Accident Guide | How to Negotiate a Settlement: Part 1

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Rachel Bodine

Insurance Feature Writer

Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Jeffrey Johnson

Insurance Lawyer

Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 6, 2022

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Just the Basics

  • File your insurance claim as soon as possible to start the negotiation process quickly
  • Keep a record of any hospital costs, ongoing care, and receipts for any purchases you make for your injury to boost your negotiation
  • If your medical costs exceed $1,000, you may want to hire a car accident attorney

Many drivers come away from an accident without knowing what they are owed or how they should be compensated. Unfortunately, many car insurance companies will take advantage of your ignorance and downplay your injuries, limit payments, or try to convince you to accept a smaller settlement. Do not accept any offers until you have appropriately negotiated a settlement with the insurer.

If the accident was your fault, you might have limited options depending on your insurance policy and local state laws. However, if another driver caused the accident, you may be entitled to compensation for vehicle damages, personal injuries, and pain and suffering.

Our guide explains how to negotiate with car insurance companies and determine fair amounts for pain and suffering settlements. It’s likely you can calculate your own compensation for minor injuries and negotiate a fair settlement with the insurance adjuster. Still, you will want to hire a lawyer after a car accident if your injuries are severe.

Keep reading for more tips on negotiating a car insurance settlement and learn how to calculate a fair settlement for your damages, including pain and suffering payments.

How do you negotiate a car insurance settlement?

The first step in negotiating a car insurance settlement is to initiate the claim as soon as possible. The faster you file the insurance claim, the faster the insurance company can send their adjuster to inspect the damage to your vehicle.

Before you start negotiating with a car insurance company, it is important to calculate the cost of your damages and injuries. You will also want to research your state laws. If you live in a no-fault vs. tort state will determine which insurance company handles your claim and how much you are entitled to.

For example, if you live in a no-fault state, you must file your claim and negotiate a settlement with your own insurance company. However, drivers in at-fault (or tort) states can file claims with other drivers’ insurers based on the percentage of fault. 

In some states, the percentage of fault will reduce settlement amounts. In other states, drivers must be found 0% at-fault to file a claim with another driver’s insurance company. Find out what you’re entitled to in your state before you start negotiating a settlement.

How to Calculate the Cost of Your Injuries After a Car Accident

Figuring out how to calculate the value of your injury claim starts by totaling your medical costs and monetary damages. Monetary damages, sometimes called special damages, include treatments, such as X-rays and CT scans, and hard costs like pain medications, surgeries, and more.

Keep a record of any initial hospital costs and ongoing care, and use receipts for any purchases you make personally as a result of your injuries, such as crutches or over-the-counter medicines, to increase the amount of your settlement. This includes physical therapy, prolonged pain treatments, and other future expenses.

Next, calculate your lost wages based on how many hours of work you missed due to injuries. You can also negotiate a higher settlement if you have had to make accommodations at work for your injuries. Insurance companies like hard examples of quantifiable costs, so getting written statements from your employer and coworkers can lead the negotiations in your favor. 

How  to Calculate Pain and Suffering Claims After a Car Accident

It is easy to see the impact on your life if you are in a hospital bed, but pain and suffering claim settlements are harder to quantify. Pain and suffering – sometimes called general damages – includes any loss or impairment to certain aspects of your life. 

This can include emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of physical or mental capacity, and a general loss of enjoyment in life. For example, if your injury causes stress every time you get behind the wheel of a car or you cannot play in your summer softball league, you should be entitled to a settlement for your general damages from the liable party. 

You want to have a clear understanding of what pain and suffering means before you negotiate with an insurance adjuster. To help you calculate the cost of your pain and suffering, ask yourself:

  • Am I able to complete daily tasks, including caring for children, without pain?
  • Do I suffer from sleep disturbances or nightmares after the accident?
  • Do I experience nausea or pain after taking medication or going to physical therapy?
  • Am I afraid to drive after the accident?
  • Will my injuries require long-term aftercare?

Even if it is something as small as having difficulty mowing the lawn or doing the dishes, you should be compensated for the way an auto accident affected your life, both physically and emotionally.

The biggest mistake many policyholders make is feeling like they should “tough it out” instead of pursuing compensation for their damages or injuries. Unfortunately, this mentality often leads to neglecting treatments and missing reimbursement claims early in the process, which makes it very difficult to seek compensation later.

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How do you negotiate pain and suffering in a car insurance settlement?

In order to get the appropriate amount for your settlement, you must be diligent about documenting your financial losses and injuries, keeping track of medical expenses, and gathering evidence to support your claim. Whether you have to present such evidence to an adjuster, arbitrator, or a judge, you will be glad that you kept track of everything from day one.

Keeping detailed records of your hard medical costs, as discussed above, can also act as evidence of your pain and suffering. For example, X-rays of spinal damage and medical recommendations from doctors for continued physical therapy will show an insurance company the extent of your suffering. 

You can also link other evidence and outside factors from the accident to help you negotiate a fair pain and suffering settlement. Key factors include:

  • If the other driver was intoxicated, fell asleep at the wheel, or was otherwise ticketed for violating the law
  • If there were fatalities as a result of the crash
  • If you had to be cut out of the vehicle
  • If your children or family members were in the vehicle

What if your injuries are minor? Rest assured, you are still entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering. To build your case, consider how you answered the questions in the previous section and distinctly describe your accident and injuries to the adjuster. Go into detail about the psychological trauma and physical distress of your accident and recovery. Use your medical records and get a police report from the car accident to support your claim.

What You Need to Know About Pain and Suffering Claims in a Car Accident Settlement

Go into the negotiation with realistic expectations. You can quantify your personal injury claim by keeping detailed records of your medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering, but consider your state laws and who was found at fault for the accident before pursuing a higher settlement. 

There is also no harm in seeking advice from a licensed attorney to learn more about what you are entitled to. It is possible to negotiate a car accident settlement without a lawyer. However, if your injuries took more than a couple of weeks to heal, you missed work, lost sleep, could not perform daily activities, or your recovery racked up more than $1,000 in medical bills, you should consult with an attorney to help negotiate your settlement. 

Talking to a car accident attorney can help you find a wide range of settlement options that work for your personal situation. Hiring an independent mediator or arbitrator may also save you the hassle of the negotiation process. Mediation can lead to a faster settlement process, but it’s often a last resort after previous negotiations have failed. 

Depending on your insurance policy, you may only have the option of pursuing a lawsuit if you can’t negotiate a settlement. So read your policy carefully and compare car insurance from multiple companies to find one that best fits your coverage needs.

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