What Is The Average Settlement Value For A Car Accident In Florida?

Fairway Law Group

How is a Car Accident Claim Valued in Florida?

As a civil litigation attorney, I am often asked about what the settlement value of a case is. This is because civil cases are different from criminal cases. Civil cases are when somebody brings a claim or lawsuit against a wrongdoer. Criminal cases are when the State pursues charges against someone who broke a law.

Civil lawyers are not criminal prosecutors, and vice-versa. If you have been involved in a car accident, a civil personal injury attorney can pursue a claim on your behalf. The goal of the claim is to maximize the amount of money that you will receive as a result of your car accident. The money that you receive can be used to pay back your medical bills. It can also be used to pay for future medical bills. It will also help to compensate you for your pain and suffering.

Typically there are two ways to accomplish this result:

  1. You can settle the claim with the at-fault party or their insurance company; or,
  2. You can take the case to trial and have a jury determine the value of your case.

I am going to speak in depth about both of these topics in the blog post.

The Difference Between Settling a Claim and Going to Court

I hear a lot of people say “let’s go to court” or “I am going to take this to trial.” There are certain times that this is what needs to happen. But there are also other times where it could benefit everyone involved to settle the case. This can happen at any point prior to the trial. It actually can even happen after trial as well.

Filing a Claim

After a car accident your personal injury attorney will file a claim. The claim is against the at fault party. The insurance company for the at fault party will most likely handle the claim. There will also be a claim filed with your insurance company. This assumes that both parties have insurance.

“Filing a claim” is a general term that means you are pursuing a claim against the at-fault party. Your personal injury attorney and the at-fault party’s insurance company will work together on the claim.  For example, when I sign up a new car accident claim, I identify any and all insurance that is available. I place all insurance companies on notice of my involvement.

You have heard it a million times on the TV Ads – every case is different. I hate cliche statements, but this one is true. Every single case is different. This is because there are different factors that go into every case (more on that below).

A “typical” claim can last between about three months to a year. A lot of factors go into how long it takes to finalize the claim, including:

  1. Your medical treatment;
  2. The insurance companies involved;
  3. The extent of the injuries;
  4. What the limits of insurance are;
  5. The willingness of the insurance companies to settle the case;

After you and your attorney have an idea of the extent of your injuries, your attorney will send a letter to the insurance company. This is a demand letter.

Sometimes the insurance company will decide they want to settle the claim.  They will work with your attorney to agree on an amount. Once the parties agree on an amount, in exchange for a release you receive the money.

Going to Court

When your attorney and the insurance company cannot agree on an amount, it might be in your best interest to file a lawsuit. This means that papers will be filed in the county where the accident happened and a lawsuit will be initiated.

Make no mistake about it – filing a lawsuit is a big deal. Your case will become a public record. This means that anyone can pull up certain facts about your case. Your costs will go up. For example, filing a lawsuit in Orlando, Florida, costs $400. Also, you will need to get service of process on each defendant, which is an extra fee.

There are plenty of cases where the only legitimate choice is to file a lawsuit. However, not every case needs to go to court.

Once the lawsuit is filed, your attorney will engage in litigation. This means that they will go to court and conduct discovery. Discovery is the fancy legal term that means answering questions and providing documents.

I could write a book on litigation, so I will save that for another time. However, let’s talk about what the goals are when it comes to litigation.

First, the goal is to increase the settlement offer. Litigation is expensive for defendants. The insurance company will have to pay for an attorney to represent the defendant. Additionally, the defendant typically does not want to get sued either.

Another goal of filing a lawsuit is to obtain information that you were not able during the claims process. This occurs when you are not able to get an insurance policy from a defendant or some other information. Filing a lawsuit will give you subpoena power to obtain documents.

Finally, a lawsuit is required to get to a jury trial. Personal injury attorneys can take a case to trial if that is what needs to happen. Taking a case to a jury trial is the final step in the claims process. Much like a criminal defendant pleads his case to a jury, a personal injury victim can plead their case to a jury. The jury will deliberate and come back with what they believe the value of the case is.

One of the downsides to filing a lawsuit is the length of time it takes. A typical lawsuit can last upwards of a year, with many lawsuits lasting longer. After the jury trial, there can also be an appeal which could take another year to complete. To make matters worse, the case could be overturned on appeal and have to be retried, meaning you are going back to trial.

Of course, there is always the possibility that an injured victim loses at trial as well. The insurance companies and defendants will do everything in their power to 1) win the case outright and 2) minimize the amount of the jury verdict.

With a basic understanding of the difference between a claim and a lawsuit, let’s talk about how cases are valued.

What are the different factors used to determine the value of a car accident case?

In evaluating the value of your car accident case, the following factors may be used by your attorney and the insurance company:

Objective Amounts:

  • Past Medical Treatment
  • Future Medical Treatment
  • Past Lost Wages
  • Future Lost Wages
  • Future Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Other Economic Losses

Subjective Amounts:

  • Severity of Injuries
  • Loss of Consortium
  • Pain and Suffering
  • Severity of the Collision
  • The Defendant’s Driving History
  • Scaring
  • Whether there is a Permanent Injury

Let’s take a look at the objective amounts first. These are the amounts that we can nail down to the dollars and cents. There might be some speculation (such as for future care), but there will be some straight-forward math behind the following numbers.

Objective Measures of Case Value

  • Past Medical Treatment

Past medical treatment means the bills that you have already incurred related to your car accident. For example, an ER visit after a car accident would be a past medical bills. Other bills would include chiropractic bills, CT scans, MRI’s, x-rays, and orthopedic or surgeon bills, physical therapy, any dental work that you had done, and any other medical bill that you have incurred because of the car accident.

Sometimes the insurance companies will argue that a bill was not related to a car accident. This commonly happens when there is a pre-existing injury aggravated by the accident. This is one of the reasons why it is important to work with a personal injury attorney after an accident.

  • Future Medical Treatment

Future medical treatment is treatment that you are likely to require in the future. This can include future surgeries or future therapies. Your future medical treatment is based on a physician’s opinion as to what is required for your future treatment. It is also possible to have experts who can give an opinion regarding what future treatment you may require.

  • Past Lost Wages

Past lost wages are wages that you could not earn in the past because of your injuries. The best example would be if you missed works because of your automobile accident. Other examples would be if you have to take two weeks off to get surgery, or had to cut your hours in half because your back pain prevented you from working a full shift. If you were fired or lost your job because you could not fulfill your job duties, you can claim past and future lost wages.

  • Future Lost Wages

Future Lost Wages is income that you would have earned in the future. The best example of this is someone who can no longer work as a plumber, and they made $3,000.00 a month doing so. If you lost your job or can no longer work as a plumber who made $3,000.00 a month, then you would have a future lost wage claim of $3,000.00 per month.

  • Future Loss of Earning Capacity

Future loss of earning capacity is similar to future loss wages. It means that you do not have the same earning capacity as you did prior to your car accident. For example, if you were a truck driver making $60,000.00 per year prior to your accident, but can only drive for half the amount of time after your accident, you have a $30,000.00 per year loss of earning capacity claim.

  • Other Economic Losses

Other economic losses is anything else that has a fixed dollar amount tied to it. This would include having to make a modification to your home that was required because of the car accident (such as a wheelchair ramp). Other losses would include equipment or objects that were damaged in your car during the accident.

Subjective Measures of Case Value

Switching gears, there are also elements of your claim that are subjective in nature. These are things that will add value to your claim, but it is hard (if not impossible) to place an exact dollar value on these elements:

  • Severity of Injuries

The severity of the injuries will certainly play a role in the value of the claim. An injury requiring a cervical fusion will have more value to it than a jammed finger or a minor cut.  This is why it is  imperative that you obtain medical treatment after your car accident to document your injuries.

  • Loss of Consortium

Loss of consortium is the loss of companionship. This means that if your car accident causes your spouse to lose companionship around the home (including intimate and physical companionship), this can be compensated for. Other types of this element include loss of services around the home.

  • Pain and Suffering

Pain and suffering damages are a large element of a personal injury claim. If you have been involved in a car accident that had a large impact on your life, you may be entitled to obtain pain and suffering damages because of the car accident. Generally speaking, the larger the injury, the more valuable the pain and suffering component will be.

Proving pain and suffering damages can be quite tricky. It can be helpful to have “before and after” witnesses who can testify as to the changes that someone underwent after a car accident. This is also something that a spouse may be able to testify to.

As discussed a little further down, Florida requires that you suffer a permanent injury after a car accident to claim pain and suffering. This, again, is one of the reasons why it is so important to obtain medical treatment after a car accident. Having a well-documented medical file will help to maximize the value of your case. This is because the injuries you sustained after the accident will hopefully be well documented in your medical file.

  • Severity of the Collision

The severity of the collision can play a role in the value of the case. Taken by itself, the severity of the collision does not say anything about the injuries sustained. For example, we’ve all heard about the roll-over accident where the guy walks away with a scratch. But that is not always what happens. Sometimes there is a large injury after a big accident.

However, when you take the severity of the accident and couple it with the injury, that can be used to show the jury the effect the accident had on you. On the opposite side, if there was not a large impact, it is possible that the defendants will introduce photos of the accident to show how “minor” the accident was.

  • The Defendant’s Driving History

An at-fault driver’s driving history can play a roll in the value of the case. For example, a driver with a long history of reckless driving could potentially be liable for punitive damages. Additionally, if the driver has a history of texting and driving, this might be used to show the reckless nature of the defendant. Although taken by itself this might not have value, when combined with the severity of injuries, it can help to increase the value of the case.

  • Scarring

Scarring as a result of an automobile accident can add value to a case. Of course it is impossible to state that a specific scar is worth a specific amount of money, however it is something that can be shown to the jury to increase the overall value of the case.

A scar can be the result of a burn or a scratch from the actual car accident, or from a surgery or some other medical treatment that you had to get because of the car accident.

  • Whether there is a Permanent Injury

Permanent injuries allow an accident victim to recover for pain and suffering damages. Florida has a certain threshold that must be met in order for somebody to claim pain and suffering damages.

How Much Is A Typical Car Accident Settlement?

There is no “typical car accident settlement.” This is because the facts surrounding each case are different. A large injury case might settle for the policy limits of $10,000.00 even though the injuries are worth far more. On the opposite hand, a small injury case may only settle for $5,000.00 even though there is a million dollars in coverage. This is why it is so difficult to “ballpark” the value of cases.

However, prior to becoming a personal injury attorney, I was an insurance defense attorney. This meant that I represented the insurance companies and the people who caused accidents when they were sued. Having this experience helps me understand the different values that cases have.

As an insurance defense attorney, I evaluated cases and provided settlement ranges for the insurance companies to consider. An insurance defense attorney is typically not in charge of offering the settlement money for a case. Insurance attorneys only report the value of the claims back to the insurance agents, and they are the ones who determine what the value of the case is.

We already discussed factors related to your injury above. However, here are some additional factors that are considered when valuing a case:

The Amount of Insurance Available for the At Fault Driver

It is important to know the amount of insurance that the at-fault driver has. This is because most people do not have the ability to pay a judgment or settlement out of their own pocket. Because of this, we look to any available insurance coverage. This is why it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible so that they may identify any and all insurance that is available.

The Amount of Insurance Available under your policy

In addition to the at-fault driver’s insurance policy, your insurance policy may provide additional insurance coverage. I have already written about personal injury protection (PIP) insurance HERE. This provides up to $10,000.00 in insurance coverage for medical bills and lost wages.

In addition to your PIP coverage, any applicable underinsured motorist coverage can help to pay for part (or all) of your settlement claim.

Accidents With Corporate and Commercial Vehicles

Corporations and commercial vehicles have different rules that apply to them regarding their insurance coverage. For example, Florida requires commercial vehicles to have higher levels of insurance. Specifically, commercial vehicles are required to have limits of $300,000.00, $750,000.00, $1 million or $5 million depending on the weight and use of the vehicle.

Further, Florida has adopted the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration standards regarding the appropriate level of insurance for commercial vehicles.

Fla. Stat. 320.01(25) defines “commercial motor vehicle” as “any vehicle which is not owned or operated by a governmental entity, which uses special fuel or motor fuel on the public highways, and which has a gross vehicle weight of 26,001 pounds or more, or has three or more axles regardless of weight, or is used in combination when the weight of such combination exceeds 26,001 pounds gross vehicle weight.”  Fla. Stat. 320.01(25).

Fla. Stat. 207.002(1) defines “commercial motor vehicle” as “any vehicle not owned or operated by a governmental entity which uses diesel fuel or motor fuel on the public highways; and which has a gross vehicle weight in excess of 26,000 pounds, or has three or more axles regardless of weight, or is used in combination when the weight of such combination exceeds 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight.”  Fla. Stat. 207.002(1).

Fla. Stat. 627.7415 states that commercial motor vehicles as defined in Fla. Stat. 207.002 or Fla. Stat. 320.01 operated on the roads of Florida “shall be insured with the following minimum levels of combined bodily liability insurance and property damage liability insurance…” and goes on to say that “(4) All commercial motor vehicles subject to regulations of the United States Department of Transportation, 49 C.F.R. part 387, subpart A,…shall be insured in an amount equivalent to the minimum levels of financial responsibility as set forth in such regulations.”  Fla. Stat. 627.7415(4).

49 C.F.R. part 387 Subpart A of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (hereinafter referred to as the “FMCSA”) prescribes the minimum levels of financial responsibility required to be maintained by motor carriers of property operating motor vehicles in interstate, foreign, or intrastate commerce. Motor carrier means a for-hire motor carrier or a private motor carrier. 49 C.F.R. 387.5.  49 C.F.R. part 387.1 Subpart A “applies to for-hire motor carriers operating motor vehicles transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce”…. and it “applies to motor carrier operating motor vehicles transporting hazardous materials, hazardous substances, or hazardous wastes in interstate, foreign, or intrastate commerce.  49 C.F.R. part 387.3. For-hire carriage means the business of transporting, for compensation, the goods or property of another. 49 C.F.R. 387.5.

The following limits of liability are required under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act:

Type of carriage Commodity transported Limit of Insurance
(1) For-hire (In interstate or foreign commerce, with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds) Property (nonhazardous) $750,000
(2) For-hire and Private (In interstate, foreign, or intrastate commerce, with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds) Hazardous substances, as defined in 49 CFR 171.8, transported in cargo tanks, portable tanks, or hopper-type vehicles with capacities in excess of 3,500 water gallons; or in bulk Division 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 materials. Division 2.3, Hazard Zone A, or Division 6.1, Packing Group I, Hazard Zone A material; in bulk Division 2.1 or 2.2; or highway route controlled quantities of a Class 7 material, as defined in 49 CFR 173.403 5,000,000
(3) For-hire and Private (In interstate or foreign commerce, in any quantity; or in intrastate commerce, in bulk only; with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds) Oil listed in 49 CFR 172.101; hazardous waste, hazardous materials, and hazardous substances defined in 49 CFR 171.8 and listed in 49 CFR 172.101, but not mentioned in (2) above or (4) below 1,000,000
(4) For-hire and Private (In interstate or foreign commerce, with a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 10,001 pounds) Any quantity of Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 material; any quantity of a Division 2.3, Hazard Zone A, or Division 6.1, Packing Group I, Hazard Zone A material; or highway route controlled quantities of a Class 7 material as defined in 49 CFR 173.403 5,000,000

 
See 49 C.F.R. 387.9.  As Florida has adopted the requirements of 49 C.F.R. part 387, subpart A, the required limits of liability of a qualifying commercial motor vehicle are prescribed by the FMCSA.  Fla. Stat. 627.7415(4).

With all of this as the background, let’s get to what the burning question is.

How Much Is The Average Car Accident Settlement?

No two cases are the same and the information contained below is my personal opinion based on my knowledge, experience, and observations. As an insurance defense attorney I would value cases for the insurance carriers. Using that experience, here are the amounts that I believe cases are sometimes worth:

A car accident case with a permanent injury, therapy, and no surgery can be worth anywhere from $5,000.00 to $25,000.00, plus the future cost of medical care.

A car accident case with a permanent injury, therapy, and surgery can be worth anywhere from approximately $50,000.00 to north of $100,000.00. Different factors affecting the value of the case include pre-existing injuries, causation of the injuries, the availability of insurance, and the extent of the medical treatment.

Serious injuries including brain injuries or substantial and permanent scarring can be worth over $100,000.00.

Is My Claim More Valuable If I Get Surgery?

Generally speaking the more invasive the treatment that you get as a result of a car accident, the more valuable your claim is. This means that if you undergo surgery (required because of a car accident), then the value of your claim may increase.

How Can I Maximize the Value of my Car Accident Case?

The number one thing you can do to maximize the value of your car accident case is to have your injuries documents. This is done through obtaining the necessary medical treatment for your injuries. This starts at the scene of the accident with going to the hospital or urgent care. From there, you should follow the advice of your doctors regarding medical treatment.

What are the Most Valuable Injuries After a Car Accident?

The most valuable injuries after a car accident are those that leave permanent and substantial effects on your body. This would include scarring, surgeries, brain injuries, amputations and fractures. Although every case is different, generally speaking the worse the injuries, the more value the case has.

How Much is a Brain Injury Worth?

Brain injury cases are very complex and the value of the case is on a claim-by-claim basis. Oftentime if there is a serious brain injury, we look at the policy limit as the value of the case. This, of course, changes based on a number of factors, including what the other injuries are and the mechanism of the accident.

What is a Good Settlement Offer?

A good settlement offer is one that pays your outstanding medical bills and provides you with money for your future care and treatment. Sometimes there is a difference between a “good” and a “fair” settlement offer. Your personal injury attorney should take the time to speak with you about what is a fair settlement offer based on the facts of your case.

How Long does it Take to Settle a Car Accident Case?

The average car accident case takes between 6 and 12 months to settle, however every case is different. Sometimes cases will take longer if the facts are complicated or if there are large injuries. Other times cases will have to go to court which could take an additional one to two years to resolve.

About the Author

Brian Dunmire is a personal injury attorney in Orlando, Florida. He is data-driven and like to analyze anything and everything he can. Prior to becoming a personal injury attorney, Brian worked for the insurance companies. He put together extensive evaluations regarding the value of cases that would be reviewed by the insurance carriers to determine payout. Brian now ONLY represents people who have been involved in car accidents or suffered an injury in an accident. Brian is the owner of Dunmire Law in Winter Park, Florida. He represents injured clients throughout the Orlando area.

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