The settlement value of a car accident case depends on several factors, such as the plaintiff’s age and health condition, the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries, and who was at-fault for the accident. Often, an insurance company will initially make a low offer, hoping that the plaintiff will settle for less than what they are entitled to. However, a car accident victim does not have to accept a low settlement offer. With the help of a car accident lawyer, a victim may counter and demand an amount that more accurately reflects the value of their claim.
In Delaware, drivers are required to carry personal injury protection (PIP) car insurance. This type of insurance is designed to help compensate car accident victims for the costs associated with injuries arising from collisions, regardless of fault. Therefore, drivers who are injured in car accidents may turn to their own insurance policies for coverage of economic damages, such as medical bills. However, PIP policy limits are typically limited to $15,000 for each person and $30,000 for all people injured per accident. This may not be enough to cover the cost of all losses arising from the accident, especially if a victim’s injuries are severe.
Can a Car Accident Victim Still File a Lawsuit?
If a victim’s damages exceed the limits of their PIP coverage, there are alternative options. The other driver’s insurance company may be liable, or the other driver may be personally responsible, for the rest of the expenses. In order to recover damages from the other driver or their insurance company, the plaintiff must prove that the other motorist was at-fault for the accident.
Additionally, the other driver must be more than 50 percent at-fault. Under the modified comparative fault rule in Delaware, a car accident victim is only eligible for compensation from an at-fault driver if they are less responsible for the accident, compared to the defendant. Even if a plaintiff is partially at-fault for the accident, they may still be able to recover damages in an amount proportionate to their percentage of fault if they are less than 51 percent responsible for the accident. For example, if damages are valued at $100,000, but the plaintiff is determined to be 10 percent at fault, they will only receive $90,000. However, if a plaintiff is 51 percent or more to blame, they will be barred from recovery entirely.
What is the Settlement Process for a Car Accident Claim in Delaware?
In Delaware, all lawsuits must go through compulsory alternative dispute resolution before proceeding to trial. After the insurance company has investigated the claim and usually before the case goes to trial, they will make a settlement offer. This is typically a low offer that is made in the hopes of settling the claim for as little money as possible.
Experienced insurance negotiators may try to convince the car accident victim that the offer is fair or that it is the highest amount that they are authorized to propose; however, this is often not the case. Insurance companies will instead try to offer the lowest settlement amount they can get away with. For this reason, a plaintiff should thoroughly understand the elements of their claim and what constitutes a fair settlement offer in their case.
What Should a Settlement Offer Include?
Any settlement offer should compensate the victim for economic damages, including vehicle damage, medical and out-of-pocket expenses, and both past and future lost income. This is why it is important for car accident victims to keep a record of all their expenses, such as receipts for vehicle repairs, medical bills, and any other concrete costs associated with the accident. Evidence can prove invaluable when making a counteroffer or in the event that the case goes to trial.
Non-economic damages include more subjective costs of the accident, such as pain and suffering. Calculating these damages can be difficult, but an experienced lawyer can help with a fair estimate. There are different methods used to calculate non-economic damages; however, they equal anywhere from 1.5 to five times the amount of special damages, depending on the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries.
Countering a Low Settlement Offer
An insurance adjuster may defend their low settlement offer amount by claiming that the plaintiff was partially at-fault for the accident or that the injuries suffered by the plaintiff were not as serious as purported. Given the inherently subjective nature of non-economic damages, the adjuster may also value the non-economic damages at a significantly lower amount.
A car accident victim should be aware that once a settlement offer is accepted, it cannot be undone, and they will not be allowed to collect more damages, even if the funds from the settlement run out before they fully recovered. However, taking the case to court can be a lengthy process, and the outcome is often uncertain. The risk of getting a lower settlement amount than desired must be weighed against the risk of potentially losing in court.
The settlement process often entails lengthy back-and-forth negotiations between the insurance adjuster and the plaintiff and their lawyer. The initial offer and any subsequent ones may be rejected until a suitable compromise is reached or until the jury reaches a verdict. When making a counteroffer, the plaintiff will need to draft a letter, which should include the following:
- Statement rejecting the offer.
- Rebuttal of any inaccurate statements made by the insurance adjuster.
- Detailed explanation of why the insurance adjuster’s offer was too low.
- Proposal of a more acceptable figure, along with any evidence, such as copies of medical bills and other receipts.
A car accident victim should keep in mind that the statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage lawsuits in Delaware is two years. A suit must be brought before the statute of limitations runs out in order to remain eligible for damages.
How can a Lawyer Secure a Fair Settlement Offer?
Insurance adjusters are usually savvy negotiators who have dealt with many claims, giving them an advantage over typical car accident victims. It is advisable for a personal injury plaintiff to seek the counsel of an experienced lawyer to secure a fair settlement. There are many ways in which a lawyer can help a plaintiff navigate the legal process, including:
- Sending a demand letter to the insurance carrier.
- Investigating potential sources of liability.
- Proving the value of medical bills, future medical bills, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity.
- Calculating the value of non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering.
- Evaluating and explaining settlement offers and other legal documentation.
- Negotiating with the insurance adjuster.
- Drafting counteroffers to the insurance company.
- Ensuring that all procedural requirements are met in a timely manner.
- Taking the claim to court, if it is necessary.
Delaware Car Accident Lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC Fight for Fair Settlements for Car Accident Victims
If you were injured in a car accident, contact one of our Delaware car accident lawyers at McCann Dillon Jaffe & Lamb, LLC. Our experienced legal team will ensure that your rights are protected throughout the process and help you to secure a settlement offer that reflects the true value of your claim. Call us at 302-888-1221 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Wilmington, Delaware, we serve clients throughout the state, including Dover, Newark, and Middletown.