If you are the victim of a car accident and are wondering whether you should accept the other party’s offer to settle privately, without involving the insurances companies, you might turn to Google for advice. Unfortunately, many of the results that turn up are user comments on non-legal forums where non-attorneys attempt to explain the complications of a vehicle collision. Despite this dearth of expert advice, many people keep trying, driven by a fear that their insurance rates will be raised if they report the accident to the authorities.
While private settlements might seem like a convenient way to avoid the potential hassles of dealing with insurance adjusters and claims processors, these types of arrangements are almost always a bad idea; at least without some input from an experienced attorney. There are just too many potential complications of which many people may be unaware. The following are some examples of the types of problems you might encounter during a private settlement attempt.
Who’s at fault?California follows what is known as the Pure Comparative Fault Rule. Under our system an accident victim can file a lawsuit against the person at fault, even if the victim partially caused the accident. For example, let’s say you're in a car accident with another driver. At trial the jury determines that you were 10% at fault for the accident and that your total damages are $100,000. Under California law, you’ll be able to collect 90% of those damages from the other party; or $90,000. Of course, you may also have to pay them for the 10% of damages you caused them.
The situation gets dramatically more complex in cases where the plaintiff is more than 50% at fault. Without qualified legal advice, you may not know for sure who is legally responsible for your injuries or for how much each party will ultimately be liable. Trying to guess can be costly.