To get a better understanding of how car accident claims turn out in the real world, look through these case examples submitted by visitors to this website. For more information on real-life injury claims, read our article Real-Life Car Accident Jury Verdicts.
Texas side impact collision causes brain injury; Case may have settled prematurely.
Jane reports that her daughter was injured in a car accident in Texas in 2003. She appeared to have a cervical sprain with muscle spasms and headaches, as well as a lumbar sprain. At some point, Jane's daughter, acting without a lawyer's advice, settled with State Farm for $15,000. Now, Jane is suffering from severe headaches and it has been determined that she has a brain injury which is a result of her car accident. Jane's mother wants to know what she can do to get justice for her daughter.
Analysis: Jane's daughter made a trade when she settled her claim. State Farm paid her money to compensate her for her injuries and other damages. In return, Jane signed a Release giving up her right to make any further claims against the driver who hurt her, or State Farm, as a result of her accident.
Unfortunately, the Release is probably binding on Jane's daughter. Unless there is some legal basis -- such as mental incapacity at the time -- that would allow her to get out of the Release, she is stuck with it. This outcome highlights the fact that you should not resolve your claim until you are sure that you know all of the consequences of your accident. You only get one settlement (or court decision) per accident. And, once you settle your case, the case is over. If it turns out that you had injuries that you didn't know about, you cannot make another claim for those injuries.
It can be particularly hard to detect brain injuries after a car accident. These injuries can cause physical, cognitive or emotional symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor for an evaluation and do not settle your claims until you know the full extent of your injuries.
Finally, if you have any doubts about the meaning or effect of a Release, or if you have any doubts about whether you should settle your claim, get advice from a car accident lawyer before you sign the legally binding Release.
Indiana collision causes arm, neck and low back injuries. Claim pending.
Darlene reports that a red light runner rammed into the rear side of her car, totaling it. As a result of her accident, Darlene has limited mobility in her left arm and pain in her neck and low back. So far, medical treatment has cost $3,000. In addition, Darlene has had to quit a part-time job because of her arm problem. She says that has cost her $14,000. Darlene is representing herself and has sent a demand letter to State Farm asking for $37,000, the amount she would like to recover.
Comments: Darlene may be beginning negotiations with State Farm too soon. It sounds like Darlene is still in treatment. If that is right, she doesn't know yet how long she will be in treatment or how long she will suffer from the symptoms of her injuries. On top of that, she doesn't know whether she will ever be able to return to her part-time job.
You should not begin settlement negotiations until you completely recover from your injuries or, if you won't recover fully, until you recover as much as you will. Only then will you know the full story of what your accident caused. Darlene doesn't know her full story yet. So it would be wiser to hold up settlement negotiations until she ends treatment and returns to her normal pre-accident health.
After she fully recovers, Darlene should re-evaluate her claim and make another "demand" if the facts are different at that time. And, she should ask State Farm for more than she actually wants to recover.
When Darlene is ready to resubmit her claim, she should ask for somewhere between 125% and 200% of the amount she actually wants. A lower figure doesn't give her enough room to move and a higher figure signals that she is a rookie who is clueless about the value of her claim.
Arizona head-on collision caused by driver with low insurance limit results in broken wrist and injuries to knee, neck and shoulder. Claim pending.
Noelle reports from Arizona that an erratic driver lost control of her vehicle, ricocheted off a retaining wall and ended up in Noelle's lane where Noelle hit her head-on. Noelle received 3 fractures in her wrist, severe soft tissue damage to her knee, disc injuries in her neck (which will be chronic) and a right shoulder strain. She has been treated for 5 months, at a cost of more than $12,000, and is not yet fully recovered. Unfortunately, because she couldn't work due to her injuries, Noelle lost her job. The value of that loss, to date, is more than $20,000. The driver who caused all of this had only the Arizona minimum liability insurance coverage of $15,000. On her insurance policy, Noelle has uninsured/underinsured motorists coverage of $50,000.
Comments: The driver who caused this accident is financially responsible for all of the damage and harm that she caused. Therefore, Noelle can file a lawsuit against her and expect to get a judgment for the full amount of her damages, whatever that turns out to be. However, because the at-fault driver only has $15,000 of liability insurance, that is all her insurance company will have to pay. The balance owed will be the at-fault driver's problem. Actually, it will end up being Noelle's problem, too, if that driver doesn't have any assets that can be used to pay what Noelle is owed.
Fortunately, Noelle has uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverage on her insurance policy. Uninsured motorist coverage pays when the driver who caused your accident has no insurance. That is not the case here. Underinsured motorists coverage pays you if the driver who caused your accident has too little insurance. That is the case here. Therefore, after the at-fault driver's insurance company offers its policy limit, Noelle can make a claim under her underinsured motorists coverage and recover up to a total of $50,000, her policy limit.
South Carolina intersection collision causes shoulder injury and hand scarring. Claim pending.
Charlie reports from South Carolina that he could not avoid T-boning the SUV of a driver who had run a red light. Charlie's car was totaled. In addition, his shoulder was injured and he has been left with major scarring on his left hand, which was cut by his windshield. Charlie was treated for 3 months and his medical care cost $1,200. Charlie missed one day from work, which cost him somewhere between $500 and $1,500. Charlie is handling his own claim against State Farm, which insures the negligent red light runner.
Comments: Charlie's medical bills sound awfully low. Hopefully he is claiming the full amount of the bills, and not just the co-pays that came out of his pocket. He is entitled to recover the full amount of the bills. And that's a good thing, because, if his health insurance paid the bills, they have what is called a "subrogation claim" against Charlie if he recovers from the negligent driver. That means that Charlie will have to pay them back all or part of the amount they paid for his medical bills.
Figuring out fair compensation for scarring is always difficult. Charlie's scars should improve over time. There may also be surgical procedures that he could have to improve the scarring even more. If he elects to have this surgery, the cost of the surgery becomes part of his claim. In fact, even if he does not actually have the surgery, the cost of it is probably part of his claim.
Texas collision with utility pole causes rib fractures and injuries to head, face, neck, back and leg. Case pending.
Ranae reports from Texas that she was a rear-seat passenger in a vehicle that struck a utility pole to avoid hitting another car. The driver of the car was not injured, and the front seat passenger only had minor injuries. However, one back set passenger died in the collision. Ranae, the other back seat passenger, received rib fractures and injuries to her head, face, neck, back and leg. Her mouth and teeth were also injured.
So far, Ranae has been in treatment for a year. Her medical bills have been about $50,000.00. She missed work for 4 months, which cost her approximately $25,000.00.
Geico is the insurance carrier for the at-fault driver (presumably the driver of the car that Ranae?s driver was trying to avoid). Ranae says that Geico "only has $20K left."
Ranae has hired a lawyer, however she is not satisfied with her lawyer's services. She wants to fire him.
Comments: Obviously, Ranae has a large claim for damages, and she should be represented by a lawyer. But, what can you do if you are not satisfied by your lawyer's performance, as Ranae is?
First, talk with the lawyer and "clear the air." Explain why you are dissatisfied and ask for clear and specific answers to your questions. It may be that the lawyer knows things that you don't about the case and that her explanation will give you more confidence. If your lawyer is avoiding you, send a letter to the lawyer -- by certified mail to get the lawyer's attention -- asking specific questions and asking for a written response.
If you are still not satisfied, you may want to get a second opinion. Many lawyers will give you a free second opinion about your case.
You can always fire your lawyer, however you may owe him something if you don't have what your state considers to be "good cause" to fire the lawyer. Yes, even though you have a "contingent fee agreement" that pays your lawyer only if there is a recovery, you may owe a fee if you fire the lawyer without good cause.
Before firing a lawyer, make sure that you know the law of your state and know whether you will owe the lawyer anything. In most cases, it is not a good idea to fire a lawyer without good cause and end up paying a fee to that lawyer and another fee to the new lawyer that you hire.
Car T-bones truck at intersection in Rhode Island. Claim pending.
Hiroshi has posted his car accident which occurred in Rhode Island in May, 2007. His car T-boned a truck in an intersection. The truck driver and his insurance company, Geico, admitted responsibility.
Hiroshi's injuries include a forehead bruise, headaches, a stiff neck and pain in his shoulders and arms. He is still sore one month after the accident.
So far, these are the numbers: repair of vehicle, $3,000; medical bills, $420; lost income, $235.
Hiroshi is representing himself.
Comments: It is too early to "evaluate" Hiroshi's claim because he is still recovering from his accident-caused injuries. When he submits an injury claim to Geico, he will want to be able to tell "the whole story." That is, he will want to be able to explain all of the effects that this accident caused, in terms of his injuries, lost income and the other effects on his life. These are the losses that he wants to be compensated for. Obviously, he won't know "the whole story" until the story ends. Usually, this means when he fully recovers from his injuries.
Passenger injured in rear-ender in Maryland. Claim settled.
April has posted her car accident which occurred in Maryland in June, 2004. She was a right front seat passenger in a car that was rear-ended while waiting at a red light. The insurance company for the pick-up truck that hit her car, Erie Insurance, admitted responsibility.
April claimed a neck injury and then, later, low back pain. She was treated for over 2 years after her accident, however there were large gaps in her treatment, with one gap in her treatment being about a year.
April's medical bills totaled $6,000. She did not claim any loss of income. The cost of repairing her vehicle was only a few hundred dollars.
April hired a lawyer. Her case was settled in June, 2007, for $9,400.
Comments: There were several factors that reduced the settlement value of April's claim. One problem is that she did not get regular treatment. If there are "gaps" in your treatment, expect the insurance company to offer you less, arguing either that your injuries were not significant (because, if they were, you would have gotten regular treatment) or that something must have happened during the gap that was the cause of the later treatment (not the car accident).
It also sounds like April had difficulty showing that her low back injuries were related to her car accident because there was no record of the low back injuries for several months after her accident. If your medical records don't show complaints of a particular injury within a reasonable time after your car accident, expect the insurance company to claim that the accident didn't cause those injuries. Try to review your medical records to make sure that they are accurate and complete, that they show all of the complaints that you made. In addition, ask your doctor to state a written opinion on the cause of injuries that weren't obvious right away. If your doctor believes the injuries were caused by your car accident, this opinion will help you prove your claim.
Rear-ender in Massachusetts causes neck, back and shoulder injuries. Case Pending.
Richard and his wife were the last of a line of cars stopped for a red light. The light turned green and the cars started to move but they quickly stopped again. The vehicle behind Richard's didn't stop and rammed his car while going about 20-25 mph.
Richard's car was damaged on the rear, and it cost almost $6,000 to repair the damage.
Richard injured his back and neck and his wife injured her neck and shoulder. Even after being treated for 3 -- 4 months, Richard's neck is still sore and it does not seem to be getting better.
Richard and his wife didn't know the proper first steps after a car accident but have since wisely hired a lawyer.
Comments: Massachusetts is a no fault state, which means that injury claimants cannot sue the at-fault driver for damages unless a "threshold" is exceeded. Massachusetts has a monetary threshold, $2,000. This means that Richard and his wife can file a claim against the at-fault driver if their reasonable and necessary medical bills are more than $2,000 (each), as it appears that they will be.
The most important thing for Richard and his wife to do now is recover from their injuries.
Unless they are approaching the deadline known as the Statute of Limitations, no claim should be made until Richard and his wife fully recover from their injuries or reach "maximum medical improvement" which means recover as much as they are going to recover. Only then will Richard, his wife and their lawyer know the extent of the injuries for which they are claiming damages.
One final observation. Richard's claim and his wife's claim are separate. If one recovers before the other, they can attempt to resolve the claim of the recovered spouse. Normally, however, if a case has to be filed in court, both claims will be filed in one lawsuit.
T-bone Intersection collision in Illinois causes whiplash and knee pain. Claim pending.
Dekki reports on an Illinois intersection crash. As Dekki was lawfully going through the intersection, with a green light, another driver ran a red light and T-boned Dekki's car. It cost $7,000 to repair the car damage.
Dekki received whiplash, stiffness and swelling in the back and neck and a soft tissue knee injury which caused pain for 2 months, a limp for about 4 months and a weakened knee for about 11 months. Dekki's medical bills total about $6,000. There is no lost income.
The driver who hit Dekki did not have car insurance, so Dekki is dealing with his own insurance company under his uninsured motorists coverage.
Dekki is negotiating with State Farm and the Good Hands People have offered $3,000 as compensation for Dekki?s pain and suffering. (Presumably they are also willing to pay Dekki's medical bills.)
Dekki, who does not have a lawyer, asks how to "build a case" for more pain and suffering compensation from his "own insurance company."
Comments: It sounds as if Dekki has fully recovered from his injuries. Therefore, there is no reason to wait any longer to try to resolve his injury claim.
There is no evidence that Dekki did anything to contribute to causing this accident. Therefore, he is entitled to recover the full value of his claim. The Big Question, of course, is what is "full value." It appears to me that Dekki is entitled to more compensation -- possibly much more compensation -- than has been offered. If he hangs in there and is patient, he should be able to do much better.
By the way, although State Farm is Dekki's insurance company, with an uninsured motorists claim they act as if they insure the other driver. As you see, they aren't doing Dekki any favors because he has been paying them insurance premiums for years. Dekki should deal with them as if they were some other company.
Garbage truck rear-ends car at stop light in California causing neck and back injuries. Claim pending.
Melanie reports that she was stopped at a red light when a garbage truck rammed her from behind, pushing her car into the car in front. Her airbag didn't deploy and the seatbelt harness on her 2003 Honda Accord did not secure her, causing her chest to hit the steering wheel.
Melanie suffered severe whiplash in her neck and back. Some of her symptoms were tingling and pain which radiated down her arm into her hand and fingers. Her medical bills have totaled $25,000. She missed work for 7 weeks, which amounted to a loss of $10,000. In addition, she lost a promotion that would have paid her an additional $800 per month. Unfortunately, Melanie still suffers from neck pain.
On top of all of her lost income, Melanie has had other financial losses and consequences as a result of her accident. She couldn't go on a non-refundable cruise that she scheduled for her birthday. She was late paying her mortgage, and her credit has been severely damaged because she was out of work and without income for almost 2 months.
Melanie's claim is pending.
Comments: Melanie has a very significant claim because she has large financial losses -- that will continue in the future because of her lost promotion -- and serious injuries which may not yet be resolved.
Melanie should not settle her claim until she is sure that she has fully recovered from her injuries or reached her "maximum medical improvement." At that point, if she still has symptoms, she should have a doctor evaluate her to determine whether she will have permanent consequences of her injuries and, if so, what those permanent consequences will be. If she will suffer with the consequences of her injuries for the rest of her life, she should be compensated for that suffering.
In resolving her claim, Melanie is entitled to recover all of her out-of-pocket expenses -- for such things as medical bills, lost income in the past (while she was out of work), lost income in the future (the amount she is losing because of the lost promotion, until she gets the promotion, if she does), the cost of the cruise that she missed but had to pay for, and any other financial losses she has incurred.
As usual, the more difficult issue to resolve is how much Melanie should be compensated for having to go through this experience -- in the past and, if she will have permanent consequences of her injuries, in the future. This is the element of damages that is often called "pain and suffering."
Her claim could easily entitle Melanie to compensation in the six-figure range.
Inattentive Connecticut driver rear-ends stopped car. Herniated discs, large wage loss and "loss of consortium" result. Claim pending.
In Connecticut, Larry's vehicle was stopped when it was rammed by a vehicle going 40 -- 50 mph, whose driver later said that he had "only looked at the floor for 30 seconds."
Larry suffered cervical and lumbar disc herniations which cause (radicular) pain into his arms and legs. Even while taking narcotic pain medication, Larry cannot sit or stand for long. Obviously, he can't work. He has had to retire from his job as an R.N. making $80,000 per year.
Larry has been in treatment for more than a year. He is no longer intimate with his wife, and he has feelings of worthlessness.
Larry has applied for social security disability benefits, and his claim is pending.
He has hired a lawyer.
Comments: The careless driver has made a devastating admission. If he was going 50 mph and was inattentive for 30 seconds, he would have traveled about 4/10 mile. If he was going 40 mph, he would have traveled 1/3 mile in that time. Even if he has misjudged how long he wasn't paying attention, it is clear that he was not watching where he was going for far too long.
You can make calculations like this in your case. The calculation is based on the fact that 1 mph = 1.46666667 feet per second.
Obviously, this driver's careless inattention has changed every part of Larry's life, from his physical and mental health to his ability to work, earn and care for his family.
Larry's relationship with his wife has been affected, too. The name of the legal claim for damage to a marital relationship is "loss of consortium." This claim is based on the common sense notion that when one member of a "marital team" is injured, the spouse is affected, too. Many people incorrectly think that loss of consortium only means loss of sex. It means much more than that. It includes all of the changes in the martial relationship. Loss of consortium is either an element of a claim for "pain and suffering," or a separate claim, depending on the law of your state.
Serious physical injuries are almost always accompanied by psychological effects, such as Larry's feelings of worthlessness. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Anxiety are common. Larry is entitled to be compensated for dealing with all of the consequences of his accident: physical and mental, financial and non-financial.
This case illustrates that car accident settlements and verdicts often provide imperfect justice. Larry has suffered losses that cannot be undone. The clock can't be turned back and Larry can't be given back his former life. All the law can do is compensate him in money damages for his many losses.
Ohio rear-ender causes herniated discs, depression and hopelessness. Claim pending.
Ada and her fiancé were stopped at an intersection in Ohio waiting to make a left turn when they were rear-ended by a car going about 40 mph whose driver said his brakes failed.
Ada sustained 3 herniated cervical (neck) discs and severe middle and low back problems. Ada has had surgery on her neck in which the surgeon "fused" the bones together, causing a loss of mobility and leaving a 5 inch scar on the front of her neck. She needs more surgery on her back, but she is putting it off. So far, Ada's medical care has cost about $68,000.
More than 3 years after her accident, Ada is still in treatment. Her injuries are permanent.
Ada has not been able to work since her accident. She has applied for disability, but her claim is pending. She is thinking about filing bankruptcy.
Ada reports that this ongoing saga has caused problems in her marriage, including a loss of intimacy because of her constant pain.
She cannot sit or stand for long or do many of the things that she used to do.
Ada has hired a large law firm to represent her, but she reports that her lawyer does not return her phone calls.
The insurance company that is defending against Ada's claim is American Family Insurance which is arguing that the "real cause" of Ada's problems is degenerative disc disease that she had before the accident, not her accident. However she never had any neck or back problems before the accident and her doctor has testified (at a deposition) that, in his/her opinion, the accident caused the herniated discs.
Ada reports that "I am so depressed that I do not even get dressed most days.. . I just feel like my life is hopeless." "I am trying so hard to be patient but when you cannot pay bills or go to the grocery and your marriage is hanging on by a thread, it is tough to be optimistic."
Comments: On the brake failure issue, most states require owners and operators of motor vehicles to exercise reasonable care to properly maintain and inspect their brakes. The failure of brakes to operate properly, which causes an accident, is evidence of negligence (fault) . . . however, the operator may show that s/he did inspect and maintain the brakes. If the driver can show that the brake failure was sudden and unexpected, that is a defense against the claim. This may be an issue in Ada's case. Perhaps the driver who struck her car is contending that he maintained and inspected his vehicle regularly and the brake failure was sudden and unexpected, that he didn't do anything wrong and should not be responsible for causing this accident.
American Family Insurance is also claiming that the obvious cause of Ada's injuries -- a 3,000 metal missile going 40 mph ramming into her stopped car -- is not the "real cause." They are arguing that the real cause of Ada's neck problems is that, like virtually all of us, she had degenerative (aging) changes in her neck and back before the accident that were causing her no problems and might never have caused her any problems. But, she had no neck or back pain before the accident and massive neck and back pain after it, so there is a clear opportunity to fight the carrier on this argument.