If you’re involved in a traffic accident in Virginia (for which you are not at fault), you can make a claim for any damages relating to the accident.
Usually, this means filing some paperwork with the other driver’s insurance company, who will then investigate the issue and write you a check.
However, this isn’t always the case.
In this article, we’ll quickly cover several of the options you have for collecting money for your damages after a traffic accident.
Note, however, that this article is purely informative.
Always consult with an attorney if you are having problems with receiving compensation after a traffic accident.
Virginia’s Personal Injury Process: The Basics
In Virginia, the legal processes following a car accident are relatively straightforward.
Basically, if the other driver was at fault for the accident, you can file a claim with their insurance.
Then, the insurance company will launch an investigation into the accident to determine who was at fault, as well as the total cost of the crash.
After investigating the accident, they will determine whether or not they’re obligated to pay you, and then return to you with an appropriate settlement.
If you accept this settlement, you waive your right to sue, and will have to pay all of your bills using this offer.
If, however, the insurance company’s offer fails to cover the total cost of the accident, you can choose to negotiate for a better offer (usually with the assistance of an attorney).
Your case will then flow through the options listed below.
Do I need to hire an attorney?
It really depends on the case.
Generally speaking, you should consider hiring an attorney if you want to (1) negotiate a higher settlement, (2) refute the insurance company’s claims that you were at fault, or (3) take the case to court.
Further, attorneys will only take your case if (1) you were not at fault, and (2) the damages resulting from your case exceed a certain amount.
For these reasons (among others) you usually don’t need an attorney for most minor traffic accidents, such as fender benders.
In most cases, you only need to hire an attorney if:
- The car accident was damaging enough to impact your everyday life; and,
- The other insurance company’s settlement offer failed to adequately cover the cost of your damages (especially in the cases of medical bills).
For example, you would almost never need to hire an attorney for a minor accident that only resulted in cosmetic damages to your car.
However, if you were injured in the accident, and your injuries impact your life in any way (i.e. if they’re more than a minor scrape or bruise) it may be wise to at least speak with an attorney about your case.
So, how do I resolve my case then? How do I recover money for my damages?
In general, you have four options for resolving your case:
- Option 1: Collect from the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
- Option 2: Take Your Case to Court
- Option 3: Explore Alternative Methods
- Option 4: Last Resorts for Uncooperative Defendants
We’ll explore each in more detail below.
Option 1: File a Claim With the Other Driver’s Insurance Company
The most common way to collect your settlement following a traffic accident (for which you are not at fault) is to work directly with the other driver’s insurance company.
Often, working with the other driver’s insurance will keep you from going to court, and can even result in a quicker (and easier) personal injury case.
However, you should remember that the insurance company doesn’t want to pay you.
For this reason, they may offer you a settlement that fails to cover the full cost of your damages (especially if you have medical bills or other costs not related to the car itself).
In such a scenario you have to make a decision between taking the insurance company’s offer or hiring an attorney to fight for a higher settlement.
What happens if I take the insurance company’s offer?
In an ideal world, the insurance company would send you a fair offer that covers all of your damages.
Then, you would “settle” your case by accepting this offer and using it to pay your bills or get your life and affairs back in order.
Even in cases where the offer doesn’t seem fair this still might be the preferable option due to the costs and risks involved with fighting for a higher payout (as explained below).
If you accept the insurance company’s offer, they will mail you some paperwork to sign, and then cut you a check for you to cash at will.
What if I want to argue for a higher settlement?
If you feel that the insurance company’s offer fails to cover the full cost of the accident (or if they claim that you are at fault and offer you nothing), you could choose to argue for a higher settlement.
Often, this means hiring an attorney to negotiate on your behalf.
The best-case scenario for this situation would be that the insurance company gives into your demands, and that the negotiated settlement is higher than the initial offer (even after deducting attorneys fees and other costs).
However, you should be aware of the costs and risks involved in such a strategy.
For example, most attorneys work on a contingency that, in some cases, could cut into your total award.
Similarly, there’s no guarantee that you will win should the case go to trial.
Basically, you should always weigh the pros and the cons of your options before you make any lasting decisions in your case.
Option 2: Take Your Case to Court
If (1) you hire an attorney to negotiate a higher settlement on your behalf, and (2) you can’t come to an agreement with the insurance company, or the statute of limitations is approaching for your case, you may have to file a personal injury lawsuit to settle the matter in court.
In this situation you’ll have to provide evidence that backs up your claims, and a jury would ultimately decide how much the insurance company should award you:
- If the jury decides in your favor, you will receive the judgement from the court, and then send that judgement to the other driver’s insurance company to collect your money.
- If the jury decides against you, however, you may receive nothing, and will have to pay your bills yourself.
For this reason, it’s often wise to preserve as much evidence as possible in the days and weeks after an accident, should such a legal action become necessary.
Option 3: Explore Alternative Methods
Sometimes, if your settlement or judgement doesn’t cover all of your damages (such as if the other driver was underinsured), you may have to explore additional sources of funds.
These methods can (generally) be broken up into two methods:
- Filing an uninsured or underinsured motorist claim using your own insurance policy.
- All other methods.
Why should I file an uninsured or underinsured claim with my insurance?
When you signed up for auto insurance coverage, you probably also signed up for a related uninsured and underinsured policy.
By law, insurance companies must offer these policies as a way for drivers to protect themselves from other drivers who fail to carry sufficient insurance.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage can protect you in the event of an accident where the other driver can’t pay for the total damages they inflicted upon you.
For example, if you have $100,000 in medical bills, but the other driver only has $50,000 in coverage, you could file a claim with your own insurance for the difference.
Then, your insurance company would go after the other driver, rather than you having to take them to court for the bills.
You should always speak with an attorney (as well as your own insurance agent) if your damages exceed the at-fault driver’s policy limits.
Other Sources of Funding
Depending on the specifics of your situation, you could also explore additional sources of funding to pay your bills.
For example, people will often use MedPay coverage as a means to pay for the medical bills associated with an accident.
Similarly, if you have good health insurance you might be able to claim any excess expenses as part of your normal coverage.
Option 4: Last Resorts for Uncooperative Defendants
Most personal injury cases end in either a settlement (Option 1 above) or a simple court judgement (Option 2 above).
However, in some cases, you may have to explore a few last resorts to receive the settlement you deserve.
Normally, these are drastic (and lengthy) measures utilized only after all other options have failed.
For example, directly suing the other driver is often a last resort.
This is because it’s often extremely difficult to collect the judgement awarded to you (if you even win in the first place).
Attorneys like to use the phrase “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip,” but the gist of the situation is that most people don’t have the funds lying around to pay for an accident larger than a fender bender.
While property liens and garnishments are common solutions, both are the result of long and costly court battles that are best avoided in all but the worst of circumstances.
For this reason, you should only pursue such methods if all other strategies have failed.
For the large majority of traffic accidents, you can recover money for your damages by filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance.
After investigating the matter, the insurance company will send you an offer to pay for the damages relating to the accident.
By accepting this offer, you are effectively ending your case.
In more serious cases (especially if the insurance company is being uncooperative) you may have to hire an attorney to help you resolve the issue.
While there are several other methods to recovering money for your damages (such as garnishments and liens), these are usually a last-resort for after all other options have failed.