Suing for Damages vs. Settling With Insurance After a Car Accident – Which is Best?

October 10, 2016

After a car accident, you may not know the legal processes available to you. If it’s your first car accident, you probably aren’t savvy to San Diego’s rules for filing a claim. Hiring a car accident attorney is the best way to explore your unique options, but having some knowledge about each possibility on your own will help you make an educated decision. Here’s what you need to know about suing a defendant for damages vs. settling your accident with insurance.

When to Settle With Insurance

Neither suing for damages nor settling with insurance is consistently the “best” option. Car accident cases are complex and deserve careful consideration of the facts. Your best option after one car accident may not be the right choice after another accident. Understanding which is right for your specific case requires knowing when each action is appropriate.
A large number of car accident claims settle without involving the courts and using only the insurance company. Settling with insurance and avoiding the time and cost of a lawsuit is your best option when you have a simple car accident case with no personal injuries and minor property damage. In a simple case, your insurance company or the defendant’s insurance company is capable of investigating your claim and compensating you appropriately. Settling with insurance has a few advantages, such as avoiding attorneys’ fees and receiving compensation faster.
In some cases, your accident is too complex and damaging to only pursue a settlement through your insurance company. Sometimes, an insurance claims adjuster’s settlement offer is unreasonably low. The California Department of Insurance identifies an “unreasonably low” settlement offer by looking at:

  • The extent to which the agent studied the claimant’s evidence
  • The extent to which the agent considered legal authority, such as police reports, made reasonably available
  • The extent to which the insurance company considered its adjuster’s advice as to the extent of damages
  • The procedures the insurer used to determine the dollar amount of damages

If the final settlement offer is below the amount a reasonable person who is knowledgeable about the crash would have offered, the California Department of Insurance will deem it an unreasonably low amount.

When to Sue for Damages

If you suffered expensive property damage (around $10,000 or more) or a personal injury, settling with insurance may not be the best option. More severe damages require the attention of a personal injury attorney who can fight for the compensation you deserve. It’s an insurance claims adjuster’s job to settle a case for as little compensation as possible. The claims adjuster works for the insurance company, not for you, and wants to save the company money by offering less than you could receive in a lawsuit – sometimes substantially less. If you have a lot at stake, such as the personal and financial cost of a disability, consider suing for damages instead.
Other cases that deserve the attention of the courts are those that involve more than one insurance company. If you were driving a friend’s vehicle, for example, your insurance agent and your friend’s insurance agent may be involved. If the defendant doesn’t have car insurance, you should also contact an attorney. If you lost time at work, missed out on a promotion, or suffered lost earning capacity because of the accident, hire an attorney. All of these circumstances go beyond the realm of trusting an insurance claims adjuster with your case.
Settling your claim with insurance may seem like the simpler option, but in many cases, it can result in you paying out of pocket for a crash that you didn’t cause. When in doubt after an accident, speak with an attorney. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose in asking for professional legal advice.