Pain, Suffering and Other Damages– How to Negotiate a Settlement after a Car Accident

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D. Gilson is a writer and author of essays, poetry, and scholarship that explore the relationship between popular culture, literature, sexuality, and memoir. His latest book is Jesus Freak, with Will Stockton, part of Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 Series. His other books include I Will Say This Exactly One Time and Crush. His first chapbook...

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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...

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UPDATED: Oct 23, 2019

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Negotiating a Settlement: Part 1

You were in an auto accident last week, you sustained some injuries, you’ve lost a couple nights of sleep due to pain, but you’re on the road to recovery. Your doctor says you should be healed soon, and the pain is lessening each day. The insurance company has agreed to pay for your car and the medical treatment, but they’re telling you that you have a “low impact claim” and they won’t pay you a settlement. Is that just how it works, or do you have more options than they’re telling you?

A Fair Settlement Should Cover all Your Losses

Many drivers come away from an accident without knowing what they’re owed, how they should be compensated, or what their rights are. Unfortunately, many insurers take advantage of this lack of knowledge and downplay claims, limit payments, or attempt to convince claimants to accept small settlements, or none at all. If the accident was your fault, you may have limited options depending on your insurance policy and what coverage you carry; but, if another driver caused the accident, you should be fully compensated for your damages, injuries, or other losses.

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Property Damage

If you’ve suffered no injuries from an accident, your settlement should be limited to payment for your vehicle’s property damage, which will be a matter to handle between you, your chosen body shop, and the insurer. Just make sure you get a warranty on your repairs, and it should be a straightforward process. If your vehicle was a total loss, refer to this article on total loss settlements for some guidance.

Physical Injuries and Monetary Damage

If you’ve suffered physical injuries, in addition to your property damage, you should also be awarded compensatory damages, which includes both monetary damages and general damages.
Monetary damages, sometimes called special damages, include lost earnings and hard costs such as pain medication, medical treatment, gas for your car when you had to drive an hour to a doctor’s appointment, etc.

Pain and Suffering and Other General Damages

General damages cover the non-monetary aspects of your injuries such as pain and suffering, and loss or impairment to certain aspects of your life. This can include emotional distress, disfigurement, loss of physical or mental capacity, and loss of enjoyment of life. Also included are loss of companionship and loss of consortium, which refer to a friendship or a marriage becoming compromised or strained due to injury. If your injury has caused you stress every time you get behind the wheel of a car, or if you can no longer play in your summer softball league, or even if you only lost a couple nights of sleep, you should be entitled to a settlement for your general damages.

Ask yourself: How much would someone have to pay you to miss a whole night of sleep? How much would someone have to pay you to lie in bed all day (in pain) and miss an important family event? Even if it’s 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.

The mistake many consumers make is feeling like they should “tough it out” or “suck it up” instead of pursuing compensation for their damages or injuries. This mentality inevitably leads consumers to neglect treatment or reimbursement early on in their claim, which makes it very difficult to follow up at a later time to seek recovery. In order to get the appropriate amount for your settlement, you must be diligent about documenting your losses and injuries, keeping track of expenses, and gathering evidence to support your claim. Whether you have to present such evidence to an adjuster, an arbitrator, or a judge and jury, you’ll be glad that you kept track of everything from day one.

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