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Hit By a Drunk Driver: Settlement Basics

As you slowly regain consciousness on the ambulance stretcher, you come to realize the extent of your injuries. You can't feel your legs, for starters, as the paramedics set a couple of broken ribs, bandage your wounds, and check for signs of concussion. After you reach the hospital, you're told that you were broadsided by a drunk driver. While you're lucky to be alive, you're also aware of the long road ahead toward recovery. Then your mind wanders to the heavy cost of hospitalization and ongoing therapy, all while being unable to work. How will you make ends meet?

The short answer is that insurance should cover most if not all of your financial losses, including lost wages. If there's no doubt that you were hit by a drunk driver, an injury settlement will likely be pursued instead of a trial. But in order to be properly compensated, you'll want to understand the insurance laws in your state, the limits of insurance policies, the impact of no-fault insurance laws, and more.

Hit by a Drunk Driver? Don't Settle Right Away

Regardless of the circumstances, you really want to make sure you fully assess your injuries following a car accident before settling. The at-fault driver's insurance company may try to pressure you into an early settlement just to close the case and keep its payout as low as possible. But a seemingly minor accident may cause serious injuries that aren't readily apparent at first.

More to the point, you will be asked to sign a release of liability form after agreeing to a settlement. This will bar you from any further injury claims pertaining to the incident, no matter how severe. Therefore, keep records of your financial losses (medical costs, lost wages, etc.) and wait until your condition has stabilized before entertaining settlement offers.

You also have much more leverage if you seek a settlement after the other driver has been convicted of, or pleaded guilty to, driving under the influence (DUI). The insurance company would rather not resolve the matter in front of a judge and jury, since they likely would be very sympathetic to a plaintiff who was injured by a convicted drunk driver (although some states' courts don't allow "no contest" DUI pleas in civil cases, since they are not technically admissions of guilt).

Just keep in mind that there are limits to how much an insurance company will pay, often in the $50,000 range. So if your damages exceed your state's limit, you may need to file a civil suit (which in all likelihood will end in a pre-trial settlement). If there are multiple injured parties making claims against the same drunk driver, then this limit could be much lower for each party.

Fault vs. No Fault Insurance Laws

About a dozen states have what are known as "no fault" auto insurance laws, including Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. In these states, your own insurer is responsible for covering your injury claims, not the at-fault driver's policy. States have different monetary limits for injury claims, often referred to as personal injury protection (PIP) claims, which may depend on whether you also have health insurance coverage. However, your PIP policy typically has monetary limits. Also, no-fault insurance policies often pay just 75 percent of one's regular wages with respect to lost earnings claims.

That means you may come up short if you're filing a claim in a no-fault state. But don't despair -- all no-fault states allow injured individuals to pursue additional claims against the at-fault driver under certain circumstances, such as having suffered "serious" injuries or exceeding a certain cost threshold (as defined by state law). For example, if your expenses exceed New York State's $50,000 limit, you may sue the at-fault party or make a claim with your health insurance policy.

Hit By a Drunk Driver and Looking to Settle? Get a Free Lawyer Match

As you can see above, settling a car accident claim involving bodily injuries can get quite complicated. In order to get the best possible compensation for your injuries, you may need to work with an injury attorney. Get started today with a free legal evaluation by a local motor vehicle accident attorney.

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