How to Maximize a Head-On Collision Settlement and Build a Strong Claim

Head-on collisions are the most lethal car wrecks on American roadways. Get the facts on settling personal injury and wrongful death claims for fair compensation.

Head-on crashes can happen anywhere, from remote country roads to busy interstate highways. These collisions account for only 11 percent of all fatal crashes,¹ but cause 57 percent of all traffic fatalities.²

Most head-on car crashes are caused by a negligent driver who veers into oncoming traffic.

Auto accident injury claims are usually paid by the at-fault driver’s insurance company. But their coverage limits may not be enough to pay for catastrophic damages. Severe personal injury claims and wrongful death lawsuits are complex, high-dollar cases that are hard to settle without litigation.

No matter the scope and severity of your head-on collision injuries, building a strong claim will help to maximize the settlement you can get from available funds.

Claim Values for Head-On Crash Injuries

If you were lucky enough to survive a head-on collision with minor to moderate injuries, you can estimate a settlement value on your own. Severe injuries are a different story however and require hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Fair Compensation for Minor to Moderate Injuries

You can use the following simple method to calculate a fair car accident settlement amount. Begin by totaling your economic damages, also known as special damages or hard costs. Special damages include medical expenses, related out-of-pocket costs, and lost wages.

Add one or two times the total of your special damages to account for your non-economic damages, also called general damages or pain and suffering. Combine the amounts of your special and general damages to arrive at a fair settlement offer.

Case Example: Car Accident Settlement for Whiplash Injury

Carol Wilson and Jenny Miller were headed home from a holiday shopping trip in Carol’s SUV when they were hit head-on by a speeding Mustang driven by Robert Hudson.

Hudson had been drinking at an office party before leaving work, and was trying to negotiate a curve when he crossed over the centerline, striking the oncoming SUV. Hudson was already dead when paramedics arrived.

The point of impact was the front driver’s side of both vehicles, spinning the SUV counter-clockwise. Front and side airbags deployed in the SUV. Carol Wilson, the SUV driver, had to be cut out of the vehicle before she was rushed to the nearest trauma center with several broken bones and a head injury.

Jenny Miller, who had been on the passenger side of Carol’s SUV, was also rushed to the hospital.

Miller suffered a broken nose, cuts and bruises all over her face and arms, and a significant whiplash neck injury. She missed four weeks of work before she was fully recovered from her physical injuries.

Jenny Miller calculated her injury claim value before making her settlement demand to Hudson’s insurer.

Total economic damages ($3,200 + $200 + $3840): $7,240

  • Medical treatment (ambulance, imaging, doctor bills and physical therapy): $3,200
  • Out-of-pocket costs (medications, replacement services for dog walking and snow shoveling): $200
  • Lost wages: $3,840

Pain and suffering ($7,240 x 2): $14,480

Estimated value of Jenny’s head-on collision settlement: $21,720

Serious Injury Compensation Can Run Into Millions

There is no simple formula to calculate the value of severe, potentially life-altering injury claims. You’ll need an experienced car accident attorney to effectively manage your case.

Head-on collisions often result in traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, and blunt force body trauma that can be permanent and disabling.

For example, the lifetime cost of a traumatic brain injury can run from $87,000 to $3 million.

A 25-year-old paralyzed from the waist down in a head-on collision will need lifetime care costing more than $2 million.

Add to that the victims’ future lost wages, lost earning capacity, loss of consortium, and their staggering pain and suffering.

Even when liability is clear, insurance companies push back against high-dollar injury claims. Your attorney will likely have to file a lawsuit to get the compensation you deserve.

Case Example: Jury Awards $21 Million to Victims of Head-On Collision

In December 2004, Gregory Monroe was driving his SUV when he was hit head-on by a minivan driven by Eugene Roedder.

Monroe suffered a paralyzing spinal cord injury in the crash that left him permanently wheelchair-bound.

Roedder admitted fault for the crash, but his auto insurance carrier, State Farm, disputed the amount of compensation sought by Monroe for his disabling injuries.

Attorneys for Monroe filed suit in the Circuit Court of St. Louis. At trial, the jury found in favor of Monroe. The $21 million dollar award included $18 million for Gregory Monroe, and $3 million for his wife, who became Gregory’s primary caregiver after the crash.

What You Can Do To Increase Your Injury Payout

Whether you decide to handle your own insurance claim or retain a personal injury attorney, there are actions you can take to increase your injury compensation. You need to verify your expenses, back up your claims of pain and suffering, and prove fault for the collision.

1. Gather Documentation for All Expenses

The cost of medical treatment is a big part of any injury settlement calculation. Insurance companies are obligated to pay the full cost of reasonable and necessary diagnosis and treatment bills, even when some or all of your care is paid by Medicare, Medicaid, or private health insurance.

Keep track of every medical appointment and be sure to get complete medical bills and records for each one. Some types of medical care generate more than one bill. For example, imaging studies like an MRI will have a charge for the scan, and a separate bill from the radiologist who interpreted the results.

Your lost wages claim should include time off that was covered by your vacation or sick leave, as well as opportunities for overtime or bonuses you lost while you were injured. You’ll also need doctor’s notes to prove it was medically necessary not to work during your recovery.

2. Justify Your Claims of Pain and Suffering

The more real you can make your pain and suffering to the claims adjuster, the more you will likely get in compensation for your emotional distress.

Get photographs of the mangled remains of the car, including pictures of the shattered glass and blood stains on the seats. Pictures of your injuries after the crash and throughout treatment help illustrate the scope of your suffering. Likewise, keep torn and bloodied clothing from the crash.

An accident diary is a valuable tool for tracking your day-to-day struggle with the aftermath of a head-on collision. Your notes should include dates and information about pain levels, surgeries and treatments, physical limitations, and sleep problems.

Use descriptive language to describe your fear, depression, frustration, and humiliation. Detail the emotional distress that goes along with loss of body functions, needing help with bathing and personal care, the inability to care for family members, and more.

3. Hire a Car Accident Lawyer

Insurance companies pay more for serious injury claims when the claimant is represented by counsel.

No matter the cost of your injuries and related damages, your final payout may be limited by the availability of insurance funds. A good attorney will know how to discover other insurance policies that may apply, and all potentially liable parties.

In car accident cases involving multiple injured people, the at-fault driver’s insurance company may file an interpleader action to ask the court to decide how to divide up the available funds. You’ll need an attorney to convince the court why you should get a larger slice of the pie when there isn’t enough money to cover everyone’s losses.

Wrongful Death from Head-On Collisions

Head-on collisions cause more deaths than any other type of traffic accident. The victim may have been driving the car that was hit, or was a passenger in either car. In any case, you’ll need an attorney to protect the best interest of your deceased loved one and family members.

Let your attorney help you with:

  • Insurance adjusters
  • Police inquiries
  • News reporters
  • Funeral costs
  • Probate issues

Don’t trust the insurance company to handle a wrongful death case fairly. The adjuster is more interested in the company’s bottom line than the welfare of grieving family members.

Case Example: Jury Awards $12.2 Million for Head-On Collision Death

Roitike Tyler was driving southbound on U.S. 17 with her youngest son when Joshua Bell, who was traveling northbound, hit the Tyler car head-on as he attempted to pass other vehicles against traffic. Ms. Tyler died in the crash. Her 11-year old son survived. She also had an adult son who was not in the accident.

Although he was driving his own pickup truck, at-fault driver Joshua Bell was on a business trip for his employer, Gibbs & Register, Inc., when the crash occurred. Through their attorneys, Ms. Tyler’s two sons filed a wrongful death action against Bell and his employer.

The employer, Gibbs & Register (“G&R”) disputed that Bell was acting in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the crash.

Evidence presented at trial included proof that G&R was paying for Bell’s hotel room the night of the crash, and that Bell was covered by his employer’s workers’ compensation insurance for his injuries caused by the crash.

The jury determined that Bell and G&R were liable for the death of Roitike Tyler, awarding $12.2 million to her sons.

Where to Look for Injury Compensation

Always notify your insurance company of an accident, even if you or your loved one weren’t driving. Depending on your policy, your insurance company may pay medical or death benefits under:

Your insurance company also has a duty to defend you if someone from the other car blames you for the crash.

Injured drivers in a no-fault insurance state must start with the med-pay or personal injury protection (PIP) coverage on their own policy. In many no-fault states, injured passengers may file claims against the driver’s PIP coverage. No-fault coverage may also extend to a policyholder’s children or household members.

Other Insurance Sources

Most no-fault states allow claims against the other driver’s insurance when the injuries are severe, permanent, or fatal. There is usually a serious injury “threshold” that must be met in order to pursue compensation from the other driver.

If the accident happened in a traditional fault state, file your claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

If the at-fault driver was on company business or driving a company vehicle, your attorney may go after the company’s commercial auto policy in addition to the driver’s personal auto policy. Commercial policies typically have much higher liability limits.

Teen drivers of divorced parents may be covered under two insurance policies. Young people often maintain a residence with both parents and may have liability coverage from the parents’ policies. Some households also carry umbrella policies that can come into play.

An injured passenger may have to file injury claims with both drivers’ insurance companies if liability for the accident isn’t clear.

Protect Your Right to Compensation

Keep an eye on the statute of limitations. Each state has a deadline for settling an injury claim or filing a lawsuit. If you miss the deadline, you lose the right to pursue compensation from the at-fault driver.

The insurance company has no obligation to help you settle a personal injury case before the statutory deadline. They know if you haven’t filed a lawsuit before time runs out, they win.

Be careful what you say to the adjuster. Anything you say about the accident or your deceased loved one may be used to deny or reduce your claim. Never agree to give a recorded statement until you’ve talked to an attorney. Don’t be manipulated into giving a statement when you’re medicated, tired, or grief-stricken.

Head-on accidents can result in a tangle of claims involving multiple insurance companies. Litigation is almost always necessary to resolve disputes and make the insurance companies pay appropriate settlements.

If you have severe or disabling injuries, you’ll need an experienced attorney to help you win fair compensation for your damages.

Head-On Collision Questions

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>