Most claims for personal injury damages aren’t won in any dramatic courtroom verdict. Instead, they’re secured in the form of a settlement. Sometimes, Georgia car accident settlements are the result of extensive negotiation. Other times, it isn’t even necessary to file a lawsuit before the claim is fairly resolved. In either scenario, if you’re concerned with maximizing your car accident settlement, working with an experienced Atlanta car accident lawyer will be imperative.
The question of “How much is my Georgia car accident case worth?” is one of the most common fielded by our attorneys. It’s not a simple query to answer because many factors come into play.
Some Atlanta injury law firms advertise a “case calculator” that reportedly spits out an accurate case value estimate with the benefit of just a few numerical variables. The reality is even with the benefit of an in-depth one-on-one injury lawyer consultation, there are so many wild cards that the best even the most experienced legal pro can give you is an educated case about:
- Whether you have a winnable case;
- A ballpark range of damages.
Why is it so tough to pinpoint a car accident injury settlement? The simple answer is the human element. Insurance companies may have a basic formula for policy payouts and denials – but insurers may differ in their approach. Georgia statute can provide some direction and individual judges may differ on interpretation of this and case law in determining what’s reasonable. Ultimately, the circumstances of every car accident are as different as the individuals responsible for deciding the outcome. Evidence may be more readily available in some cases.
Lingering doubt about plaintiff’s degree of fault can become a major factor. It might be easy enough to reach a dollar figure for damages like medical bills or lost wages; however, determining the value of non-economic damages for things like emotional distress or pain and suffering is tougher because those elements are more subjective. Many times, it simply comes down to how well your Atlanta car accident attorney researched and presented your claim (which is why hiring one with experience is critical).
What we can tell you are the key elements that factor in a winning car accident settlement, and how we go about fighting for the best possible outcome for our clients.
Georgia Statute on Car Accident Injury Damages
The first thing to consider when estimating car accident settlement amounts is Georgia law. O.C.G.A. § 51-12-4 states that the measure of damages as compensation for an injury is generally to be “of a character capable of being estimated in money.” In other words, most personal injury damages aren’t intended to be a penalty against the defendant, but rather a means of compensating the victim/survivors for their losses.
The exception is punitive damages, also referred to in O.C.G.A. § 51-12-5.1 as “vindictive damages” or “exemplary damages.” The intent with punitive damages is to punish or deter a defendant. Punitive damages can significantly boost the value of a claim, but only where it’s specifically requested in the complaint and only when it can be proven by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant showed willful misconduct, malice, fraud, oppression, or a complete lack of care that illustrates a conscious indifference to the consequences.
Whether your case can be determined through settlement negotiation or must go to trial will depend on the degree of dispute on issues of fault and damages.
Factors Weighed in Atlanta Car Accident Settlements
Atlanta car accident attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates know that recovering fair and just compensation requires ample preparation.
The first thing to determine is fault. Sometimes, this is straightforward, and occasionally, insurers won’t even argue this point. Where it is disputed, insurers will often present evidence to show the claimant was wholly or at least partially to blame. O.C.G.A. 51-12-33 spells out guidelines for comparative fault, which is the degree to which a plaintiff is responsible for the crash and/or resulting injuries.
Car accidents rarely have a single, easily-identifiable cause, so careful investigation of the details is necessary. But as Georgia is a modified comparative fault state, even evidence of your fault won’t bar a crash victim from collecting damages – unless it’s determined he/she was 50 percent or more responsible. Anything less than that will not bar your claim, but it can proportionately reduce the amount you are entitled to receive.
This is the first major factor in determining damages. The second part involves collecting all available evidence on the precise amount paid for medical bills and what you lost in wages while a crash victim couldn’t work due to recovering for the crash.
Past damages for medical bills and lost wages are often the two most concrete factors. What we also must determine is whether the nature of our client’s injuries is such that he/she may need ongoing medical care and time off work. If injuries are serious, we might need to factor in long-term loss of one’s earning capacity.
We’ll also work to establish that your losses have had a major impact to your personal well-being and happiness. If you have endured an intense amount of physical pain, have fallen into a depression because you can’t enjoy the things you once did, or have suffered damage to personal relationships, this can factor into how much we’d ask for in compensation.
It’s important that those seeking the most from their car accident settlement don’t attempt to negotiate with an insurer on their own. Auto insurers will often reach out to a person who is injured shortly after the crash. Politely explain you need to first touch base with your own car accident attorney before entering settlement talks or providing detailed information.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.