If you have been injured in an auto accident, one of the first questions that you may have is how you will be compensated for injuries, vehicle damage or lost income. If you are lucky then insurance might cover all of your expenses and damages, but even then filing a claim and being paid the full amount is difficult, and may require multiple claims and delayed payment.
Your other option is a lawsuit, where you sue the party that caused the accident, and attempt to force them to pay compensation. Your compensation will be determined by a judge or jury, unless your attorney can arrive at a settlement amount with the other party.
Types of Losses and Damages That May Be Compensated
There are several categories of compensation in auto accidents, and each may be considered separately depending on the facts of your case.
- Medical Care For You and Passengers: Actual costs of hospitalization, surgery, rehabilitation and ongoing nursing care.
- Vehicle Damage and Replacement: The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, if you did not have adequate auto collision coverage.
- Lost Income or Wages: If your injuries prevent you from working or running your business, then you may be compensated for lost income during recovery.
- Punitive Damages For Pain and Suffering: For some types of injuries, you may be awarded punitive damages to compensate for pain and suffering. There are no limits or caps on these types of damages, and will the amount will depend on the circumstances and severity of your injuries.
The Effect of Comparative Negligence on Compensation
Even if you are eligible for compensation, there is another factor that will affect the eventual amount. Washington State uses a rule called comparative negligence to determine how much compensation you deserve, if you were injured by another driver.
Comparative negligence means that your compensation will be reduced if you were somehow also at fault in the accident. If your actions were 20% of the cause of the accident, then you will be compensated for only 80% of your damages. This rule applies to all damage types, whether medical bills, lost income or pain and suffering.
The comparative negligence law could also be used by an insurance adjuster to lower the amount of your insurance payment. However, the degree of your negligence is really only conclusive if it results from a court ruling on your case, but insurance companies may try to use their own estimate of fault to reduce your claim amount.
How Do I Begin The Process of Being Compensated?
It is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after an accident. Do not speak to insurance companies or the attorneys of other parties involved, who may attempt to elicit statements from you about the accident or your injuries. Even if you are unsure of your right to recovering damages, your attorney is the best one to assess your case. At that point, there may be settlement offers or other negotiations that he can handle for you, as well as filing a lawsuit if necessary.