Learn how to file a claim for compensation after getting rear-ended. The severity of your injuries and the at-fault driver’s liability affect your payout.
To get compensation after a rear-end accident, you must prove the other driver was at fault and justify the amount of your damages.
It’s easy to assume the driver who hit you from behind is automatically at fault, but the insurance company will make you prove it. You may also need to prove that you share no blame for the accident.
Proving the severity of your injuries and related costs is the other critical part of ensuring you get fair compensation. Adjusters may challenge the cause of your injuries or the necessity of your medical treatment.
Unless you’re willing to settle for a few hundred dollars, you can’t assume the insurance company will offer what your accident claim is worth.
What to Do After Getting Rear-Ended
Rear-end car accidents happen fast. You hear squealing tires and look at your rear-view mirror only to realize the vehicle behind you isn’t stopping. You may not even see it coming before impact.
Immediately after the crash, check for injuries and call 911. Always call 911 to report a traffic accident, even a relatively minor low-speed accident. Even if no officer is dispatched, you’ll at least have a record of the call.
If you are able, use the time before police arrive to take pictures of the scene of the accident, pictures of the vehicles, including the other car’s license plate number and close-ups of the damage to each car. Get contact and insurance information from the other driver.
When police respond to an accident, they will secure the scene and arrange care for the injured before talking to the drivers and witnesses.
Get Medical Treatment
When paramedics arrive, let them evaluate your injuries. If you aren’t taken to the hospital by ambulance, get prompt medical attention, preferably the same day. You can see your own doctor, go to urgent care, or go to the hospital emergency department.
Refusing or delaying medical care can give the insurance adjuster an excuse to deny or minimize your injury compensation.
Get the Police Report
The police crash report should be available a week or two after the accident. The police report, along with the photographs and witness statements you gathered, can be powerful evidence of the other driver’s fault.
Keys to Filing an Injury Claim or Lawsuit
After a rear-end car crash, you’ll have medical bills, lost wages, and vehicle damage to contend with. It’s a good idea to notify your insurance company and the at-fault driver’s insurance company soon after the accident.
Every auto policy has a clause requiring the policyholder to notify the company of an accident. If you are in a no-fault insurance state, you can expect your PIP coverage to pay for your medical expenses and lost wages. The other driver’s insurer should pay for your car repairs.
In most states, you will notify the at-fault driver’s insurance company of your intent to file a bodily injury claim and a property damage claim. You don’t have to discuss settlement of your injury claim until after you’ve fully recovered.
Vehicle damage claims are usually processed separately and often resolve faster than personal injury claims.
If you have collision coverage you may opt to have your vehicle damage handled by your own insurance company. Your insurance company will then seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver’s carrier.
Don’t Jump at the First Settlement Offer
Expect to hear from the at-fault driver’s auto insurance company shortly after you notify them of the accident. Your claim will be assigned to a claims adjuster who will reach out to you.
No matter how sympathetic and polite the adjuster seems on the phone, they are not your friend. Be wary if the adjuster asks you to provide a recorded statement. Adjusters are trained to trick you into saying things they can use to deny or minimize your injury claim.
Most adjusters will offer an immediate low-ball settlement to test the waters. The adjuster would love to induce you to take a small settlement and close out your claim. Don’t get upset. It’s okay to tell the adjuster you’re not ready to discuss settlement.
Negotiations Take Planning and Patience
It pays to take the time to plan your negotiations strategy and review your evidence.
Before negotiations get underway, organize your evidence of the other driver’s fault. Medical records and bills, wage statements, and out-of-pocket costs will be compiled and used to calculate the value of your claim.
Negotiations get underway when the insurance company receives your demand letter. The adjuster will counter the demand with a much lower amount. After several rounds of negotiations, most claims are resolved with a compromised settlement in a matter of months.
If negotiations break down, your next step may be to file a lawsuit.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Unless you intend to sue in small claims court, you’ll need an attorney to represent you in a lawsuit.
Car accident lawsuits are always filed against the at-fault driver, not their insurance company. But the insurance company hires the legal defense team to represent their insured in court.
Lawsuits take time (easily a year or more) and money. The litigation process involves serving the defendant (person you are suing) with notice of the lawsuit, the discovery phase (depositions, interrogatories, etc.), and sometimes court-ordered mediation.
After the discovery phase, both sides have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s case. Even when you are convinced you have a winning case, you never know what a jury will do. Because of the uncertainty, most cases settle out of court, meaning before trial.
If you do proceed to trial and win your personal injury case, the defendant can appeal to a higher court. If you settle, the litigation is over and you walk away with the settlement amount.
How Injuries and Liability Affect Compensation
Medical costs are the key factor in calculating total injury compensation. Higher medical expenses result in higher injury compensation. The severity of your injuries from the rear-end collision will determine how you handle your claim.
You can usually estimate compensation for minor to moderate injuries by totaling your hard costs (medical expenses and lost wages) and adding one or two times that amount to account for your pain and suffering.
A rear-end accident victim who incurs $300 from a visit to urgent care for a sprained arm and missed a few hours of work likely won’t get more than $1,000 for their hard costs and inconvenience.
Severe injury claims with lots of medical bills are calculated differently, including higher multiples for pain and suffering. High-dollar claims must be handled by a personal injury lawyer to get fair compensation. Even when high medical expenses are valid, the insurance company will fight them.
Avoid “car accident” doctors or chiropractors who order repeated tests and extensive treatments just to pump up your medical costs.
Insurance companies only have to pay reasonable and necessary medical expenses. If they reject unreasonable doctor bills, you’ll be responsible for paying them out of pocket.
Allegations of Shared Blame Can Cost You
The burden is on you to prove the other driver’s liability. Because every state’s traffic laws require drivers to follow at a safe distance, fault is generally pre-determined for rear-end accidents. After all, if the rear driver who hit you had been following at a safe distance, they would have had time to stop.
It’s not always enough to prove the other driver was at fault. The insurance company might say you share some of the fault. For example, they might say your brake lights weren’t working, or you cut in front of the other driver just before they rear-ended you.
The majority of states have modified comparative negligence laws. So long as you aren’t more to blame than the other driver, you’ll get some compensation, but your payout will be reduced to account for your share of the blame.
Typical Rear-End Accident Settlements
Most soft-tissue injuries, including mild to moderate whiplash neck injuries will settle for $2,000 to $5,000. The settlement amount is based on one or two visits to a family doctor or urgent care, a few days off work, and a nominal amount for pain and suffering.
A serious neck injury requiring surgery costs an average of $45,000. Assuming $4,000 in lost wages (worker earning $20 per hour missing five weeks of work), the total hard costs would be $49,000. In this case, a reasonable rear-end whiplash settlement would run between $150,000 to $250,000.
Concussions are common injuries in rear-end accidents. They can be caused by the victim’s head hitting the side window, steering wheel, or from the head snapping violently back and forth from the impact of the collision.
Medical costs for head injuries can range from under $1,000 for mild concussions to anywhere from $85,000 to $3 million for traumatic brain injuries.
Car accident head injury settlements can range from $5,000 for a mild concussion to many millions of dollars for fatal or disabling brain injuries.
Keep in mind that no matter the value of your claim, your total compensation may be limited to the at-fault driver’s auto policy limits unless other funds are available, such as underinsured motorist coverage.
Case Example: Jury Awards $5 Million to Woman Injured in Rear-End Collision
Jennie Pagan, the widowed mother of a young daughter, was driving her Honda Accord to work when she was rear-ended by a Ford F150 pickup truck, driven by Alain Gonzalez.
Pagan went straight to the emergency room after the auto accident, suffering from neck pain. She was treated with surgery and physical therapy for a disc herniation in her cervical spine, with medical bills reaching $186,000.
The at-fault driver’s insurance company accepted liability for the accident on behalf of Gonzalez, but disputed that not all of Pagan’s back injuries were caused by the collision. They argued that some of Pagan’s spinal injuries were a pre-existing condition.
Pagan’s car accident attorney filed a lawsuit on her behalf. At trial, the jury found in favor of Pagan, awarding nearly $5 million dollars, including $4.5 million for past and future pain and suffering.
High-Dollar Injury Claims Require Expert Legal Advice
If you’ve fully recovered from minor soft-tissue injuries, you may decide to settle your own injury claim without a car accident attorney.
But if you or a loved one have suffered serious injuries, you’ll need a skilled personal injury attorney to maximize your compensation.
You need an attorney when:
- You are making a wrongful death claim
- Your injuries are serious or disabling
- Your damages exceed the at-fault driver’s policy limits
- There are several injured parties and not enough insurance money to go around
- You were rear-ended in a multiple-vehicle accident and the insurance companies are fighting over fault
Most car accident lawyers offer a free consultation for injured victims. It costs nothing to discuss the value of your accident case.
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