Settle a Car Accident Claim Without a Lawyer: A Guide (2024)

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 7 mins

There is no obligation to hire a lawyer after you’ve been in a car accident. You may be entitled to compensation from the party at fault for the accident, and can sometimes work out a settlement on your own by negotiating with the insurance company.

Unfortunately, the steps required to reach a settlement can be difficult to work through without a lawyer’s support. In this article, we’ll look at exactly how to settle a car accident claim without a lawyer, and how to know when hiring a lawyer is in your best interest.

How to Negotiate a Car Accident Settlement Without a Lawyer

Negotiating a car accident settlement requires that you pinpoint what you are owed and who is at fault. From there, you will demand payment of what you are owed and negotiate a final settlement. Follow these steps as you work through the process:

Estimate Damages

Before you can negotiate a settlement, you need to understand your losses. Any of the following could be included in your damages:

  • Car repairs or other property damage
  • Medical care costs
  • Lost wages from missing work
  • Pain and suffering or emotional distress
  • Funeral expenses and loss of companionship (in wrongful death cases)

All of these include damages you have already paid for as well as future losses like ongoing medical care needs.

Some losses are easy to quantify, such as one-time medical bills or completed car repairs. Others can be more difficult, such as emotional distress from the accident or long-term medical care.

Insurers sometimes estimate unclear damages by multiplying medical bills by a set number, or by offering a set amount per day until you are expected to recover. These methods are not set in stone and often vary from insurer to insurer.

A car accident lawyer has expertise in damages estimation and may have insight into how an insurer typically values cases. Fill out the form on this page to get your case evaluated for free.

Identify Parties at Fault

In addition to estimating your damages, you need to be clear on who is at fault for causing you harm. This often will be the other driver if they caused your car accident. In that case, you will likely be negotiating with that driver’s insurance company.

Sometimes there are multiple parties at fault. For example, if the other driver was driving a company vehicle for work, then the employer may also be liable for their employee’s actions. Parents may also be liable if they allow their child to drive without adequate experience.

Gather Evidence

Before you can negotiate a settlement, you need to gather evidence that demonstrates who caused the accident and the extent of your damages.

Evidence that could help your case includes:

  • Witnesses to the accident
  • Police reports
  • Pictures or videos of the accident or conditions at the accident location
  • Pictures of property damage and injuries
  • Medical records and payment receipts
  • Estimates for vehicle repairs
  • Time estimates for full medical recovery

Clear evidence to support your claim will make it more likely that an insurer will accept your demand for settlement.

Create a Demand Letter

A demand letter is your formal request for compensation. This will be addressed to the party at fault, most likely to their insurance provider. Your demand letter will need to provide details that explain the following:

  • Why the other party is responsible for compensating you
  • Your estimated damages, including how you have calculated non-economic damages like pain and suffering
  • The amount you are requesting to settle your claim
  • When do you expect their response

Your request for compensation and the time in which you expect a response need to be reasonable.

Attorneys are well-versed in writing demand letters that get results, so this is a good time to consider whether you are confident moving forward on your own. Fill out the form on this page to get help today.

Negotiate a Settlement Agreement

In most cases, the insurance company will engage in negotiations if they believe their insured party is at fault. They may send you their own settlement offer, or respond to your demand letter. Review the offer carefully.

It is not uncommon for insurance companies to offer significantly less than you feel your case is worth. You are not obligated to accept their offer and may respond with a counteroffer or request that the insurance company explain the reasoning behind their offer.

If you are unable to reach a negotiated settlement, then your next step is to file a lawsuit. The process for proving your case in court is complicated and could be better navigated with an attorney’s help. Fill out the form on this page to get your case evaluated for free.

Stay Mindful of Time Passing

It can be a slow process to gather necessary evidence and engage in negotiation with insurance companies. Keep in mind that there are deadlines to file a lawsuit if you do not reach a settlement. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations and they vary by state. In most states, the statute of limitations is two years, but it can be as long as six years.

Failing to file a lawsuit on time could cause it to be dismissed by the court, so make sure you understand what timeline applies to your case.

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Do I Need a Lawyer for a Car Accident Settlement?

You may be wondering whether it will be worthwhile to hire a lawyer for your car accident claim, or even whether you can afford one.

Most car accident lawyers earn their income through contingency fees. This means that you pay nothing upfront, but agree to pay the lawyer a percentage of what you recover. The average contingency fee is between 33% and 40%. The percentage can vary depending on your area and the complexity of your case.

You are more likely to have success on your own if your case is straightforward. For instance, if the accident caused only minor damages and the other party has already admitted fault, then managing a settlement negotiation will be less complicated.

Benefits Lawyers Provide in Car Accident Settlements

Hiring a lawyer to guide you through the settlement negotiation process can have a dramatic impact on your case. These are just some of the benefits working with a lawyer can provide:

  • Accurate damages valuation. Your lawyer will know how best to present evidence and estimate your losses to support your settlement demand. This may also prevent low-ball settlement offers from the insurance company.
  • Professional advocacy. Having a lawyer contact the insurance company on your behalf represents that you have a knowledgeable advocate who will not be taken advantage of.
  • Improved chances of settlement. Research from the Insurance Research Council found that 85% of personal injury case settlements involved a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer could improve your ability to receive a settlement without going to court.
  • Higher value compensation. The same research found that personal injury cases handled by a lawyer resulted in 3.5 times higher payouts than those without a lawyer involved. If your lawyer charges a contingency fee, then they are incentivized to obtain the highest settlement value possible.
  • Trial readiness. If your case cannot be settled for a fair value, your lawyer will be prepared to pursue a formal lawsuit.

Dangers of Settling a Car Accident Claim without a Lawyer

Handling your own car accident claim without a lawyer comes with risks. Insurance and lawsuit systems are complex and there is often little help for someone going through it on their own. Consider these dangers before you take settlement efforts into your own hands:

  • Insurance companies may try to convince you to take steps that damage your claim. For example, giving a recorded statement without a lawyer could give the insurance company reasons to assert you were at fault.
  • Not having a lawyer involved could result in a lower settlement offer than you deserve. Research shows that having a lawyer involved could result in 3.5 times more than you can receive on your own.
  • You may miss evidence that is critical to your case. A lawyer can help you identify witnesses, organize medical records, and review police reports. If your case does not settle, they know what evidence will be admitted in court and can hire expert witnesses to support your claims.
  • If you don’t stay on top of your case, it may be barred by a statute of limitations. You only have so long to file a lawsuit and a court will not accept your case just because you did not understand the law.
  • If you sign an agreement with the insurance company, you are likely stuck with it. If you later realize that your case should have been worth more, you may have already signed away your rights to pursue a larger claim.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • In order to get the most from an insurance company after a car accident, you need to pay close attention to detail. Make sure you have clear records and evidence that the car accident was another party’s fault. Review any settlement agreement carefully and only sign when you are confident you understand exactly what you are getting and what rights you are giving up.

    It is also vital that you research the statute of limitations in your state so you don’t miss deadlines to file a lawsuit, if necessary.

  • In your demand letter, you should outline the pain and suffering you have experienced. Support your claims with medical records and witness statements where possible.

    Pain and suffering is a non-economic damage that is difficult to measure. Insurance companies sometimes have their own measures for deciding how much to offer you in compensation for pain and suffering but are rarely willing to share this information.

    Personal injury lawyers often have experience quantifying pain and suffering claims, which is why having a lawyer advocate for you could result in a higher settlement.

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