injured in a car wreck caused by another driver, this may be your first experience filing a claim for compensation with another person’s insurance company. The process can be confusing, and settling your claim may not be easy. Understanding how the settlement of a San Diego auto collision claim works can help reduce stress and impatience. Let me take you through it step-by-step.
Step 1: Verify Insurance Limits
When you file the claim with the negligent driver’s insurance company, make certain to verify the amount of insurance coverage so that you'll receive the proper amount of compensation.
Here's when an experienced car accident attorney can really be helpful. If you hire someone right after your crash, not only will they file the claim on your behalf, but they'll also check all insurance policy limits—including yours, in case the accident was with an uninsured or underinsured motorist.
Step 2: Investigate the Accident and Your Damages
Your lawyer conducts a thorough investigation into the cause of your car accident and collects the evidence you need to prove the other driver’s negligence. Helpful information your legal counsel secures includes the police report, pictures taken at the crash scene, witness statements, and other evidence to build your case.
To assess all your damages, your lawyer also presents medical records, medical bills, pay stubs, and other documentation.
This information helps them accurately value your claim so they know what you should receive in the settlement. Under California law, the types of compensation you're entitled to include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Property damage repair or replacement
- Other out-of-pocket expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Wrongful death damages if a loved one died
Step 3: Send a Demand Letter
Your attorney begins settlement negotiations by sending the insurance adjuster a demand letter. This letter outlines:
- Details of your accident and how the other driver caused it.
- The seriousness of your injuries, the medical treatments you need and will need in the future, and your final prognosis.
- An itemization of the types of compensation relevant to your case.
- The settlement amount you're willing to accept.
Step 4: Reach Maximum Medical Recovery to Settle
As you know, the sooner you get proper medical care for your injuries, the better. That's your first priority. In the stages of the claim process, you have to file quickly as well, but your attorney can't know how much your future medical and wage losses will be until you fully recover from your injuries—or recover as much as you will and receive a final prognosis.
If you or a loved one suffered severe medical complications, your lawyer will probably wait to settle your case until you reach maximum medical recovery, which ensures you'll have proper compensation for complete care and restitution for future compromised income.
Step 5: Negotiate the Claim Settlement
After the insurance carrier conducts an accident investigation, it responds to your lawyer's settlement request in writing. The adjuster will likely raise disputes to try to reduce or deny the compensation amount and might counter with an initial low-ball offer to see if you'll accept it to settle quickly.
Depending on the arguments presented, your lawyer may need to collect more evidence or hire an expert witness to help further prove an aspect of your claim. After submitting this information, negotiations continue. There could be multiple offers and counteroffers by both sides before the insurance company agrees to a fair settlement.
Step 6: Prepare for Litigation If Need Be
If the insurance company denies your claim or isn't reasonable, your lawyer will need to file a lawsuit and litigate your case. They will also move to litigation the statute of limitations—which is the deadline you have to file a lawsuit—expires soon.
While litigation could make it take longer to resolve your case, you'll most likely reach a settlement with the insurance company before a jury trial.