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Tips For Settling A Motor Vehicle Accident Claim

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1) Gather All Motor Vehicle Accident Claim Information 2) Work With Auto Body and Repair Shops 3) Know When to Hire an Attorney After the radiator steam has settled on your damaged car, you'll need to shift focus towards filing an accident claim. This requires switching to the mindset of an investigative reporter and gathering as much information as possible. The more information you know and provide, the tougher it becomes for the presiding insurance company to minimize your compensation.

1) Gather All Motor Vehicle Accident Claim Information


Auto insurance companies require a lot of information for auto claims; therefore, one of the best ways you can settle your car accident claim is to make sure you gather, hang onto, and later submit everything your claims adjuster will need. This information includes:

The names, contact numbers, and insurance information (policy numbers, expiration dates, providers) of all involved parties. Witness names and numbers, if applicable. This will help in determining fault should there be a dispute. The name and badge number of the police officer who gathered information for the police report.

The police report number. This will assist the insurance company you filed the accident claim with track down the report. The vehicle information of every vehicle involved in the crash. This includes the car's year, make, model, license plate number, and vehicle identification number. The exact location of the accident. Be as detailed as possible in describing the accident scene. Include the type of road (one lane, two lanes, four lanes), weather conditions, street signs, signals, and lane striping (double, passing, yellow, white).

The date and time of the car accident. Record how many passengers were involved in each vehicle. Also make note of gender, ethnicity, and approximate height. Describe, as best you can, the car's damage. Be sure to include if the vehicle already had existing damage. Photos of the accident. The more the better. Take pictures from different angles, mixing close-ups with long distance shots.

2) Work With Auto Body and Repair Shops


In addition to collecting all the accident-related information you can, you'll also want to:

Obtain multiple estimates from various auto body shops. This will give you a good idea on whether or not the claims adjuster is trying to shortchange you on your compensation. Research the cost of car body parts. This will also protect you against a low settlement. Let your claims adjuster know the name, number, and address of the repair shop you plan to use.

3) Know When to Hire an Attorney

Sometimes, you just can't do it alone. Maybe you're having trouble with your insurance company or claims adjuster, or maybe the car accident and subsequent bodily or property damage is too extensive to handle on your own. In situations like these, it's best to hire an attorney who's experienced with settling motor vehicle accident claims.

How to Calculate an Auto Insurance Settlement


Edited by Erin Lucy, Grahamster Article EditDiscuss

After all repairs are made and medical treatment is finished, you must negotiate with an insurance adjuster before you can put an auto accident completely behind you. The adjuster has 2 jobs: to assess the damage from an accident and to negotiate as small a settlement to you as possible. Although most adjusters will assess an auto insurance settlement fairly and in good faith, understanding how those settlements are calculated can help you get the best payment possible. After the typical hassle and pain involved with an accident, you deserve a fair settlement.
EditSteps

1. 1
Understand your state laws governing fault and payment in an auto accident. You can get a broad-stroke summary by calling a personal injury lawyer who offers a free consultation. This is a standard practice for lawyers in that industry.

2. 2
Gather all paperwork surrounding the expenses for repairing or replacing your automobile. Total the expenses from all sources.
o o

If your car is totaled, use the current blue book value of your car. Add any costs associated with diagnosing your car as totaled. Include any expenses you incurred due to losing use of your vehicle. Some examples might include lost work, rental of a replacement car, fees for public transportation and babysitting or child care expenses.

3. 3
Gather paperwork about the medical expenses you and your family incurred due to the accident. Total all of these expenses from all sources.

As with repairing your vehicle, you should include an account of all expenses derived from medical treatment -- for example, work you missed to make a doctor's appointment, mileage from the trip and child care costs.

4. 4
Total any additional expenses you incurred due to the accident. Some examples might include property damage or damage to objects you were storing in your car. Cleanup costs sometimes apply here as well.

5. 5
Add the expenses from repairing your vehicle, repairing your body and other associated costs. This is the base cost of the accident, and the absolute minimum you should accept as an auto insurance settlement.

6. 6
Double base cost of the accident if you were not at fault. This gives you a general target to account for pain and suffering payments from the insurance company. This won't be a hard-line, set amount, but rather an approximation of what you should expect. You will ultimately negotiate the pain and suffering settlement with the insurance adjuster. In general, a fair offer is between 150 and 300 percent of the base cost. Anything less means the adjuster is trying to lowball you. Anything higher means you've missed something.

BASE FORMULA EXAMPLE


The BASE (Baldyga Auto Accident Settlement Evaluation) Formula was developed by Author Dan Baldyga after spending half of his life determining how much personal injuries, (including "pain and suffering"), are worth. Mr. Baldyga, was the national claims manager for one the country's largest insurance companies. He knows what insurance companies look for and what they will agree to pay since he was the one who directed the settlements! Let's look at a sample claim first: Medical Bills $ 726

Auto Repair $ 1,576 Temporary Transportation (Rental Car) Lost Wages $ 430 $ 844

Grand Total $ 3,576 This example claim is actually worth between $5,741 and $ 9,871 and an insurance company will generally readily pay this amount if presented properly. Why? Because of the hidden personal injury portion of this claim including "pain and suffering." How do you calculate the value of this personal injury including "pain and suffering"? Very simply - by using The BASE Formula contained in the book for sale on this site, Auto Accident Personal Injury Insurance Claim (How to Evaluate and Settle Your Loss). The Formula is explained in detail in the book and you can calculate a very precise value for your claim including "pain and suffering." As a special added bonus, this web site features a special Claims Calculator where you can input your own specific information and receive an answer about how much your claim is worth. The Claims Calculator TM utilizes the proprietary and exclusive BASE Formula developed by author Dan Baldyga after spending over twenty years settling claims on behalf of the insurance companies. The BASE Calculator can be used by entering data in the four fields at the top of this page. Purchase the book to understand how the calculator works and EXACTLY how much your claim is worth.

Settlement Negotiation Tips After a Car Accident


Expert tips on handling settlement negotiations in your car accident case.
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You can succeed in settlement negotiations in your car accident case, even if you don't have any experience.

Of course, you don't want to end up like the fellow on the left in this cartoon. Here are some questions to consider in order to get the best result in your settlement negotiations.

When should you begin negotiations on your injury claim?

After you have recovered from your injuries and obtained all the documentation you need, there is no reason to delay. Send a demand letter to the insurance company and begin settlement negotiations. But remember, it is important to have all necessary evidence to back up your claim -- police reports, witness statements, photographs, and medical treatment records and bills. A lack of evidence can doom your case, or at least leave you with a settlement that doesn't cover your losses. (Use this Checklist of Records to Gather After a Car Accident.)

Do you simply ask the insurance company to pay the amount you have decided is reasonable?
No. Settlement negotiations in a car accident claim are much like the back-and-forth negotiation system that most car dealerships still use. (In fact, don't be surprised if, during the negotiations, the adjuster tells you she has to speak to her manager, just like a car salesman might.) And it has been this way as long as car accident claims have been negotiated. You have to recognize the nature of the settlement negotiations system and "demand" more than you actually hope to recover. The normal response from the insurance adjuster is an offer that is less than they are really willing to pay. The back-and-forth process continues until the claim is resolved or until it is decided that it can't be settled, that your views of the value of the claim are simply too different. A good rule of thumb: Ask for anywhere from 25% to 100% more than you hope to recover. If you think $10,000 is fair, "demand" $12,500 to $20,000 and negotiate from there.

How long should you continue settlement negotiations?


Ideally, negotiations will go on as long as necessary, until a fair agreement is reached. The settlement negotiations could be completed in one discussion (or one exchange of letters), but, more likely, you will have to go back-and-forth with the adjuster several times before you get the adjuster's very best settlement offer. Some lawyers have a hard and fast rule: they won't settle an injury case without discussing the claim and exchanging figures with the adjuster at least three times.

Should you accept the insurance company's final offer?


First, you have to know whether the offer is really the best offer that will be made. How do you do that? Ask the adjuster something like this: "Are you telling me that this is the highest offer you are authorized to make, and that the offer will never be

increased?" Or, ask: "Is this a take-it-or-leave-it offer?" Listen carefully to the answer because most adjusters won't flat out lie to you. If the response is equivocal -- such as, "This is all the authority I have at this time" -- that probably means you can get a higher offer at another time. (More: What to Do If the Adjuster's Offer is Too Low.) Once you get to the point that you think you have the insurance company's best offer, whether you decide to accept it is up to you. If the offer is within the range you think is fair, and the adjuster convinces you that he or she is being honest in telling you that it is, indeed, the best offer that will be made, accept it. If the offer is less than your goal amount, you have to decide whether to invest the time and expense of going to court to try to get more. If the offer is far less than you think is reasonable, you should probably reject it and go to court. But if the offer is less than you think is fair but is close to your goal figure, you should think carefully about it. Ultimately, your decision on whether to accept or reject a settlement offer will probably depend on:

how much more you think you can recover in court -- recognizing that you really don't know what will happen in court (no one does) how long it will take how much it will cost, and how comfortable you are with the uncertainty of going to court.

In case you are wondering, if you decide to go to court, the judge or jury deciding the case is not told the settlement offer you rejected. You can't, for example, say that you were offered $6,000 but think your case is worth $12,000. You can't mention settlement negotiations at all. Keep in mind that the adjuster doesn't know for sure what will happen if you take your case to court, any more than you do. However, you should give some consideration to the arguments and to the evaluation of the insurance company in deciding whether to settle. While they don't know for sure what will happen in court, the insurance company handles thousands of claims each month and therefore has far more insight into the process than you do. Their evaluation of your claim may be wrong. It undoubtedly will be on the low side. But at least listen -- carefully -- to the arguments they make to you as to why your claim is worth less than you think. It will help you to better evaluate your claim, and it can even help you prepare for court if

you decide to go there. You will hear the same arguments in court that you heard when you negotiated the claim with the adjuster. To learn more about what to expect in a settlement in your state, see our Car Accident Settlement Laws state collection. If your case is going to court, learn about Car Accidents and the Lawsuit Process.

Car Accidents, Insurance and Injury Law > After a Car Accident: First Steps >

Checklist of Records to Gather After a Car Accident


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After a car accident, the success of any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit will hinge mostly on the strength of the argument that you make to the other driver (likely through their insurer/attorney). And the best way to bolster your position is to have documentation that supports every assertion you make. During car accident settlement negotiations, or in a demand letter, its one thing to say, Ive received medical treatment that has cost me thousands of dollars. But the other side wont have much room to argue when theyre staring at a chronological file that includes copies of all medical records that detail the treatment youve received since the accident, and billing information showing the charges for that treatment. The lesson here is, for every aspect of damage youre claiming to have incurred because of the car accide nt -- whether its physical injuries, vehicle damage, lost income due to time missed at work, or anything else -- you need to come to the negotiating table with proof. Very often, documents and records serve as the best kind of proof. This checklist identifies some of the key records you should track down and gather up after a car accident.

1. Police Report
If a police officer came to the scene of your accident, he or she most likely prepared a police report (sometimes called an incident report or accident report) either on-scene or shortly afterward. This report likely includes information that will become crucial in any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit -- including determinations as to whether any traffic laws were violated, and statements (from drivers, passengers, and witnesses) as to the circumstances and potential causes of the accident. (Learn more about using a police report to prove fault for a car accident.) To get a copy of the police report related to your car accident, youll need to contact the law enforcement agency that came to the scene, and give them the following information: the date and location of the accident (i.e. intersection, or approximate street address with closest cross streets) the names of the drivers involved, and/or the name (and badge number) of the officer who came to the scene and prepared the report.

2. Medical Records
If you were injured in your car accident, or just got checked out for precautionary reasons, make sure you get copies of all medical records and billing information related to your treatment. You should have records of all medical treatment related to the car accident, from any provider you saw, and covering every phase of your health care -- including treatment received, diagnoses made, treatments recommended, medications prescribed, and any other opinions and conclusions offered by a health care provider. For larger hospitals and healthcare providers, you may need to call the records/billing department, and it might take a few days for your request to be processed. Depending on the severity of your injuries and the details of your treatment, you may need to locate and request medical records for:

emergency medical services -- usually an ambulance or paramedic company run by the local municipality (town, city, or county), but sometimes the provider may be a private company. emergency room treatment

hospital admission (including treating physicians records) treatment provided by your primary doctor pharmacy prescriptions physical therapy chiropractic care, and other health care providers and specialists.

3. Records Showing Proof of Income


If you missed any time at work due to your car accident, you will likely be able to recover any corresponding lost income, as part of a personal injury lawsuit. But youll need to show detailed proof of lost income damages. You can do this by locating paycheck stubs, direct deposit records, tip records, and any other financial documents that show the exact (or close to the exact) amount of income you missed out on because of time missed at work due to the accident.

4. Vehicle Damage Estimates and Proof of Vehicle Value


If your vehicle was damaged in a car accident, as part of any insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit, youre probably entitled to have any necessary repairs paid for -- either by an insurance company or by the driver who caused the accident. But in order to figure out how much to ask for, youll need to know how much repairs will cost, and in some cases, the actual cash value of your car just before the accident happened. Depending on the fine print in your car insurance policy, you may need to let the insurance company handle the damage estimate side of things. But in some cases it may be possible to get two or three different vehicle repair estimates from auto mechanics and auto body shops. As for valuation of your vehicle, start with a reputable resource such as Kelley Blue Book. (More: Who Pays for Vehicle Damage After an Accident?)

5. Car Accident Diary or Journal


While not technically a record to gather, another form of documentary evidence that will come in handy in your car accident case is a diary or journal in which you write down all relevant information related to your accident and your injuries, with a detailed focus on ways in which the accident is impacting your day-to-day life. Keeping this kind or chronological record is one of the best ways to make sure you don't forget important details and weaken your claim. (Learn more: Keep a Car Accident Diary to Protect Your Claim.)

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If you've been involved in an automobile accident, it's in your best interests to call the police and have them come to the scene so that the incident is documented in a police report -- no matter who you think is at fault for the crash. If fault lies with the other driver, the police report can be very useful as leverage in negotiations or in guiding a court to find in your favor. If you are at fault, the report will set the scope for your liability and help define the extent of the damage.

How Police Reports are Prepared and Used


When an officer comes to the scene of an accident, he or she does a few standard things. If medical attention is needed, the officer will call it in, but assuming that there is no such need, the officers first job is to try to get the cars out of traffic. The officer will also take pictures of the accident scene and of damage to the vehicles. If there are skid marks leading up to the impact, the officer will measure those. Finally, the officer will try to get official statements from the drivers involved, and from any witnesses. From the testimony of the drivers and witnesses, the physical evidence at the scene of the accident, the officers experience in investigating accidents, and any special training that the officer has, he or she will prepare a report that details how the accident happened. This report will likely include the officers opinion as to the cause of the accident -- who was at fault.

How a Police Report Can Sway a Case


While the police officers conclusions as to who caused the accident may result in a ticket for the at -fault driver, the report is not necessarily a final determination of liability. But the report will carry a lot of weight during settlement negotiations with an insurance company, and in any personal injury lawsuit. If youre on the right side of any fault finding, and the officer stat ed that the other driver caused the accident, the report is a huge asset. But what if the report points the finger squarely at you? The other drivers insurance company may try to bully you with the report. If the officer decided that you were at fault and included that determination in his or her report, the insurance company has a potent weapon to try to claim that it is hopeless for you to hold out and that you better settle right now -- for a dollar amount of their choosing. If you find yourself in this position, it may be an uphill battle, as courts tend to reflexively trust the police. An attorney may be able to help you with that battle. There are still ways to attack the findings of a police report. Always ask what sort of information the officer received. and from whom. Does the report say that you were travelling 55 miles in a 35 zone just because thats what the other driver said, even though you know that is not true? Was the officer relying on a witness who said the light was red, when that witness may not have been in a position to see the traffic signal? (Learn more about How to Amend a Police Report After the Fact.) Another potential avenue of attack is to measure the officers train ing against his or her findings in the report. Perhaps the best example of this is skid mark analysis. While 10 feet of skid marks leading to the point of impact can probably indicate that the driver did not start breaking until 10 feet before the point of impact, the same cannot be said for estimating a vehicles speed from the length of the skid marks. It is possible to do this with some accuracy, but it requires special training that is not standard for most police departments. Because this determination requires special knowledge or training beyond the experience of normal people, courts require a showing of such knowledge or training before this kind of determination can be admissible. The same concept can be applied to other special measurements and conjectures.

Watch What You Say at the Scene


Much like the version of the Miranda rights you hear so often on TV, anything you say to an officer that makes it into the report can, and probably will, be used against you later on in the insurance claim or lawsuit process. Much as you should not admit

liability to the other driver, you must watch what you tell the police and what you sign. (More tips: Be Careful What You Say at the Scene of Your Car Accident.) When you are in a car accident and the police have been called, any police report thats prepared can make your case impenetrable, or blow holes into it that you may not be able to shore up. The best way to protect yourself may be to consult an experienced personal injury attorney. Updated by: David Goguen, J.D.

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If you get into a car accident and believe that the accident is probably going to be your fault, here are some dos and donts. Well start with the donts. (For more basics on liability for a crash, check out our Proving Fault for Car Accidents section.)

Dont Admit Fault


The key "dont" is dont tell the other driver, anyone in the other car, the police, or anyone else that the accident was you r fault. Even if you really believe that it was your fault, keep it to yourself; dont tell it to anyone. Make sure to keep your conversations with the other driver and the passengers in the other car neutral. Dont talk about the accident or how it happened. Dont ask the other driver how fast he or she was going. Dont ask, How could you not see me?

It is probably best just to ask the other driver if anyone was hurt, and then say that you should just all wait until the police arrive. Dont get into an argument with the other driver. Make sure to stay polite and cordial. Dont accuse the other driver of anything, and dont get angry if the other driver accuses you. Just walk away and wait for the police to arrive. (More: Be Careful What You Say at the Scene of a Car Accident.)

Do Call The Police


An important "do" is, in most situations, you should call the police. Many states have a law requiring the police to be informed if a car accident causes bodily injury or property damage that exceeds $500 or $1,000. Dont take a chance. If you, the other driver, or any of the passengers in either car complains of injury, call the police. If you can see visible damage to either car that is more than a ding, call the police. If either car was moving at more than a minimal speed at the time of the collision, call the police to the scene.

Do Take Photographs
If you have a camera or a camera phone and are able to take pictures, take as many pictures of the accident scene and of the damage to both vehicles as you can before you leave the scene. If there are any skid marks on the road, take pictures of them as well. You should also take pictures of stop signs, speed limit signs in the area, and other traffic control devices. (More Tips on Taking Photos at the Car Accident Scene.)

Do Get The Names of Witnesses


Make sure to get the names of any passengers in the other car, as well as the driver. If there were any witnesses in other cars or on the sidewalk, try to get their names and contact information, if they will give it.

Do Be Honest To The Police


If the police come, they will ask you what happened. You will undoubtedly have some time to wait before the police arrive. Make sure to take that time to review in your own mind how you believe the accident happened. Then, when the police ask you what happened, you can tell them what you think happened accurately and honestly.

Do Call Your Insurance Company


Make sure to call your automobile insurance company to report the accident as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the next day after the accident.

Every insurance policy has a requirement that the insured (you) cooperate with the insurance company. If the insured does not cooperate with the insurance company, the insurance company can deny insurance coverage for an accident. Dont take a chance on this. Dont wait. If you get into a car accident and think that you might be at fau lt for the accident, call your insurance company that day or the next day at the latest and tell them exactly what happened.

Do Let Your Car Insurance Company Know When Youre Getting Your Car Repaired
Sometimes your insurance company wants to take its own pictures of your car, sometimes not. Once you get your car fixed, then the insurance company can no longer take pictures of the damage. Its a minor point, but you should let the insurer know that youre getting your car fixed so that it can get someone out to your car to take pictures.

Do File An Accident Report With The Proper State Agency


Many states require drivers to file an accident report, in addition to calling the police, if they get into a car accident that causes bodily injury or a certain amount of property damage. Some states require that the report be filed with the state Department of Motor Vehicles; other states require that the report be filed with the local police department. The report usually has to be filed within a short period of time, generally ten days or two weeks. If you cannot figure out whether your states law requires you to file an accident report, you should ask your insurance company or at your local police station. You can most likely get a copy of the report form at your local police station or online at your Department of Motor Vehicles website.

Will My Insurance Premium Increase?


Unfortunately, if you are at fault for a car accident, your insurance premium will probably increase for at least several years. The laws differ from state to state with respect to how long an accident can stay on your record, but you should be prepared for it to stay on your record for up to seven years.

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After a car accident, especially when someone was injured, it's likely that a law enforcement officer will come to the scene and prepare a report of the accident -- who was involved, how it happened, who was injured, extent of vehicle damage, and in some cases, information on who was at fault. So, a police report can paint a pretty authoritative picture of a car accident, but what if the report itself contains a mistake, or you want to change information contained in it?

Police Reports and Car Accident Injury Claims


This written police report is usually not admissible in court, but it can be a crucial tool when it comes to determining liability for the accident and preserving key facts surrounding the crash -- including contact information and statements from parties involved in the accident (drivers and passengers) and anyone who may be able to help piece together what happened (witnesses). From a legal standpoint, if an insurance claim or lawsuit is filed after a car accident, the police report is one of the first pieces of documentary evidence that everyone will look at -- including attorneys and insurance claims adjusters. So it's no surprise that once a fact or an observation is entered into a police report ("Witness 2 states that Driver 1 entered the intersection while the traffic signal was still green", for example), that information instantly carries a lot of weight. Learn more about police reports and fault for a car accident.

When Errors are Made in a Police Report


Any law enforcement officer who prepares a police report is human, and it's not unheard of for errors to pop up in the report. These mistakes can range from negligible errors to major blunders. So, what can you do? It may seem like the police report and everything in it is set in stone once you get your hands on it, but that's not necessarily true. In some cases it's possible to have changes made to a police report -- in legalese, this is called "amending" the report, or requesting that a supplemental police report be prepared. Information in a police report usually falls into one of two categories: factual information and disputed information. The former is an easier fix than the latter when it comes to amending the police report. Let's take a closer look.

Amending Factual Errors in the Police Report


An error of fact is a mistake involving objective information. An error of fact can occur in a police report if the officer preparing the police report transposes digits in a social security number or telephone number, or confuses the make, model, and/or color of a vehicle that was involved in the accident. Usually, an error of fact can be corrected by simply producing proof of the correct information, typically through documentation. If you notice an error of fact in a police report, you can typically just contact the officer who prepared the report, and provide proof of the correct information -- vehicle registration records, your driver's license, insurance forms, etc. The police officer can easily attach an addendum to the report explaining the error, or may actually change the error on the report itself, depending on departmental policy.

Amending Disputed Facts in the Police Report


The more difficult task is to amend a police report when you or your attorney simply don't agree with something contained in the report -- not because of a mistake of fact, but because you'd reach a different conclusion or you'd characterize something in a different way. For instance, let's say you disagree with the details of the accident as described by a witness or another party to the accident. In the report, Witness 2 states that Driver 1 entered the intersection while the traffic signal was still green, but you think the traffic signal was already red at the time.

It's very difficult to amend a police report in situations like this, because Witness 2's statement may not be technically incorrect (or at least it may not be possible to prove it's an incorrect statement). Likewise, even if you disagree with the wording of a statement that the officer claims to have taken directly from you, or if you feel that your statements were mischaracterized in some way, you probably will not be able to have the actual police report changed. So what can you do? Your remedy is probably to write up your own account of the accident or your observation as to certain key details, and ask that this evidence be attached to the police report. Under most department policies, it will be within the officers discretion whether or not the new information is included in the existing report -- in other words, you can make your case that the requested change be made, but its not up to you.

Be Careful What You Say at the Scene of Your Car Accident


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At the scene of your car accident, be careful what you say, especially when talking to the other driver about the cause of the accident. The "who pays" decision usually depends on who was most at fault for the accident, and statements made by the drivers at the scene are often powerful evidence on this point. When a driver blurts out, "I'm sorry. I didn't see you," that's strong evidence that the speaker caused the accident. And there's a good chance that the speaker did cause the accident, but a closer look at the circumstances may tell a different story. Maybe the other driver wasn't seen because he or she: ran through a red light

didn't have the vehicle's headlights on in the evening or at night, or was driving much too fast for other drivers to react.

Under any of these circumstances (and there may be others), there may be a very good reason why Driver A "didn't see" Driver B -- and meanwhile Driver B may be as much to blame (if not moreso) as Driver A in causing the accident.

You May Be Wrong


As demonstrated in the examples above, the main reason you should be careful what you say at the accident scene -- and should not admit that you caused the accident -- is that you may be wrong. This is especially true since you are under great stress right after an accident, may be in pain, and may not be thinking clearly. So, watch what you say, and watch who you say it to -- only talk to the police officer about how the accident happened. And stick to the facts.

Your Statements May Be Misunderstood


In addition to the risk that statements made at the scene could be wrong, there is also a chance that correct statements can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Witnesses can misunderstand what you say, and later claim that you said something different. Even a simple statement like "I was paying attention" could be heard as "I wasn't paying attention." And statements can be misinterpreted. A simple "I'm sorry" can be interpreted as an admission that the speaker caused the accident, when all she meant was that she was sorry that the accident happened, no matter who caused it, or that she was simply sorry that another person had been hurt. If it's the right thing to do, you can always accept responsibility for causing the accident later, after you leave the scene, calm down and analyze the situation. Your actions at the accident scene are a vital component of winning your case. For more tips on what to do (and things to avoid doing), check out all of the articles in our section on What to Do at the Scene of a Car Accident. Updated by: David Goguen, J.D.

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Car accident settlement compensation value depends on two things: the strength of your liability claim and the extent of your damages. This article explains these two key facets of a car accident case, to give you an idea of the settlement value of your claim. (When finished reading this article, use our Car Accident Calculator to get a ballpark idea on what your accident is worth)

Strength of Liability Claim


Unless you are in a no-fault state, you cannot recover money damages unless "liability" exists. The legal term for what you have

to show is "negligence," which means carelessness. In the context of driving, examples of negligence are: not seeing another vehicle that should have been seen following too closely driving too fast for the circumstances (weather, visibility) making an unsafe turn disobeying traffic signals or signs, and talking on the phone/texting while driving

In the most common type of accident, a rear-ender, the tailing driver is usually deemed negligent because he or she wasn't paying sufficient attention and didn't keep a safe distance between vehicles. Hopefully you carried out the proper steps after a car accident. What if the other driver was negligent, but you were too? If the other driver was negligent, but you were also driving in a careless manner, your claim is completely defeated (in some states) or at least reduced (in most states). To understand how the different rules work, and how your claim might be affected, read about Comparative and Contributory Negligence.

Extent of your Damages


Assuming that liability exists, the only remaining question is, how much are you entitled to recover as compensation for your injuries? There are three commonly used methods of determining accident settlement value in routine car accident cases: 1. Colossus. 2. Multiple of specials. 3. Per diem.

Colossus
Most of the top insurance companies use a software system called Colossus (or something like it) to determine car accident settlement value. Insurance companies believed to use Colossus include Aetna, Allstate, CNA, Erie, Farmers, Metropolitan, Ohio Casualty, The Hartford, MetLife, Travelers, USAA and Zurich. And many of the other insurance companies use some other form of injury valuation software. You won't be able to use the Colossus system, but you have to know that it exists and how it works in order to discuss settlement with the insurance claims adjuster. Learn much more about Using Colossus Software to Calculate Settlement Value.

Multiple of Specials
Under this method, to determine accident settlement value, you add these elements of damage together: 1. Medical bills. 2. Lost income.

3. Pain and suffering damages. The insurance company may challenge the amount of medical bills and lost income that you claim. (Learn more about successfully negotiating with insurance adjusters) They may claim that some of your medical bills were for unnecessary treatment or that the charges are unreasonably high, or they may contend that your claim for lost income is excessive or not supported by the medical records. Usually, these defense claims are weak. If you got the treatment recommended by your health care providers and missed only the work that your doctors said you needed to miss, you should be able to recover all of your medical bills and lost income. The much more difficult question to answer is, how much are you entitled to recover for your pain and suffering? Read How to Calculate Pain and Suffering Damages to learn about auto accident injury settlements and compensation. A note on no-fault states: As you have probably already figured out, these methods of determining accident settlement value do not apply to no-fault systems, which do not compensate for pain and suffering. To understand how no-fault rules work, see NoFault Car Insurance and State Laws: The Basics.

Comparative and Contributory Negligence in Car Accident Claims


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In a car accident case, comparative and contributory negligence are defenses that come into play when the time comes to sort out

two key issues: the degree to which each driver was at fault for the crash, and how much financial responsibility (if any) each driver will bear for damages stemming from the crash. In a typical car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff alleges that the defendants carelessness (or negligence) caused the crash, and that the defendant should be held liable for the plaintiffs damages, including any injuries and vehicle damage. In response to the plaintiffs allegations, the defendant may be able to use the rules of comparative and contributory neglig ence to show that the plaintiff played a role in causing the car accident. If used successfully, comparative and contributory negligence may reduce a plaintiff's financial recovery, or even bar it completely. While the two defenses share some similarities, there are key differences between comparative and contributory negligence, and its important to note that each state follow s one rule or the other, sometimes with variations (more on state-by-state rules later). Lets take a closer look at these two defenses and how they work in a car accident case.

Comparative Negligence
Comparative negligence is the more common of the two defenses. Comparative negligence divides fault between the plaintiff and defendant according to a percentage. For example, lets say Joe claims that Mary owes him damages because she ran a red light and hit his car. In response to Joes claims, Mary may mo unt a comparative negligence defense. She may claim that Joe made an illegal turn and should never have been in the intersection, and so he bears some percentage of responsibility for causing the accident. The case goes all the way to trial, and the jury finds that Joe incurred damages of $100,000. The jury also finds that Joe was 30% responsible for the accident, and Mary was 70% liable. Under comparative negligence rules, Mary must pay Joe $70,000 ($100,000 reduced by 30%, the degree of fault assigned to Joe). Different states have different comparative negligence rules. However, the two most common rules are: pure comparative negligence and modified comparative negligence. (Find the law in your state in our State Car Accident Laws article collection.) Pure Comparative Negligence. In pure comparative negligence jurisdictions, a negligent plaintiff may recover compensation from any other party who bears some degree of responsibility for the car accident, regardless of the plaintiffs own percentage of fault. Even a plaintiff who is found to be 90% at fault for an accident may still recover compensation for 10% of his or her damages. Modified Comparative Negligence. In states that follow modified comparative negligence rules, a plaintiff will be barred from recovering any damages at all if he or she is deemed to be 50% or more responsible for causing the car accident. But a plaintiff whose share of responsibility is anything less than 50% retains the right to receive compensation, in an amount equal to the percentage of the other partys fault. For example, lets say a plaintiff gets into a fender bender, incurs $1,000 in vehicle damage, and is deemed 55% at fault. In that case, under modified comparative negligence rules, the plaintiff would recover nothing. But if the same plaintiff were deemed only 45% at fault, he or she would recover $5,500.

Contributory Negligence
The rule of contributory negligence is more harsh to negligent plaintiffs, and is followed only in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington D.C. In these states, a defendant can to avoid liability altogether by establishing that the

plaintiffs own negligence contributed to the accident. Theres no threshold to meet under contributory negligence rules. If a plaintiff is found to be just 1% at fault for causing the accident, he or she will be denied any chance at compensation. "Last Clear Chance." Most contributory negligence states follow a rule called "the last clear chance." Even when a defendant can show that a plaintiffs own negligence contributed to the accident, the plaintiff may still recover damages by showing th at the defendant had a last clear chance to avoid the accident. For example, assume that Joe brings a car accident claim against Mary, claiming that she hit his car after running a red light. Its a contributory negligence state, and Mary claims that Joe made an illegal turn, so he is partially liable for the accident. Even if its true that Joe made an illegal turn, and even though theyre in a state that follows contributory negligence rules, if Joe shows that Mary had the last clear chance to avoid the accident -- i.e. she had reasonable time to safely swerve out of the way and avoid the collision -- but did not avoid it, Joe can still recover compensation.

Getting Legal Help


In a car accident case, comparative and contributory negligence rules may be powerful shields in the defendant's arsenal. Plaintiffs need to understand which of these rules is in place where they live, and how their case may be affected if liability isnt a cut-and-dried issue. If you have questions about your car accident case, it may be wise to consult an experienced personal injury attorney. by: David Goguen, J.D.

If the Car Insurance Claim Adjuster's Offer is Too Low


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After a car accident, an insurance claims adjuster will investigate your auto insurance claim and send you a settlement offer. This offer is typically presented in writing, and it explains how much the insurance company is willing to pay on your claim. The offer may be to pay the total cost of your claim, only part of it, or nothing at all. A claim for vehicle damage is usually separated from a claim for any injuries stemming from the accident, so youll usually receive separate settlement offers for each of these c laims. This article looks at initial settlement offers, and what to do if the offer is too low. (Get more Settlement Negotiation Tips After a Car Accident.)

First Offers Usually Come in Low


An insurance adjuster's first offer is typically on the low side. Initial offers are low for two reasons. First, part of an adjuster's job is to save money for her employer, the insurance company. Second, adjusters often have the authority to negotiate a final settlement amount. The initial offer is the first step in this negotiating process, and so the first offer amount will be on the low end of the negotiating range. Once you see the initial offer, you may choose whether to accept it, reject it, or try to negotiate a higher settlement amount. Is It a Reasonable Offer? In order to know whether the offer is reasonable, it's important to know something about your claim. A fair settlement offer will cover the costs of your medical bills, the damage to your vehicle, and other losses related to the accident, like rental fees or towing. Also, consider future costs: if you have been permanently injured or will need long-term care, the costs of your injury will be higher than if you are expected to make a full recovery in the short-term. Keeping a running total of the money you have had to spend as a result of the accident will help you determine whether the offer you have received is too low. Know Your Policy. In addition to having a ballpark idea of your costs, you should also be familiar with the insurance rules in your state and your specific car insurance policy. For instance, if the limits of your coverage are lower than the amount of your bills, your offer will not be higher than the coverage limits. And if you live in a no-fault car insurance state, and your injuries aren't that serious, you'll probably be limited to recovering out-of-pocket losses like medical bills and lost wages (up to a certain limit). Finally, pay attention to who the insurance company says was at fault in the accident; many insurance adjusters will overstate the amount of fault in order to justify a deliberately low offer.

The First Offer May Not Be the Last Offer


If your offer seems too low, you have several options. You can negotiate with your adjuster. The first step in negotiating is to reject the initial offer, which you should do in writing. Then, decide upon a range that you feel would fairly compensate you for your losses in the accident. Let the adjuster make the first offer during negotiations, which, along with the original offer, will give you a clearer idea of the low end of the insurance company's range. Then, counter with an amount that is near the high end of your range. Explain what prompted you to come up with this higher number. While your range may be higher than any of the adjuster's offers, it should still be reasonable. Asking for an astronomical amount simply because the insurer is a big company with deep pockets will only stall negotiations, and you may find yourself with a much smaller amount or nothing at all. (Learn more about alternate dispute resolutions if you wish to avoid court). If you do not wish to handle the negotiations yourself, you can contact an experienced insurance attorney who can help you deal with the insurance company. It is also wise to seek legal advice before firmly rejecting a settlement offer. If you need time to

think or to speak with an attorney, inform the insurance company that you need a day or two to think about the offer. Then, contact an attorney as soon as possible. by: Dani Alexis Ryskamp

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