How Does a Car Accident Settlement Process Work?

A car accident lawyer sits at his office desk with hands folded.

Since 2003, Colorado has been a “fault” state for car accidents. That means you must show that the other party was at fault in the accident before their liability insurance (which is required in this state) will pay your claim.

Colorado uses modified comparative negligence statutes in personal injury claims, so it is unnecessary to prove the other driver was 100 percent at fault (although, in some cases, they might be). Instead, you will need to demonstrate they were more than 50 percent responsible for the accident so that you can collect damages. If you are assigned less than 50 percent of the fault, the percentage attributed to you will be deducted from the damages awarded.

For instance, if you have $10,000 in damages, and you are 10 percent at fault, you would only receive $9,000.

How Long Does the Car Accident Settlement Process Take?

Multiple factors affect how long the process takes, including:

  • The number and dollar amount of damages. A case worth six figures or more will probably take longer than one where your damages are only a few thousand dollars.
  • The evidence in the case. When there is strong evidence that the other party was all or mostly at fault, things will move more quickly. In cases where drivers disagree about the facts of the case, and there is little evidence to indicate who is correct, the time to settle will probably be extended.
  • The insurance company’s willingness to negotiate. After discussing the accident and your damages, you and your attorney will determine what your case is worth, and your lawyer will convey this number to the insurance carrier. In many cases, the insurance adjuster will disagree. If the insurance company is willing to meet most of your demands but offers a slightly lower amount for some damages, you may decide the offer is close enough and accept. But in some situations, the insurance company is unwilling to make a reasonable offer, and we may spend more time negotiating. Sometimes the insurance company insists their client (the other driver) was not at fault or not primarily at fault, and we need to refute their claims. All of these steps can make the settlement process take longer.

When you first talk with your car accident lawyer, they will review the police report and ask questions about your case. After learning the details, your attorney should be able to give you a rough estimate of an expected time frame.

Do You Have to Go to Court to Prove Fault?

Probably not. In a few cases, it’s necessary if the insurance company won’t agree to a fair settlement despite considerable evidence of the other driver’s culpability. However, most car accident cases are settled out of court with the insurance company.

How Do You Begin the Car Accident Settlement Process?

The first step is to contact a car accident lawyer about your case. We will help you determine your damages and begin the claims process with the other driver’s insurance company. Additionally, we will also investigate the accident to collect as much evidence as possible in your favor. This will be helpful if the other driver claims they weren’t at fault and the insurance company takes their side.

What Kind of Evidence Do You Look for?

Our investigators will attempt to find any video or photographic evidence from the scene. If you took pictures after the accident (which we recommend doing if you can), we would review these. Sometimes we visit the scene to look for traffic cameras or security or doorbell cameras. If there is a video of the accident, it’s imperative that we locate it right away because videos are frequently erased to free up storage space. This is one of several reasons why it’s essential to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

We may also knock on doors around the accident scene, looking for additional witnesses who may have been missed in the police report. Additionally, we can request access to the black box data from both cars, revealing information like the speed and direction in which each vehicle was moving at the time of impact.

Do I Really Need a Lawyer, or Can I Just Ask the Insurance Company to Pay My Bills?

You can file a claim with the insurance company yourself, but this is not a good solution for many injured people. Here’s why:

The Insurance Company Looks Out for the Insurance Company

An insurance company is a business, and every business’ goal is to make money for the shareholders. They accomplish this by paying as little as possible per claim – or refusing to pay some of the claims. People who handle their own cases often run into one of the following situations:

  • The insurance company claims the accident was all or mostly your fault, so they don’t have to pay. This frequently happens in cases where the police report was inconclusive, which is not unusual. If there is little evidence at the scene and the drivers disagree about what happened, the police may not have cause to ticket anyone. The insurance company adjuster then sides with their client, who claims you were at fault. Refuting this kind of claim requires the help of an experienced attorney and investigation team.
  • The insurance company accepts that their client was at fault and makes you an offer. To most people, this sounds like a good outcome. The problem is that insurance companies frequently offer much less than the claim is actually worth, and calculating your damages can be tricky. We’ve met many clients who hadn’t considered some of their damages. If you get an offer from the insurance company quickly after an accident, that’s a good indicator that the insurance carrier may be devaluing your claim. We urge you to have a personal injury lawyer review the offer before signing anything.
  • The insurance company argues the percentage of fault. In this situation, the insurance adjuster may accept that their client did something wrong in the accident but argues that you were also at fault. As a result, they offer you a reduced sum to compensate for your percentage of fault. Again, it’s difficult for laypeople to figure out their own percentage of responsibility in an accident, and the insurance adjuster may overestimate this number. An experienced attorney can fight for your right to compensation by presenting evidence that the other driver carries most of the blame.

Your Lawyer Can Help You Assess Your Damages

Your attorney’s job is to look out for your interests (while the insurance company’s job is to look out for theirs). At your first meeting, a personal injury lawyer will ask about the accident and its effects on your life. They will help you estimate the following damages:

  • Medical bills. These should include current and future bills. If you need ongoing care, your lawyer will estimate these amounts.
  • Lost income. If you missed work or are still unable to return to work or do the same kind of work, you are entitled to recover any lost wages.
  • Permanent disability or disfigurement. Any permanent changes to your health should be considered.
  • Pain and suffering. Both physical pain and emotional suffering are valid damages.
  • Property damage. Usually, this means damage to your car and occasionally to items in your car, like a laptop or phone.
  • Wrongful death. If you lost a loved one to a car accident, you could seek damages for lost earning potential or financial support, loss of consortium or companionship, and other damages.

People Who Work with an Attorney Have Better Outcomes in Car Accident Settlements

One survey of people who recently completed a car accident case found that while 74 percent of those with a lawyer received some compensation, only 54 percent of those without one received a settlement. There was also a significant difference in settlement size – on average, those with legal representation received about $44,000, while self-represented claimants received about $13,900.

Does That Mean My Case is Worth $44,000?

No. These numbers are averages, and your case could be worth significantly more or less. Generally, the more serious the accident, the more your claim is worth. For example, if you were severely injured and spent weeks in the hospital, your medical costs alone could outpace $44,000. On the other hand, if you had only minor injuries, your case could be worth much less. To find out exactly how much you should seek in damages, please speak with a lawyer about the details of your case.

Contact Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ for a Free Consultation

If you have questions or concerns about your car accident case, please contact Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ for a free consultation to learn your options. Attorney Sean Olson founded the firm with the goal of listening to and assisting accident victims with their claims. We always fight to get our clients a fair settlement and to make the process as simple as possible so you can focus on your recovery.