Accident scene involving two vehicles.

Settling a Car Accident With Insurance VS Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit

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No matter how common car accidents are in Los Angeles and California, getting into a collision is always extremely stressful. Not only do you have to deal with potential injuries and a damaged vehicle, you also may need to make an insurance claim which adds to your stress. As one of the leading law firms in Los Angeles and California, Forward Law Group aims to share our legal knowledge around  the different situations that someone involved in a car accident may come across and now have to deal with.

In this article, our skilled lawyers explore a topic that many people have following a car accident–should they settle the car accident with the auto insurance company or instead file a car accident lawsuit? This question of “settle or sue” is extremely common and having the essential information can help you make an informed decision if you ever get into a car accident. 

We begin the article by covering key information about both car accident insurance settlements and auto accident lawsuits in California. From there, we move on to discuss when someone should settle versus when they should file a car accident lawsuit in California. Lastly, we describe how consulting with an experienced lawyer could be helpful in ensuring you make the right decision regarding settling or filing a lawsuit, and more broadly, that you get the maximum settlement you are entitled to. Let’s begin! 

The Process After a Car Accident in California

Right after an accident occurs, there are a series of steps you should take to put you in the best position to deal with the accident as effectively as possible. 

  1. If you are hurt, call 911 immediately. 
  2. Call the police to get a report of the accident.
  3. Move the vehicles to the side of the road where it is safe (if vehicles are driveable).
  4. Take numerous videos of the accident scene.
  5. Collect information from the other driver(s) and any witnesses.
  6. Do not admit any fault or say you do not have injuries to anyone at the scene of the accident. 
  7. Once you are home, write down key details from the accident such as cross streets, sequence of events, road conditions, and so on. 

Following the last step on the list above, you need to consider whether or not you want the services of an attorney to help you with your accident. If you decide not to use the services of a lawyer (covered below), you need to notify your auto insurance company about your car accident. Typically, your auto insurance company will communicate with the other driver’s insurance carrier and each insurance company will conduct an investigation. Most investigations take anywhere between a couple of weeks to a few months. Generally speaking, the larger the vehicle accident, the longer the investigation will take. 

If you were in a vehicle collision in California that was the fault of the other driver, the other driver’s insurance company is obligated to pay you for damages that the accident ultimately resulted in. Some of the common damages you are entitled to include: 

  • Property (vehicle) damage repair or replacement
  • Medical expenses 
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering

While this list is not exhaustive, it offers a look at some of the primary types of damages that a driver who was injured in a car accident in California can recover. 

Sometimes, insurance carriers deem you the at-fault party when the accident wasn't your fault. They do this so they do not have to compensate you for your injuries and damages. An experienced lawyer will provide evidence to show the car accident wasn't our clients fault and make them change their decision on liability. In any case, if the insurance company deems the other driver responsible for the accident, their insurance company will offer you a settlement for your damages. At this point, you could either elect to accept the settlement or file a car accident lawsuit to recover more compensation for damages. In the sections below, we talk about each option–providing a description of how each one typically plays out and weighing their pros and cons. 

Car Accident Insurance Settlement: A Brief Background

If it is ruled that the vehicle accident was the other driver’s fault, the other driver’s insurance company will offer a car accident settlement to cover the injured driver’s damages. One thing that is key to remember here is that while most people deal with only a handful of accidents throughout their lifetime, auto insurance representatives deal with them every single day. As a result, many are extremely skilled at trying to protect the company’s best interests and try to make the driver the lowest settlement amount. Ultimately, if you are handling all of this on your own (meaning without a lawyer) you have to be extremely careful to make sure the settlement amount is in line with the damages you are owed. This is especially true considering that once you sign the settlement agreement, you give up your right to sue and are releasing the at-fault party and/or insurance company of any and all claims. 

While one positive of an insurance settlement is that there is a shorter turnaround to getting paid out, you must be extremely careful when deciding whether or not to accept an insurance settlement offer. Insurance companies know that people prefer to get money fast, so they often try to use this to their advantage. Typically, an insurance company will give you a low-ball offer and make it seem like that is the most they are able to give. They do this hoping that you will immediately settle the case. Almost always, the attorneys at Forward Law Group do not accept the insurance company's first offer because there is likely room to negotiate and get more compensation for our clients. 

Car Accident Lawsuits: The Essential Details

In the case that the settlement amount that the other driver’s insurance company offers does not seem fair to you, you may have the opportunity to negotiate this initial settlement. This is one particular area where having a lawyer can pay significant dividends (though we recommend consulting with a lawyer prior to even calling your own auto insurance company). Ultimately, however, negotiations can end up stalling and dragging out the case. This is when the option of filing a lawsuit for a car accident requires consideration. Although litigation can take longer than simply accepting an insurance settlement, the time is well worth it if the result is going to be a considerable amount of additional compensation that you are awarded. One thing to keep in mind here is that in California, a person has two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. Once this statute of limitation expires, the court will typically not uphold the lawsuit. The common process for a car accident lawsuit in California is as follows:

  1. The lawsuit is filed in court. Once the defendant is served the lawsuit, they have thirty days to respond. 
  2. Discovery period of the lawsuit, during which both parties share information about the witnesses and evidence they will present at trial.
  3. Mediation may occur if parties cannot reach a settlement. During mediation, a third party is called in to hear both sides and help the parties reach a settlement for the auto accident. 
  4. If the parties still cannot reach a settlement, or choose not to mediate the case, the case then goes to trial. Each party will have an opportunity to introduce evidence and witnesses, cross-examine witnesses, and present a closing argument before a verdict is reached. 

Although the list above is a simplified version of the lawsuit process for a car accident in California, it provides a good introductory glimpse into how things pan out during this process. 

Settle or Sue: Settling a Car Accident with Insurance VS Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit

Now that we have some key information about both accident insurance settlements and accident lawsuits, we can discuss when to accept a settlement and when to file an accident-related lawsuit. The most important thing to consider here is the total damages you believe you are entitled to based on the different damages you can get compensation for (e.g. property repair and damage, medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity). Once you have a thorough range of how much you believe you should be compensated for damages, you have a figure to weigh the insurance settlement offer against. Although our lawyers at Forward Law Group believe that the settlement amount should always be equal to or extremely close to the maximum in damages, this is ultimately your discretion. If the settlement offer from the auto insurance company matches the figure you desire, double-check the total amount of damages and if everything looks good, you may decide that accepting the settlement offer is the right decision. If the settlement offer that the other driver’s car insurance provides is extremely lower than the figure that you came up with, then filing a lawsuit is a plausible option. Consult with our attorneys at Forward Law Group today to get help figuring out which is the best option for you.

In California, one problem that people sometimes run into is bad faith insurance claims. This is when an insurance company refuses to pay a claim or tries to severely underpay without any reasonable basis or properly investigating your claim. Filing a lawsuit shows the insurance company that the client is serious about their claims and is not willing to accept a low ball offer. There have been situations where merely filing a lawsuit has made an insurance adjuster call the lawyers at Forward Law Group and offer a higher settlement amount. The down side however, in addition to more time, is that there are filing fees and costs associated with filing a lawsuit in Court. These filing fees and costs are advanced by Forward Law Group, meaning they are paid for upfront, however, after settlement or a Court judgment, they are subtracted from the client's overall benefit. There are pros and cons in filing a lawsuit and the client, with the help of the lawyers at Forward Law Group, must decide if ultimately the pay out is worth the additional time and money.  

How Forward Law Group Can Help After an Accident 

Prior to calling your own insurance company to notify them of the accident, we always recommend first discussing your case with an experienced lawyer. Forward Law Group has helped people across Los Angeles and California with car accident claims, car accident settlements, and car accident lawsuits–helping our clients achieve the most desirable outcome and recover the damages that they are fully entitled to. What a skilled lawyer can offer you after a car accident is peace of mind knowing that a dedicated professional is fighting for your best interests throughout the process until it concludes. When a client comes to us after a car accident, our lawyers at Forward Law Group guide them along each step of the way in a simple and straightforward matter until we successfully resolve the case. From notifying your insurance company to negotiating with the other driver’s insurance company, keeping detailed records, gathering evidence, and representing you in court (if a lawsuit is filed), Forward Law Group has you covered. 

Whether you have just recently had a car accident, have already received an initial settlement offer from the other driver’s insurance company, or are getting ready to file a car accident lawsuit, we are ready to help. For more information, questions, or to get a free consultation, call Forward Law Group today at (818) 471-8389.