When you are injured in a car accident in Florida, you are limited to making a claim against your own insurance policy under the state’s no-fault system. However, you have the right to pursue the at-fault driver for compensation if you suffered very serious injuries, more than $10,000 in damages, or if another exception applies.
A personal injury lawyer will protect your best interests and fight for maximum compensation during negotiations with the insurance company. Your lawyer will also advise you whether a settlement offer is fair and when settling is the best option.
Most car accident cases do not go to trial. The typical conclusion of a case is a settlement with the insurance company or at-fault driver. A settlement agreement is a contract that gives you compensation in exchange for giving up your legal claim.
Before you sign a settlement agreement, there are several important things you need to know.
#1. Your Settlement Agreement Releases All Parties from Liability
When the settlement agreement is signed, you release all claims against the other party. This includes claims you are making and claims you have not made related to the accident. If you sign a settlement agreement with the insurance company, the release also includes incidents the insurer was not liable for, such as their policyholder assaulting you after the crash.
You will not be able to seek additional compensation from any parties related to the settlement once the agreement is signed.
#2. The Settlement Includes Injuries and Damages You May Not Realize Exist Yet
Before signing your settlement agreement, remember that the release portion also means you can’t seek compensation for new or currently unknown injuries related to the crash. If you discover months or years later that you suffered more serious injuries than you thought, you will be out of luck.
This is why your lawyer will go to great lengths to determine how much your injury case is worth. They will also wait until you have reached maximum medical improvement before beginning negotiations. This is important because it’s the best way to understand the severity of your injuries and long-term prognosis.
#3. Your Settlement Amount May Be Limited by the Policy Limits
Insurance companies will not pay more than the coverage limits. Because Florida is a no-fault state, you must seek compensation for your injuries from your own policy’s $10,000 PIP coverage. However, you can step outside this no-fault system and sue the at-fault driver if:
- You suffered a permanent injury, or
- Your damages exceeded the $10,000 PIP coverage limit
- Another exception applies
If the at-fault driver has optional bodily injury liability (BIL) coverage, that means you will be settling with their insurance company. You will not be able to settle for more than their coverage limit. Many times, other drivers do not have the resources or assets to pay for damages from a personal injury lawsuit. This means suing them and going to trial will not get you additional compensation.
The best decision may be reaching a settlement agreement for the policy limit.
Unfortunately, Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured and underinsured motorists. Because bodily injury liability coverage is optional in the state, most drivers do not carry it. You can still make a claim against your own policy beyond PIP limits if you carry uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
#4. The Settlement Amount May Not Cover All Your Damages
After signing the agreement, you can no longer pursue additional compensation for your injuries. That does not mean the settlement is guaranteed to cover all your damages. Along with policy limitations and damages you haven’t discovered yet, there are other factors that may leave you with losses that aren’t compensated.
Insurance companies tend to focus on financial or economic damages like lost wages, property damage, medical bills, and out-of-pocket costs. That means your settlement amount may not fully consider your non-economic damages. This includes:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of quality of life
- Disfigurement and scarring
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of limb
It’s common for insurance companies to downplay the severity of these losses. No amount of money can make up for an inability to hold your child, live independently, or enjoy your favorite hobbies. However, a fair settlement offer should recognize the impact of these losses.
Your personal injury lawyer will also make sure your economic damages are properly calculated and compensated. For example, sometimes settlement offers use discounted insurance or self-pay total of your medical bills. Instead, the amount should include the total amount billed before any reductions or discounts.
#5. A Settlement Agreement Is Final
Once both parties sign the settlement agreement, it’s a legally binding contract. You can’t change your mind, renegotiate, or pursue additional compensation – even if you discover your injuries are more serious than you thought.
This is why it’s essential to be absolutely clear that you understand the agreement and are satisfied with the settlement amount.
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for accident victims to sign a settlement agreement with the insurance company without legal representation and regret the decision. Even if an insurance company’s offer seems fair or even generous, it’s still important to consult with a lawyer before you sign an agreement. Initial offers from insurance companies are almost certainly too low.
The insurance company’s standard form settlement agreement likely contains language that benefits the insurer in ways that may not be obvious. It likely provides the broadest type of liability release. It may even make it challenging to hold the insurance company accountable if they do not meet their obligations or have a provision that gives them control over when and how the settlement funds are paid.
Your injury lawyer will ensure your best interests are protected and only recommend you sign an agreement that is fair and will not harm your rights.
Schedule a Consultation With a St. Petersburg Car Accident Attorney
Negotiating with an insurance company is harder than it sounds. The process itself can be intimidating, and the insurance adjuster will minimize your damages, use your statements against you, and make a lowball offer.
Your lawyer will present a settlement demand package based on strong evidence, medical records, and an accurate valuation of your case. They will put years of experience to work at the negotiation table to fight for the compensation you deserve and protect your best interests. They will also fight back against unfair insurance company tactics.