Frequently Asked Questions - Factors of an Injury Claim Settlement
After an auto accident, there are numerous things to take into consideration. The best thing you can do for yourself is hire an experienced personal injury attorney to represent your interests against the at fault insurance carrier. If you were involved in a significant accident leaving you with an array of injuries, you are going to need to know what your rights are and what benefits you are entitled to. An attorney will be able to sit down with you and go over all of your options to figure out a game plan of how to best advance your claim and treat your injuries at the same time. There are many factors that go into determining how much an auto accident injury claim may be worth and even two people involved in the same accident in the same vehicle can settle their cases for significantly varying amounts. Some people believe their claim is worth much more than it actually is and this is where a personal injury attorney can come in handy to explain to you your circumstances and why the insurance company may feel your claim is worth more or less than you believe it is. One of the first things you or your attorney will need to know is how much insurance coverage is available to you. In the State of Florida, bodily injury coverage is not a mandatory insurance requirement, meaning you do not have to purchase bodily injury coverage on your insurance policy to legally register your vehicle for road use. Bodily injury coverage is the portion of the at fault insurance coverage you go through when you sue an insurance company for personal injuries. If you are injured by someone who does not carry bodily injury coverage on their insurance policy, you can then look to your own insurance carrier to see if you have any uninsured motorist coverage. If you are injured by someone who has a very minimal bodily injury policy, say $10,000.00, you are extremely limited in the amount of medical treatment you can undergo. If you have a good uninsured or underinsured motorist policy, you should be fine with the amount of medical treatment you can undergo.
Once of the major contributing factors for determining how much a personal injury claim is worth is your injuries. After an auto accident, you will likely have some type of injury which will require you to seek medical treatment with a doctor who will probably treat you a few times per week for the next several months. It will be during this time that your doctor will want to send you for an MRI or any other testing they feel is necessary to determine any internal injuries. An MRI will be able to show if you have any internal injuries or spinal damage. If you did suffer from spinal damage from your auto accident, chances are that your doctor will want to refer you to a specialist who can further treat your condition. This usually consists of an orthopedic doctor or neurosurgeon. Sometimes, the injuries you sustained could require surgical intervention. If this is the case, your doctor will discuss with you the medical side of your injuries and your attorney will then be able to discuss the legal side.
Another contributing factor which determines how much your claim is worth is pre-existing injuries. If you have previously suffered from spinal injuries prior to your auto accident, the insurance company will make the argument that your new injuries are just aggravation of your pre-existing injuries. This is a tactic all insurance carriers make when determining a settlement offer. The insurance companies have a large database that they can refer to which shows all previous accidents and injuries someone has sustained in their lifetime and they often request to see up to five years of prior medical records or request your MRI films to have them reviewed by one of their doctors or nurses to determine if the injuries are new or old. The more accidents and injuries you have sustained previously, the lower your settlement offer will be as the insurance company will decide that this accident did not cause any new injuries.
The amount of your medical bills can also be a factor in determining the amount of your settlement. In the State of Florida, your own insurance company is required to pay the first $10,000.00 of your medical bills up to 80%. The at fault insurance company will calculate this amount if no payments have been made yet to see what your total out of pocket costs would be based on the personal injury protection payment schedule. If your total outstanding medical balances are low, the insurance adjuster will likely make a low settlement offer. If you were forced to undergo significant medical treatment or possibly even surgery, your bills are going to be much higher which usually results in a much higher settlement offer being made.
In the State of Florida, you must have sustained a permanent injury in order to be awarded a settlement for pain and suffering. Once you are finished treatment with your physician, they will give you an impairment rating which is based on the American Medical Association guidelines. This is something the insurance adjuster will take into consideration when making your settlement offer. If you only treat with a physical therapist and you are assigned a very low impairment rating, your settlement offer is likely going to be pretty small. However, if you were assigned a low impairment rating but you ultimately went on to treat with a surgeon and you required surgical intervention, you could still be awarded a much higher settlement offer, despite the low impairment rating. Surgery typically trumps physical therapy impairment ratings when it comes to the adjuster making a settlement offer. If your attorney opines that your claim is worth much more than the insurance company is offering, they will discuss with you the option of having to file a lawsuit against the insurance carrier.