Do I have a good case? How much should I expect to recover from my car accident? Should I even take the time to pursue a claim?
These are common questions people have after being involved in a car accident. Although every personal injury case in North Carolina is unique and it is impossible to answer that question in detail without knowing more about a specific case, there are some basic questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your case is worth pursuing.
Question 1. Who’s fault was it?
To even be able to recover anything in a car accident case, you must show that you are not the party at fault. To determine who was at fault, you may simply be able to ask yourself “did someone else cause this accident?” If the answer is yes, then you should be good to proceed to the second question. However, liability is not always so clear. Under the law, people are expected to exercise reasonable care around other people. When someone is careless or negligent, the injured party can sue the negligent party for the resulting damages. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is at fault in a car accident, especially when there are multiple cars involved. As long as you were not the person at fault, then that’s all that matters.
If you believe someone else caused your injuries, then you may have a case worth pursuing.
Question 2. Was I injured?
Even if you were involved in a very bad accident and it is clear that someone else is at fault, you may not have a case worth pursuing if you are not physically and/or financially harmed. In North Carolina, injured victims of personal injury are entitled to recover for physical, emotional and financial harm, including past and future medical bills, property damage to their vehicle, past and future lost wages, physical and emotional pain and any other reasonable out-of-pocket expenses.
No one wants to be injured in an accident and hopefully if you were involved in an accident, you weren’t. However, if you were injured and you believe someone else caused your injuries, then you may have a case worth pursuing.
Question 3. How am I going to get paid?
This is a question you may not have the answer to, but it is still worth asking. After determining who is at fault in the accident, you then have to determine whether that party has insurance coverage. When you bring a claim for personal injuries against the at-fault party, it is their insurance carrier that pays on their behalf. Unfortunately, not everyone that is driving on our roads in North Carolina has active insurance coverage. If there is not coverage available, then you have the option to proceed through your own insurance carrier (assuming you have uninsured motorist coverage). However, if neither you nor the at-fault party have active coverage, you may be forced to seek recovery of your damages from the at-fault party personally. If that person does not have funds or assets to cover your damages, you may be out of luck.
Even if the at-fault party has active insurance coverage, you also have to determine how much coverage they have. Although many people carry higher coverage limits, North Carolina only requires that individuals carry insurance with policy limits of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident. In other words, the most the insurance carrier will pay out to any single individual is $30,000, regardless of how badly they were injured. If you were badly injured, or if there were multiple people injured in the accident, you may not be able to recover enough to cover your expenses.
In these cases, individuals usually have more success in their claims when they hire an attorney who is familiar with the different types of insurance policies and coverages available to assist when the primary at-fault party’s insurance may not be sufficient.
If there is coverage in place to fully compensate you for your injuries, either through the at-fault party’s or another’s insurance carrier, you may have a case worth pursuing.
Question 4. How much money will I get in the end?
Television shows and fabricated stories of friends and family members have made this the most difficult topic for attorneys to discuss with their clients. Many people believe that once they retain an attorney to represent them in their minor accident, where they sustained minor injuries, they are going to recover thousands and thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, that is not usually the case. In fact, the majority of cases that involve minor damages usually settle for less than $10,000. But even that number can be misleading.
One good thing about personal injury cases for individuals is that they typically are not out any money up-front, even when they retain an attorney. Most attorneys (including Harman Law, PLLC) take personal injury cases on a contingency basis – meaning the client does not have to pay anything until money is recovered from the other party. However, because of this, most people get very excited when they hear the total settlement amount they have been offered, without taking into account the expenses that need to be deducted from that amount before the client receives their portion. Usually 33% of the total amount is paid to the attorney. Medical expenses and well as any out-of-pocket expenses the attorney fronted also have to be deducted. So, with the total settlement amount of $7,500, the client may only end up getting $2,000 – $3,000 in the end.
Certainly, there are cases that result in much higher settlement amounts, with more coming to the client in the end. And usually having an attorney leaves the client with a better end result, even after paying the attorney their fee. However, these are important thoughts to consider in determining whether you have a case worth pursuing.