How Do You Know Whether to Settle or File a Lawsuit After an Accident?

settle or file

The period after a car accident can be confusing, painful, and frustrating altogether, especially if there are injuries involved. After exchanging basic information, the insurance company of the at-fault driver (the person who caused the wreck) has almost finished processing your claim, but there is one question remaining: after receiving an offer, do you settle with it or do you file a lawsuit to pursue the compensation you deserve?

This question can be a tricky one, which is why this article is meant to specifically answer that question. Remember, many people have been in the same position you may be currently in, so it is completely fine to seek help.

If you have asked yourself the question of "should I settle or file a lawsuit", you have come to the right place.

What Happens After You've Been in an Accident

After an accident, one of the first questions that needs to be answered is who's at fault? In other words, who caused the accident? Fault matters because the at-fault person's insurance company is responsible for paying for all the damages and injuries resulting from the accident. 

(Not sure who's at-fault for your accident? Start by reading this article to help you figure it out). 

So let's use an example. Say you were driving your car when Sammy rear-ends you. You hurt your back in the wreck and you're taken to the hospital as a result. Later, you file a claim against Sammy's insurance - she caused the wreck, so her insurance should pay for your hospital bills. 

When you file a claim, one of two things will happen:

  1. The insurance company will give you a fair offer for your medical bills (and your other damages, like lost wages, damage to your car, pain and suffering, etc.), or
  2. You receive a low and unfair offer that doesn't cover for your accident-related expenses.

If You Like the Insurance Company's Offer, You'll Settle the Claim

A settlement happens when a claim is resolved without going to court or filing a lawsuit. 

Settlements generally happen when the facts of the accident are clear and the extent and nature of the injuries are not in question. It's the "cut and dry" accidents, so to speak.

Using our example, this would mean that it's very clear that Sammy rear-ended you, and it's also very clear that you hurt your back in the accident (since you took photos at the accident scene to show how Sammy hit you, you didn't have any pre-existing injuries, and your doctor reports that the accident caused the injury). 

When clients come to my office, we generally assemble all the relevant evidence, including all of the bills and records from the client's medical treatment, and put the insurance company on demand to resolve the case. Usually about two weeks to a month later, the insurance company will respond with an offer.

At that point, the client must decide whether or not they think the offer is fair. Sometimes, the answer is simply yes, the client accepts the insurance company's offer and the case settles. Other times, it's not so easy. 

(Want to learn more about how to make a successful car accident claim in Texas? Download my free guide instantly). 

If the Insurance Company Gives an Unfair Offer, You Can File a Lawsuit

Let's continue with our example from above - Sammy rear-ended you. There are lots of ways this could be a complicated case.

  • Maybe you had back surgery two years ago and this wreck simply aggravated an old injury - if that's the case, the insurance company will argue that your injury was "pre-existing" and they won't want to pay for it. 
  • Maybe Sammy says you pulled out in front of her and that's why she rear-ended you - if that's the case, the insurance company will try to undervalue or deny your claim because they'll think it's your fault. 
  • Maybe you forgot to take photos of the accident and therefore it's hard to tell who hit who - if that's the case, the insurance company won't want to pay you as much. They'll want proof of the wreck.

These are just a few examples of how insurance companies will try to undervalue a claim when complications arise. At this point, you'll need to hire an attorney. 

When you file a lawsuit, you're basically saying, "Hey, you're giving me an unfair offer but I think I can state my case in front of a jury and they'll side with me." When you file a lawsuit, your lawyer will work on your behalf to construct evidence for your case to prove that Sammy caused the wreck, the wreck caused your injuries and you deserve fair compensation.

Mark A. Anderson
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Board Certified Personal Injury Lawyer in Fort Worth, Texas