Steps in a Charleston Car Accident Settlement

Dirk J. Derrick
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South Carolina Lawyer Dirk Derrick helps victims recover from car accidents, personal injury & wrongful death.

If you’re injured by a negligent driver in a Charleston car accident, South Carolina law allows you to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for your damages:

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  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Property damage
  • Pain and suffering

Some claims resulting from minor accidents and injuries can be handled without an attorney. If, however, your accident was serious and caused severe injuries, your claim for damages is likely to be an expensive one for the insurance company. Its adjusters will probably try to dispute your claim and/or offer you a quick settlement that’s far too low to account for your expenses. In such a case, it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer as soon as possible. While you’re recovering from your injuries, your attorney can work to get you a fair award. The steps of the settlement process are outlined below.

Your Medical Treatment and Recovery

Recovering from your injuries is your first priority, just as getting you fair compensation is your lawyer’s first priority. Your attorney will probably want to wait until your doctor feels you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI) before filing your claim. The settlement you’ll demand depends not only on your damages since the time of your accident; it also depends on damages you might suffer in the future:

  • Medical care for long-term impairment/disability
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Psychological trauma

While you’re working toward MMI, your attorney will take the following steps to secure fair compensation for your damages.

Identifying Liable Parties

In most cases, your lawyer obtains copies of the at-fault driver’s insurance policy limits and files a claim on your behalf against the insurance company. It’s possible that a claim might also be filed against:

  • Your own insurance company if:
    • You’re the victim in a hit-and-run crash
    • The negligent driver has no insurance
    • The negligent driver’s insurance has low coverage limits
  • Insurance companies of other liable parties if you were hit by a commercial vehicle:
    • The at-fault driver’s employer
    • The company that owns the at-fault vehicle
    • The manufacturer of the at-fault vehicle or a repair service

Investigation

Your attorney will oversee a full-scale investigation of your case by:

  • Obtaining a copy of the police report
  • Hiring an independent investigator if necessary
  • Collecting photographs of the accident scene and the damaged vehicle(s)
  • Gaining access to any video footage of the wreck taken by nearby security cameras
  • Obtaining statements from any witnesses
  • Securing documentation of wages you’ve lost and will lose due to your injury
  • Collecting/organizing your medical documentation:
    • Bills/receipts
    • Your doctor’s diagnosis/prognosis
    • Your daily journal of recovery/pain and suffering
    • Family members’ accounts of your inability to engage in normal activities

Demand Letter

Once you’ve reached MMI, your attorney can put a dollar amount on your damages and send the insurance company a demand letter with the specifics of your claim. The demand letter will:

  • Show proof of the at-fault driver’s negligence
  • Itemize your damages
  • Demand a reasonable settlement

Negotiation

An insurance company does not stay in business by simply giving claimants the settlements they want. It will generally respond with an offer lower than your demand. Its adjusters and lawyers are paid to dispute and deny claims, especially those for serious long-term injuries or disabilities, which are costly. Only an experienced personal injury attorney knows how to stand up to these well-trained negotiators by:

  • Introducing additional evidence
  • Obtaining the testimony of expert witnesses
  • Retaining an accident reconstruction specialist to prove the negligent driver’s fault
  • Negotiating to get the award you deserve

Mediation

If the insurance company still does not offer an acceptable settlement, mediation might be necessary. A neutral, third-party mediator could be called in to bring the two parties closer to an agreement on an acceptable award.

Acceptance

If negotiation and/or mediation result in an offer that your lawyer feels is acceptable, you’ll have the opportunity to look at it closely and ask questions. If you and your attorney agree that the award offered will cover your past and future damages, you will accept the offer and sign a release form stating that you won’t seek any more compensation for your accident.

The insurance company will process your check and send it to your attorney, who will deduct the fees and other costs you’ve agreed to and forward the remaining money to you. You’re likely to get a significantly higher settlement with a lawyer than without one, so your legal representation should more or less pay for itself.

Going to Trial

If neither negotiation nor mediation results in the offer of an acceptable award, your attorney can file a lawsuit against the insurance company. This does not necessarily mean that your case will go to court. When the insurance company receives notice of the suit, it might offer you a better settlement in order to save the expense of a trial.

If a trial does begin, your case still might be settled before the trial concludes. Most car accident cases are settled out of court at some point in the process described above. It’s important to remember that:

  • The outcome of a trial is not certain.
  • You might get a larger award than the insurance company is offering.
  • You could possibly get less than the current offer, depending on what happens in court.

How Long Will it Take?

A Charleston car accident case could be resolved in a matter of months, but some cases do drag on longer, depending on:

Whether you settle or go to trial.

An out-of-court settlement is faster, less expensive, and less stressful for all concerned.

Difficulty of determining fault.

If the negligent driver’s fault is clear, obtaining a settlement will be faster.

Evaluation of your damages.

Some damages are easily calculated, while others might require extensive negotiation.

Have You Been Injured In A Charleston South Carolina Area Car Accident?

If you've been injured in a car accident you need to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your free consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. PleasantNorth Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.