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Car Accident Settlement Average

Determining the appropriate settlement amount for a car accident claim is a complex process, influenced by several factors. Every car accident case is unique, with its own set of circumstances and nuances. However, while every case is different and there is never a guarantee, there are typical ranges for car accident compensation. In this article, we’ll tell you what they are.

Blank check signifying a settlement check for compensation for car accident injuries.

Car accident cases involving injuries usually settle anywhere between $10,000 and tens of millions of dollars. However, because most car accidents don’t involve life threatening injuries, the average tends to be in the five figures.

In the state of California, where car accidents are unfortunately all too common, the average settlement for cases involving injuries is around $30,000. However, this figure can vary significantly based on the severity of the injuries sustained and the extent of the damages incurred.

While these averages provide a general reference point, it’s crucial to understand that they are not indicative of the potential settlement value for your specific case. Several factors must be considered to determine the most accurate estimate of your potential compensation.

Factors Influencing Auto Accident Settlement Amounts

An injured car accident victim sitting next to his damaged car after a collision.

1. Legal Representation

If you were injured in a car accident, it is HIGHLY recommended that you hire a car accident lawyer (also known as personal injury lawyer).

Numerous studies show that settlements reached with an attorney are substantially higher than those reached without. This is because insurance companies use tactics to pay you out as little as possible and don’t take unrepresented accident victims seriously.

Accident victims who have legal representation typically receive settlements that are almost 3.5 times higher than those who do not, according to the Insurance Research Council. First published in 1999, this research has been updated over the years and is still valid.

According to another study, even after accounting for attorneys’ fees, accident victims who were represented by an attorney walked away with about three times more money than those without an attorney

2. Severity of Injuries

A car accident victim with crutches and a cast for their injuries being treated by a doctor.

One of the most crucial factors influencing the settlement amount is the severity of the injuries sustained in the accident. Typically, the more serious the injury is, the higher the compensation. Catastrophic or life-altering injuries, such as brain trauma, spinal cord injuries, or amputations, often result in 7 to 8 figure settlements.

3. Medical Expenses

An injured person stressed out reviewing his medical bill after a traffic accident.

Closely tied to the severity of injuries are the associated medical expenses. This includes past as well as future medical bills.

The costs of emergency medical care, hospitalization, surgeries, rehabilitation, and ongoing treatment can quickly accumulate, significantly impacting the settlement amount.

4. Lost Wages and Earning Potential

Injuries sustained in an accident can often prevent car accident victims from returning to work for an extended period or, in severe cases, permanently. The resulting loss of income and earning potential is a critical factor in determining the settlement value.

5. Vehicle Damage

A totaled car with front end damage from an auto accident.

Typically, the more extensive the damage to the vehicles involved in the crash, the larger the settlement. This is because insurance companies know that jurors are more likely to believe that you were injured to the extent you are claiming when the vehicles are badly damaged.

On the other hand, when there is little visible damage, insurance companies are likely to pay you less because they know jurors are likely to think that the impact was not strong enough to have caused your injuries.

If the vehicles’ damage is relatively minor but you were injured, a skilled car accident lawyer can help prove that the force of the impact was nonetheless significant enough to have caused your injuries.

6. Liability and Negligence

Man in a suit pointing their finger towards the viewer indicating fault for a car accident.

The degree of liability and negligence attributed to the parties involved in the accident plays an important role in determining the settlement amount.

If you are completely at fault, you will most likely not receive any compensation. If you are partly at fault for the accident, or fault is very unclear, your settlement amount will most likely be significantly less than if liability was clearly on the other party.

7. Insurance Coverage

An car insurance policy, toy car, a magnifying glass, and money, all representing car insurance coverage.

Liability insurance policy limits can vary widely from the California required minimum of $15,000 to millions. The policy limits of available insurance coverage typically limits the amount you are able to recover.

For example, if the at-fault party only has a $15,000 policy limit and you don’t have underinsured/uninsured coverage, $15,000 is most likely the highest settlement you will will get, even if your damages are substantially higher. If you do have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, however, you may be able to recover more than the at-fault driver’s policy limits through your own insurance.

Note: California will require minimum liability coverage for bodily injury to be raised from $15,000 to $30,000 per person for policies issued after January 1, 2025.

Also, if you didn’t have liability car insurance coverage at the time of the collision, your injury settlement will be for much less than if you did. This is because California law bars you from recovering any money for pain and suffering if you don’t have liability coverage, even if the accident was not your fault.

8. Strength of Your Evidence

The more photographs, videos, witness statements, and documents you have to prove liability and the extent of your damages caused by the collision, the more valuable your case is likely to be and the quicker it is likely to settle. Quality of evidence also counts and in some cases may even trump quantity of evidence. Remember, evidence creates leverage, and leverage creates a higher settlement amount.

9. Your Medical History

A tablet with medical history information on it.

If you have had prior issues with the same body parts you claim to have been injured in the accident, your settlement will likely be for less than if you haven’t. This is because the insurance company and its attorney will argue that preexisting conditions, rather than the collision, are the cause of your symptoms.

10. Your Age

A young man and an old man representing the difference in age and the effect that has on a personal injury settlement.

All other things being equal, a person under 40 years of age is likely to receive a higher car accident settlement than someone 40 or older.

Much like the claimant’s medical history, insurance adjusters and their attorneys will look to alternative causes to blame your symptoms on. And, usually the older we get, the more degenerative changes are seen in our bodies. The defense will exploit these normal degenerative changes in order to defeat your claim.

11. How Likeable You Are

A likeable woman smiling holding a balloon with a smiley face representing that likeable people tend to get higher car accident settlement payouts.

Believe it or not, coming across as friendly and sincere can boost the value of your accident claim. This is because insurance adjusters make judgments about how you will appear to jurors should your case go to trial.

The more likeable and credible an adjuster thinks you’ll appear to a jury, the more money they are likely to put on the table to avoid your case going to trial.

Types of Damages You Can Seek Compensation For After A Car Accident

A checklist signifying the different types of damages you can seek compensation for after an auto accident.

After a car accident, you can seek compensation for various types of damages. These damages are typically classified into two main categories: economic and non-economic damages. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded. Here’s a detailed breakdown:

Economic Damages

A woman doing an accounting of money representing economic or special damages in a personal injury claim.

Economic damages, also known as special damages, cover the financial losses directly resulting from the accident. These are quantifiable and include:

  1. Medical Expenses: Costs for emergency room visits, hospital stays, surgeries, doctor visits, medications, physical therapy, and any future medical treatment related to the accident.
  2. Property Damage: Costs for replacing or repairing your car as well as any other personal belongings that were damaged in the collision.
  3. Lost Wages: Compensation for the income you lost or will lose in the future due to the inability to work while recovering from your injuries or from attending doctor appointments.
  4. Loss of Earning Capacity: If your injuries result in a long-term or permanent disability that affects your ability to earn an income in the future, you can seek compensation for this loss.
  5. Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Costs for travel to medical appointments, hiring help for household chores, or any other expenses directly related to the accident.
  6. Interest: You may be entitled to interest, with prejudgment interest potentially applying if certain conditions are met, and post-judgment interest usually applying automatically once a judgment is entered.

Non-Economic Damages

A woman with pain and suffering damages after being injured in a car accident.

Non-economic damages, also known as general damages, compensate for the more subjective, non-monetary losses you suffer due to the accident. These include:

  1. Pain and Suffering: Compensation for the physical pain and discomfort endured due to the injuries.
  2. Emotional Distress: Compensation for psychological impacts such as stress, anxiety, depression, or trauma resulting from the accident.
  3. Loss of Consortium: Compensation for the negative impact on your relationship with your spouse due to the injuries.
  4. Loss of Enjoyment of Life: Compensation for the inability to enjoy hobbies, recreational activities, and other aspects of life that you participated in before the accident.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are less common and are awarded in cases where the at-fault party’s conduct was particularly egregious or reckless, such as driving under the influence. These damages are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar conduct in the future.

How Are Car Accident Settlements Calculated ?

A calculator on top of money representing how car accident settlements are calculated.

Insurance adjusters and personal injury attorneys typically weigh all relevant factors to assign a settlement value to a case.

However, this is a highly subjective process and while one car accident attorney might think a case is worth a certain amount, a different attorney, similarly skilled attorney, may think the case is worth much more or much less.

While settlement value is very subjective, attorneys often use common results they see in order to determine what a case should settle for.

For example, in a rear-end accident with moderate damage to the vehicles, and where the injured person sustained only whiplash triggering $5,000 worth of medical bills, a typical settlement would be in the range of $8,000 to $15,000. So, if a lawyer had a case with similar facts, they would most likely encourage their client to accept a settlement within this same range.

Unsurprisingly, non-economic damages are typically where the gray area lies. It is common however, for lawyers and adjusters to use the economic damages as a compass to determine the worth of non-economic damages.

Usually, for example, the higher the medical bills, the higher the compensation for pain and suffering. So, a person who incurred $100,000 in medical bills would, with some exceptions, likely see a much larger award for their pain and suffering than if their medical expenses were only $5,000.

It is not uncommon for attorneys and adjusters to use a multiple of the non-economic damages to arrive at a value for the non-economic damages. The multiple used usually considers factors such as severity of the injury and the effect the injury had on the victim.

For example, in an accident where the victim suffered a neck sprain costing $10,000 in medical bills, and where the victim was able to resume normal activities within two months, the attorney may use a multiple of one for non-economic damages. This means that the attorney would expect their client to be paid $10,000 for their non-economic damages (in addition to the $10,000 for the medical bills).

However, in an accident where a victim suffered a fracture also costing $10,000 in medical bills, but where they were not able to resume their normal activities for one year, an attorney might be likely to use a higher multiple, like five. This means that the attorney would expect their client to be paid $50,000 for their non-economic damages (in addition to the $10,000 for the medical bills).

Injury-Specific Settlement Averages

A teddy bear with bandages and band aids symbolizing several different types of injuries suffered after a traffic accident.

It’s important to understand that specific types of injuries can significantly impact the potential settlement value. Different injuries may require varying levels of medical treatment, rehabilitation, and long-term care, resulting in varying settlement amounts. The following are some car accident settlement examples depending on the type of injury.

Back and Neck Injuries

A man in pain holding the back of his neck after suffering an injury after an auto accident.

Back and neck injuries are among the most common types of injuries sustained in car accidents. These types of injuries vary greatly and can range from minor strains and sprains to more severe conditions like herniated discs impinging on a nerve or spinal cord injuries.

Sprains and strains typically only require 2-3 months’ worth of chiropractic or physical therapy visits, along with a visit to a primary care doctor and a few x-rays.

Spinal disc and cord injuries, however, typically require several visits to an orthopedist or neurosurgeon, MRI studies, several visits to a pain management doctor, 2-3 epidural injections, extensive physical therapy or chiropractic care, and in some cases, surgery.

Cases in which the victim feels pain radiating to their extremities are usually indicative of a more significant issue and are therefore worth a higher settlement amount.

Example 1: In a rear-end accident where the victim sustained only a neck or back sprain, a typical car accident settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $8,000 to $15,000.

Example 2: In a rear-end accident where the victim sustained a herniated disc pushing against a nerve and causing pain radiating from their lower back to their leg, a typical settlement would be in the range of $50,000 to $3,000,000. A person receiving surgery to repair the condition, could potentially see a settlement in the upper six figures to low seven figures.

Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissue injuries, which affect muscles, ligaments, and tendons, are also common in car accidents and are typically not considered serious.

They typically require only 2-3 months’ worth of chiropractic or physical therapy visits, along with a visit to a primary care doctor and a few x-rays. However, sometimes, a more severe issue can develop requiring extended care.

Example 1: In a rear-end accident where the victim sustained only a soft tissue injury, a typical car accident settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $8,000 to $15,000.

Example 2: In a rear-end accident where the victim sustained only a soft tissue injury but developed complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) as a result, a typical car accident settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $100,000 to $5,000,000.

Joint Injuries

Two people sitting with bandages on their knee and ankle as a result of joint injuries sustained in a car accident.

Car accidents can also cause injuries to joints such as shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. The settlement value for joint injuries is heavily influenced by the severity of the injury, treatment, and the anticipated recovery time.

These types of injuries often require several visits to an orthopedist, MRI studies, several visits to a pain management doctor, platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections, extensive physical therapy or chiropractic care, and in some cases, surgery.

Example 1: In a rear-end collision, the victim sustained a knee ligament tear requiring arthroscopic repair (minimally invasive surgery). A typical settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $100,000 to $250,000.

Example 2: In a rear-end collision, the victim sustained a knee injury requiring a total knee replacement. A typical settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $250,000 to $1,500,000.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)

A CT image of a brain taken to check for a traumatic brain injury after an auto accident.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are among the most severe and life-altering injuries that can occur in a car accident. TBIs can result in cognitive impairments, emotional disturbances, and physical disabilities, often requiring extensive medical treatment and long-term care. Due to the significant impact on a victim’s quality of life, settlements for TBIs can be for as much as eight figures.

Relatively minor TBIs typically require a couple visits to a neurologist or neurosurgeon, as well as CT or MRI scans of the brain. In modest to severe cases, the victim may also require extensive cognitive rehabilitation therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, neuropsychological testing, and psychiatric or psychological care.

When imaging reflects no visible damage to the brain (when a mild TBI is involved), settlements are usually for far less than when the imaging does show injury (moderate or severe TBI).

Because it is possible for a person to be significantly impaired by a mild TBI where the imaging studies come back normal, settlements in the six to seven figures are possible, but only when the victim has substantial supporting evidence, such as extensive medical records and credible witnesses to attest to how the victim’s life has changed.

Example 1: In a rear-end collision, the victim sustained a mild TBI and CT scans came back normal. The victim’s treatment only consisted of seeing a neurologist once and one set of CT scans. There were no witnesses available to attest to any changes the victim experienced as a result of the mild TBI. A typical settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $25,000 to $100,000.

Example 2: In a rear-end collision, the victim sustained a mild TBI and CT scans came back normal. The victim’s treatment only consisted of seeing a neurologist once and one set of CT scans. There were several credible witnesses available to attest to the changes the victim experienced as a result of the TBI. A typical settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $100,000 to $1,000,000.

Fractures

X-ray image of an arm fracture.

Fractures can significantly increase the value of a case, especially if surgery is required. Treatment for a fracture normally includes an emergency care visit, several visits to an orthopedist, 3-4 months of physical therapy, and sometimes, surgery. Fractures which limit mobility typically demand higher settlements than those that do not.

Example 1: In a rear-end collision, the victim sustained a broken finger. A typical settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $50,000 to $200,000.

Example 2: In a rear-end collision, the victim sustained a broken ankle requiring surgery. A typical settlement would most likely be somewhere in the range of $125,000 to $600,000.

Settlement amounts can vary widely and be a lot more or a lot less than the ranges given above. It’s essential to consult with medical professionals and an experienced personal injury attorney to accurately assess the extent of your injuries and the potential settlement value.

Navigating the Settlement Negotiation Process

A man’s hand outheld for a hand shake after a settlement negotiation.

The settlement negotiation process is a critical stage in resolving car accident claims, where victims and their legal representatives engage in discussions with insurance companies or opposing parties to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. Navigating this process effectively requires a combination of legal expertise, negotiation skills, and a thorough understanding of the case’s strengths and weaknesses.

Preparing for Negotiations

Before entering into settlement negotiations, it is essential to thoroughly prepare by gathering and organizing all relevant documentation, evidence, and legal arguments. This includes medical records, wage loss statements, property damage estimates, and any other supporting materials that substantiate the extent of damages and losses sustained.

Additionally, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of the applicable laws, statutes of limitations, and legal precedents that may impact the case. This knowledge can provide leverage during negotiations and help counter any attempts by the opposing party to undervalue or dismiss legitimate claims.

Setting Reasonable Expectations

It is important to approach settlement negotiations with reasonable expectations and a clear understanding of the case’s strengths and weaknesses.

While victims may have an initial target settlement amount in mind, it is essential to remain open to reasonable counteroffers and to be prepared to adjust expectations based on the evidence and legal arguments presented by both parties.

Effective Communication and Negotiation Tactics

Effective communication and negotiation tactics are crucial during settlement discussions. This may involve presenting a well-reasoned and compelling argument for the requested settlement amount, backed by solid evidence and legal precedents.

It may also involve countering any attempts by the opposing party to downplay or dismiss legitimate claims or to make lowball settlement offers.

Skilled attorneys often employ various tactics to reach a favorable settlement, such as exploiting and leveraging helpful facts and evidence, highlighting the potential risks and costs associated with prolonged litigation, or emphasizing the potential reputational damage that could result from an unfavorable outcome.

Considering Mediation

In some cases, settlement negotiations may reach an impasse, with both parties unable to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. In such situations, mediation may be explored. This process involves the assistance of a neutral third party who can facilitate discussions and help find common ground between the parties.

Knowing When to Walk Away

While the goal of settlement negotiations is to reach a fair and reasonable agreement, there may be instances where the opposing party’s offer is simply unacceptable or fails to adequately compensate the victim for their losses.

In such cases, it may be necessary to walk away from negotiations and consider pursuing the case through litigation, and all the way to trial if necessary.

Taxation of Car Accident Settlements

Tax forms and a calculator.

While the primary focus of a car accident settlement is to provide compensation for damages and losses, it is important to consider the potential tax implications and financial considerations that may arise.

Failing to account for these factors could result in unexpected tax liabilities or financial challenges, potentially undermining the intended purpose of the settlement.

In general, the taxation of car accident settlements depends on the specific types of damages being compensated. The following guidelines provide a general overview:

  1. Compensatory Damages for Physical Injuries: Settlements or awards intended to compensate for physical injuries, including medical expenses, pain and suffering, and emotional distress, are typically considered non-taxable income by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
  2. Lost Wages or Income: Any portion of the settlement that is intended to compensate for lost wages or income is generally considered taxable income and subject to applicable federal and state income taxes.
  3. Punitive Damages: Punitive damages, which are awarded in cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, are typically considered taxable income by the IRS.
  4. Interest on the Settlement: Any interest earned on the settlement amount before it is received is generally considered taxable income.

It is important to note that tax laws and regulations can be complex and subject to change. Consulting with a qualified tax professional or certified public accountant (CPA) is highly recommended to ensure accurate reporting and compliance with applicable tax laws.

Disclaimer: This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with an attorney for your specific situation.

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