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What Damages Am I Entitled To?

There are several types of damages to which you are entitled in a motor vehicle crash caused by another party:

  • Medical expenses: physical therapy, doctors’ visits, ambulance fees, in home services, permanent disability – past, current and future.
  • Lost wages: A car accident can cause you to lose ability to earn a living. This may include your inability to work due to doctors’ appointments, time spent in the hospital, problems with physically doing your job and more. You are often entitled to lost wages both in the past and future, which need to be calculated precisely, usually by a personal injury attorney.
  • Pain and suffering: This is for the mental and physical distress of your injuries. This is usually calculated with a multiplier by the insurance company, which will multiply your actual economic damages by a factor of anywhere from 1.5 to 4, depending upon the circumstances.
  • Loss of affection or companionship: Your injuries could affect your ability to show affection or be a companion to your partner. This is also referred to as loss of consortium. These types of losses are claimed by the uninjured partner. These types of damages are common when the car accident victim dies and the surviving partner files a wrongful death lawsuit.

Which of these damages you are entitled to depends upon the exact circumstances of the accident. We recommend that you at least speak to a personal injury attorney at no cost after a serious accident. This is especially true if you have suffered substantial physical injuries.

How do I get a rental car if my car is a total loss in an accident?

A common problem for many car accident victims is obtaining a rental car from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. Imagine – as you are waiting for the check to cover the cost of your totaled car, you still need to drive to work and the grocery store. These concerns are even more serious when there is only one car in your family.

The at-fault car insurance company should in theory provide you with a suitable rental vehicle as you are waiting for the check to cover your totaled car.. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the car insurance and rental car issue, but this is not an option if you did not suffer injuries in the crash. Note that it is illegal in most states, including Oregon, for your personal injury attorney to pay for your rental car.

Below are the most common scenarios we see for accident victims to get their rental car:

  • The easy way – The at-fault driver’s insurance company agrees to accept liability for the wreck. In this situation, the insurance company will pay for the rental car – until they have paid you the fair market value for your totaled car.
  • The harder way – The at-fault insurance company offers no decision, so have no rental car. In this situation, contact your own insurance company to see if you have rental car coverage. If so, they will cover your rental car until liability is worked out. At that time, your car insurance company will negotiate for compensation for what they paid for your rental vehicle.
  • The hardest way – The at-fault driver’s insurance company either denies responsibility or delays their decision. Meanwhile, you need to pick up your children from school. If they agree later that they are responsible for the accident, they must reimburse you for what you spend on the rental car. However, you will have to pay for the car up front. The key is for you to continue to pressure the at-fault insurance company to pay for your rental car.

How to Settle Out of Court?

A demand letter is the typical first step to settle your car accident injury claim before filing a lawsuit. There is a great amount of evidence gathering and preparation needed before you write the demand letter. If you had had medical treatment, you need to get copies of all of your medical records. This can take weeks or months.

If you have missed any work, you will need to obtain your employment records that show your normal hours and salary prior to the injury. You also need to prove the time that you have missed.

Next, you should gather evidence that indicates that the other party is liable for the accident.

After you have gathered all of this information, you should write your demand letter. Describe the accident, how it happened, witnesses and other details. List the exact amount you spent on medical treatment. It also is a good idea to enclose copies of vital medical records that back up your claims.

After the insurance company receives your demand letter, there will most likely be back and forth negotiations about the exact settlement. For someone with substantial injuries, working with a personal injury attorney is strongly advised. A personal injury attorney is an expert in negotiating with insurance companies.

What Does a Car Accident Lawyer Cost?

If you suffer injuries in a car accident and someone else caused the accident, you need a car accident attorney.  Everyone knows that attorneys cost money, but what will yours cost?

The majority of car accident lawyers charge their clients on a contingency basis. Unlike most attorneys in other fields (such as immigration, tax and criminal defense), car accident attorneys usually will not get paid any fees unless you recover money in the lawsuit.  So, your attorney does not get paid unless you do – they actually get paid a percentage of what you win. As you may imagine, this arrangement means that your attorney is strongly motivated to get you a large settlement or verdict.

Let’s take an up close look at just how contingency fees work, as well as what to expect if you hire an attorney to handle your car accident case.

How Contingency Percentages Work

The amount that a lawyer may receive in a contingency fee contract varies by state. In Oregon, a typical contingency fee is 1/3 of the total monies recovered in the case, but this can vary. Whatever the fee arrangement is with your attorney, be certain that it is clearly stated in writing.

So if the contingency fee agreement is 33.33%, and you win $100,000, your lawyer receives $33,333.33.

Note that the contingency fee could depend upon whether or not the defendant has responded to your legal complaint. If your accident case is settled before your complaint is answered, the percentage paid may be lower.

For instance, let’s say that you send a demand to the defendant and you reach a settlement for $100,000. The attorney on your case will receive $33,333.33, and your state allows the attorney to receive 50% of a recovery when the complaint is answered. So your attorney will receive $16,666.66.

Please discuss the contingency fee arrangement with your attorney. If you do not understand the fee structure in the contract, ask your attorney to make it clear to you.

Remember that just like anything in a contract, a fee is entirely negotiable. If your car accident case is very straightforward – that is, damages and liability are obvious, the defendant has plenty of insurance and/or is wealthy, and there is a lot of strong evidence to back up your claims – you should be able to work out a lower fee. If the lawyer does not have to do that much work on your case, you can make a strong argument that he or she does not deserve 1/3 of your award.

Fees and Expenses

Depending upon your attorney and the contract, you may or may not have to pay up front court fees and other related litigation costs.

Fees and expenses may include:

  • Court filing fees
  • Costs of serving a summons or subpoena
  • Cost of getting medical records from a physician
  • Police report
  • Fee for court reporter
  • Fees for expert witnesses

Many personal injury lawyers will mandate that you pay for these fees out of your pocket. If the contract states that you must pay these fees, expect your attorney to contact you for payment when they become due. If you cannot pay, your case may be delayed.

However, some large personal injury law firms cover all expenses and fees; just know that these will be taken out of the final judgment or settlement. So, if your car crash case settles for $100,000, let’s assume that your legal contract states that the costs and fees are deducted from the settlement.

If your lawyer incurred $10,000 in costs/fees, that would be deducted from your settlement, along with the $30,000 for his or her legal services. You will receive a final recovery amount of $60,000.

Your attorney should take the fee out of the ‘net settlement’. That is the amount after all expenses have been taken out. That is the typical arrangement. That said, some lawyers will take their money out first. You should tell them you will not allow this.

Different Fee Agreements

Not every car accident case has a pure contingency fee agreement. Some lawyers may want to collect a retainer to start the case, and a contingency fee at the end. However, if you win or settle, the amount that you paid your lawyer up front should be taken out of the percentage of the contingency fee. So, if you paid $2000 to the lawyer up front, and win $90,000, your lawyer will receive $28,000 of the settlement.

The majority of car accident cases do not have a flat fee arrangement. Flat fee arrangements usually are for very straight forward, cut and dried cases. A lawyer could charge you a flat fee if the legal work is simply drafting and filing a demand letter. This might be covered for a flat fee of $300 to $1000.

Should You Pay for a Car Accident Attorney?

Here’s your rule of thumb: The more serious your car accident injuries, the more your attorney is worth.

If you are in a minor fender bender with a scratch on your face, you may want to just settle it with the insurance company. It would not be worth 1/3 of your settlement to pay for an attorney.

However, if you are hurt more seriously and need medical treatment, the settlement value of your potential case rises fast. The insurance adjuster will be working hard to minimize your damages and get you to accept as little as possible. They make money by minimizing your settlement.

This fact is backed up by a 1999 insurance study done by the insurance Research Council. It determined that claimants who retained counsel received 3.5 times more in settlement money. Of course, they had to pay ~1/3 of their award to the attorney, but they still came out well ahead.

In a case where there are substantial injuries, you will nearly always benefit greatly from having an experienced car accident attorney negotiating your damages. Also, the threat of a pending lawsuit and trial often encourages the insurance company to give you a fair settlement.

How long will the car rental process take?

How long it will take to get your rental car when your vehicle was totaled depends upon two factors:

  • Did the at-fault insurance company accept responsibility for the accident? If so, you should be able to get your rental car quickly – as soon as the day after the accident.
  • If the at-fault insurance company has not accepted responsibility, you need to request a rental car from your insurance company, but not everyone pays for rental car coverage. Your company should be able to get you into a rental car in a day or two. Check your policy to see if your expenses are covered. It is possible to have your car insurance company reimbursed later if the other company does accept responsibility later.

Should I Go to Court?

Most motor vehicle crashes are best settled out of court. That said, there are situations where settlement is impossible or not advisable. Occasionally, the insurance company will not respond to your demand letter. Or the settlement offer may be too low to seriously consider. Some plaintiffs feel that the actions of the other party were particularly reckless, and may want to obtain punitive damages on top of damages. This requires going to court.

To file a lawsuit, you and your attorney file a formal legal complaint and submit it to the correct court. The complaint also is served to the other driver. The defendant has 20 days to answer the complaint.

Next is the legal discovery process. This is where you and the defendant exchange information about the accident. Information may be gotten through the submission of written questions to the defendant. You also may request that the defendant submit documents to you. You also may obtain vital accident information through deposition, which your attorney will handle.

After that is the trial, where the judge or jury weighs the evidence and decides the case. This is often a lengthy and expensive process, and again, is a last resort for most motor vehicle crash claims.

Should I accept the offer from the insurance company?

If you have been in a car accident, you probably speak to an insurance claims adjuster shortly. Your adjuster will examine the factors surrounding your car accident and will offer you some amount of settlement. After you get that first offer, you need to carefully decide if you should accept it, or negotiate a better deal.

Tip – Remember that in most cases, the first settlement offer will be low. So it is in your best interest to perform research before you accept.

Some of the factors to consider as you think about your car accident claim:

  • How much your vehicle was damaged
  • The total amount of any medical bills you incurred
  • Any disability you now have
  • Time lost from work – now and in the future
  • Any other expenses related to the car accident

It is vitally important that you know the total value of your claim. This can be a complex situation, so you may be best served to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney in Portland. Your attorney will make certain you are adequately compensated for your injuries and pain and suffering.

Factors to consider as you calculate the value of your settlement offer:

  • Know your auto insurance policy well. Check if you have medical coverage and what the limits are. Also see if you have collision and comprehensive insurance. You may only make a claim for damages and injuries that are covered under your policy
  • Calculate all of your medical bills and any other expenses you incurred from the accident. The claims adjuster will add up your bills and should include mileage to get to your doctors’ appointments
  • Think about your treatment plan. Did you have to attend physical therapy? How often did you have to go to the doctor?
  • Are you getting enough money to fix your vehicle to restore it to its condition before the accident? If the car was totaled, are you getting enough money to pay for a replacement?
  • Whose fault was it? Insurance companies like to overstate how much the accident was your fault and offer you a low settlement.
  • Consider any future costs. Will you need to miss more work and will you suffer permanently?

Tip – Ask the claims adjuster all of the factors they considered in your settlement offer.

Assessing the value of the car accident can be difficult, but it is vital to be sure you are being fairly compensated. Again, if this is too complex for you, consider hiring a top notch personal injury attorney in Portland to represent your interests.

Settle or File Suit?

Most people in car accidents do not realize that most injury claims result in settlement well before there ever is a trial. Also, most insurance claims also are resolved via settlement without a lawsuit being filed. The insurance company usually wants to settle as early as possible and get you to accept as little money as possible.

In many cases, you should have a personal injury attorney representing your interests with the insurance company. A good personal injury attorney can usually get more money out of the insurance company. What’s more, the threat of an expensive lawsuit by an experienced attorney can encourage many insurance companies to offer a fair settlement.

If you decide to settle out of court either with or without an attorney for your car accident injuries, there are some advantages:

  • Receive compensation quickly
  • Avoid costly attorney’s fees that add up quickly in a trial
  • Avoid having to show up at several court proceedings
  • No worrying about an unpredictable jury or judge (if you lose, you get nothing)

The key question to ask yourself is whether the risk of going to trial and getting nothing outweighs the difference between your settlement offer and your estimate of the value of your motor vehicle accident.