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In California, all of the damages in a personal injury auto accident claim are taken into account to calculate the settlement. The damages can be reduced by percentage of fault. However, if the other party is 100% at fault, the claimant will be looking at special damages. Special damages are any out-of-pocket expenses that relate to the accident. The main ones include medical bills, lost wages, medical treatment costs, and medications. Then, there are also general damages, such as pain and suffering.
The cost of future medical care like surgeries, treatments, and home healthcare, can also be covered. There could be some value assigned to loss of enjoyment if you can no longer do the things that you used to enjoy. There can also be value assigned to permanent disabilities.
When it comes to future long-term care and treatments, it is necessary to bring in your medical doctors or whoever is treating you for your injuries to ascertain what the future treatments are going to look like. The medical professionals can provide estimates of the costs. They’ll need to say that it’s medically certain that the future care will be needed. It may also be necessary to hire a separate medical expert to review all of your records and recommendations from your current treating physicians. The medical expert would then issue a report specifying their analysis and whether they agree with the future treatments, costs, and estimates.
In order to effectively advise clients of when to settle, as their attorney, I look at the overall situation and case. I look at the client’s injuries, their past treatments, likely future treatments, and the costs that the client’s already incurred in medical bills. Then, I look at the settlement offer. What are the numbers to settle the case today? You have to compare that with the likelihood of settling, taking it to court, or continue negotiating. You have to look at the possibility of getting a higher amount and the costs involved in obtaining that higher amount. All of that has to be analyzed.
If you’re going to court in California, you have to take into consideration the 998 offer, which puts some risks if you don’t obtain a higher value. If you don’t get a higher value, you may end up having to pay the other party’s expert fees. That can dramatically reduce your net dollars. Overall, I look at the net dollars that the client can obtain now versus later.
You also have to look at where the money is coming from. Are you likely to get it from an insurance company? Are you likely to get it from an individual dependent driver? Those things need to be factored in as well.
If you’re involved in an auto wreck in which the other driver has little to no insurance, there is still a chance that you could recover. First, you need to look at your own insurance policy. Do you have something called uninsured motorist coverage (UIM)? If you do, you may be able to assert a claim on that portion of your insurance policy. UIM would cover a driver that has little to no insurance or somebody who fled the scene in a hit-and-run. Further, you can look at whether the at-fault driver has assets that could be used to cover the accident. That’s something you would look for if you don’t have UIM coverage, or if your UIM coverage is not that high. Your attorney can help you look at all of those scenarios.
In California, the minimum policies are 15/30, which means that the minimum liability coverage is $15,000 per person in an accident to a maximum of $30,000. If a driver only has the minimum policy and you have uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000, $50,000 or $100,000, you could be completely covered if you get into an accident with the underinsured driver. For example, you may be able to get a policy limit settlement from the at-fault party of $15,000, and then go against your UIM to get the difference. If you have $100,000 in UIM, you would get the other driver’s $15,000 and $85,000 from your UIM coverage. One factor to be aware of in California is that you cannot stack your UIM. For instance, you cannot get $15,000 from the other driver and another $15,000 in UIM for a total of $30,000 if your damages are only $15,000. You can only get a total of $15,000.