If you have been injured in a rear-end accident, at some point you will want to consider how much you would be willing to accept to settle your claim. Resolving your claim through a voluntary settlement agreement may be beneficial to you because it saves you the time and the cost of taking the case to court. But determining a fair value for which to settle your rear-end accident can be difficult, and the answer depends on a variety of factors. This article will discuss the factors that affect a rear-end accident settlement.
Factors That Affect A Rear-End Accident Settlement
There are many factors that can affect the value of your settlement for a rear-end accident. No two cases are alike, but here are some common factors to consider:
- Special damages. Special damages (or economic losses) are damages for which money is a comparable substitute for what was lost. This is also known as the out-of-pocket loss rule. Special damages can include lost wages, lost earning capacity, medical expenses, funeral and burial expenses, and property damage. As the amount of special damages increases, so too should the amount of the settlement.
- General damages. General damages (or non-economic losses) are losses for which money is only a rough substitute. General damages include physical pain and suffering, humiliation and embarrassment, shock and mental anguish, loss of reputation, loss of consortium, and loss of society and companionship. Typically, general damages equal 1.5 to 5 times special damages, depending upon the severity of the injury and the level of fault on the part of the person who caused the injury. Again, the more permanent and severe the general damages, the greater the settlement.
- Liability. Liability in rear-end accidents is usually not an issue because, when you are following another driver, you are required to maintain a safe distance. However, liability can become an issue if, say, you are under the influence at the time of the accident. Learn more about fault for a rear-end accident.
- Multiple defendants. Where there are multiple defendants (meaning, individuals who might have caused the accident), and each is represented by a different insurance company, there may be an issue as to how much each defendant should pay. This may affect your rear-end accident settlement because there may be a dispute among the defendants as to how much each party is on the hook for.
- Characteristics of the plaintiff. As the plaintiff, or injured party, your own characteristics can influence the value of a settlement. For example, your age, occupation, likeability, and prior medical history all can affect the amount of general and special damages.
- Characteristics of the defendant(s). The characteristics of the defendant, or the person causing the injury, can also affect the value of a rear-end accident settlement (even though juries are typically instructed not to take these things into consideration). Common characteristics that can affect a settlement include the defendant’s wealth, likeability, and age.
- Where the case will be tried. Some venues are more conservative than others and have a tendency to award lower personal injury damages than juries in more populated, urban communities. You can ask an attorney or consult databases of past jury verdicts in your area to determine whether your venue is conservative, liberal, or somewhere in between. Usually a combination of a Westlaw or Lexis search, along with some other book or online resource at your local law library will be sufficient.
- Costs and uncertainty of litigation. The costs and uncertainty of litigation will affect the value of your settlement. Taking cases through trial can be very expensive because your attorney may have to retain experts, take depositions, and incur other costs. Additionally, personal injury attorneys typically work on a contingency basis; this means they only get paid if they win. Almost all contingency agreements will require giving the attorney a greater percentage of any award should the case go to trial than if the case had settled. Finally, if you decide to take your case to trial, there is a chance that the jury will award you less than what the insurance company offered you to settle, or nothing at all. So, the insurance company will generally offer to settle your case for an amount less than the full value of your damages -- to offset the amount you will be saving and the risks you will be avoiding by not going to trial.
- Mitigating Damages. Damages must be mitigated, or reduced, by the injured person when it is reasonably possible to do so. For example, if you decided not to seek treatment after your accident and, as a result, your medical expenses are now higher because your injuries are more difficult to treat, the insurance company might reduce the value of your settlement to reflect your failure to mitigate.