How Often Do Auto Accident Settlements Exceed the Policy Limits?

suing beyond policy limits

Policy limits dictate how much an insurance company will pay for an accident.

Unfortunately, collecting injury compensation beyond the insurance policy limits is unusual.

However, every situation is unique. We highly recommend discussing your case with an experienced auto accident attorney.

Our personal injury lawyers can help you understand how policy limits affect your claim and consult on other aspects of your case.

How Insurance Policy Limits Work

Most auto insurance policies include at least two types of insurance:

  • Bodily injury coverage and
  • Property damage coverage.

Bodily injury coverage has two limits. 

The first limit, limits what the insurance company will pay for a single individual’s injuries. The second limit, limits what it will pay for all injuries sustained in a single accident.

For example, 50/100 coverage limits bodily injury compensation to $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.

Auto insurance policies contain a separate limit for property damage. Because the policy limits for bodily injury and property damage are separate, your claim usually can’t exceed the limits for either one, even if you stay within the total limit.

For example, imagine you sustain $10,000 in bodily injury and $30,000 in damage to your vehicle in a car accident. The other driver has 50/100 bodily injury coverage and a $25,000 property damage limit.

You should be paid the full $10,000 in bodily injury because it is below the $50,000 bodily injury policy limit per person.

However, the insurance company won’t pay the additional $5,000 in property damage because it is above the $25,000 property damage limit, even though your total damage ($10,000 bodily injury and $30,000 property damage) is below the total policy limits of $100,000. The $100,000 is for bodily injury coverage.

Can You Collect Additional Damages?

Although auto accident settlements do not often exceed the policy limits, suing beyond policy limits is possible. However, you will likely have to look to other sources to obtain more compensation. 

Here are a few ways to collect extra damages if your claim exceeds your policy limits.

Umbrella Policy

If the defendant has an umbrella policy, you may be able to collect extra damages from that policy. Umbrella policies kick in after other policies have paid out their maximums.

Corporate defendants, such as trucking companies, are more likely to have umbrella policies than individuals. However, it is important to discover what kind of coverage the defendant has. That way, you can draw from as many resources as possible to ensure you are compensated fairly.

Multiple Defendants

If more than one person can be held responsible for the accident, you may be able to recover under multiple insurance policies. For example, if you were hit by a delivery truck, both the driver and the trucking company may be liable.

If each has a $50,000 bodily injury policy limit, you could potentially recover up to $100,000 between the two insurance companies if your injuries demand such a payout.

Personal Judgment Against the Defendant

Remember, the person who is ultimately responsible for the accident is the defendant. The insurance company pays damages only because they have a contract with the defendant to do so.

If your damages are greater than the defendant’s insurance policy limits, you may be entitled to a judgment for more than the policy limits. You could potentially recover the remaining judgment by garnishing the defendant’s wages or putting a lien on their property.

Bad Faith

An insurance company may act in bad faith if it denies a claim even though it knows that the claim should be approved. If the insurance company refuses to enter into a reasonable settlement that is less than the policy limits, a jury could award damages greater than the limits.

In that case, the insurance company may be required to pay the whole judgment.

So How Much Can Someone Sue For a Car Accident?

Someone can usually sue for up to the policy limits of the at-fault driver’s car insurance coverage. 

As we’ve also learned, you can collect additional compensation in certain circumstances via umbrella policies, multiple defendants, personal judgments, and bad faith claims.

Unfortunately, sometimes medical bills will still exceed these limits.

For this reason it’s important that you also carry underinsured motorist coverage.

This means that if you are maxed out on what you can get to cover your damages from the at-fault driver’s insurance, you can also make a claim against your underinsured motorist coverage to supplement the compensation you receive and to make sure your bills are covered.

When You Should Contact a Lawyer

If you have suffered injuries in an accident, you should always contact a lawyer. An experienced personal injury attorney can determine if you have a case. If you do have a case, they help you negotiate with insurance companies so you can get the maximum possible compensation.

At VanDerGinst Law, we specialize in personal injury cases. In fact, we have represented ten of thousands of injury victims in Iowa and Illinois and obtained millions of dollars in settlements. Call us at 800-797-5391 for a free consultation, or send us a message online.

Full Episode Transcript

Hi there. Welcome to Legal Squeaks. I’m your host, Dennis VanDerGinst. And before we start discussing today’s topic, I’d like to ask you to please make sure you register or subscribe to Legal Squeaks on your favorite podcast platform.

It’s easy to do and it’s absolutely free. By doing so, you’ll be notified every time a new episode becomes available. And it also helps us track how successful we are with our content. You’ll also be able to view this podcast and all of our episodes at legalsqueaks.com.

So today’s topic is an important one. It’s what to do if you’re involved in a car accident. More than 10 million car and light truck crashes occur in the United States each year.

And even though there are fewer cars on the road since the Covid pandemic, in fact, 16 percent fewer, according to some sources, it’s ironic, but fewer drivers has actually led to more speeding to the tune of 27% increase and also hard braking incidents, up 25% as well as phone usage while driving, which is up 38%.

So the volume of car accidents hasn’t decreased, even though there are fewer cars on the road. The chances are that you or a close friend or family member has either been in a car accident at some point or will be in the future, even if it’s just a fender bender.

And when accidents like that happen, it’s easy to get anxious and stress. Adrenaline can prompt you to do things and say things that you should avoid. So it’s good to know in advance what you should do if you’re ever in that situation. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

The first thing is, as I mentioned, the adrenaline can get you pumped up. You want to try to remain calm. You won’t be able to make the important steps necessary in addressing the issues unless you are as calm as possible under the circumstances.

Always be sure to stop, first of all, when you’re in accident, don’t drive away from the scene of an accident, even if it’s a minor accident, because first of all, you may be overlooking opportunities to pursue compensation if you’ve sustained property damage or injury. And secondly, you could be facing criminal penalties, especially if you’re partially to blame in causing the accident. So always make sure you stop.

Once you’re stopped, first thing to do is check for injuries. Check yourself, check any of the passengers in your vehicle to see if there are any visible injuries and then call 911 one or ask someone else to do so if it appears that anyone is hurt, either in your vehicle or another vehicle that’s been involved in the accident. If you’re seriously injured, try not to move until help arrives to attend to your injuries.

Next, you want to determine what to do with your your vehicle. Now, that, of course, presupposes that your injuries allow you to assess that situation. If so, then you can determine whether your vehicle should be moved. Ideally, vehicles should be left safely where they came to rest so that if necessary, they’re in the same position they came to rest for purposes of accident reconstruction in order to determine where liability issues might exist.

So in other words, let the cars remain where they are, if they can be left there safely, so that a determination can be made with respect to who was at fault. But make sure that you’re in a safe location, even if you leave the vehicle where it came to rest. If the vehicles pose a hazard to you or to other people, then of course they should be moved to ensure safety.

In that case, you’ll want to pull them to the shoulder of the road or otherwise out of the way of approaching vehicles. If you can, you’re going to want to also make sure that you turned the hazard lights on. You can prevent further accidents by sending up flares if you have them, especially if it’s dark out. And if your lights aren’t working. You should prepare for things like this by making sure you also have a flashlight in your car at all times so that if you do have to be on the side of the road and it’s dark, you can at least have the light, the flashlight on to make sure oncoming vehicles can see that you’re there so that they can avoid causing further harm.

Next, make sure you keep a cool head, even if you know that the other person is clearly at fault, try not to yell and become angry. If the other person does so, avoid a confrontation or an argument. Don’t assign fault and important, importantly, also, don’t admit guilt to the other persons who are at the scene.

Next, you’re going to want to document the accident. Now, what I mean by that is if your injuries allow you to do so and you have a phone with a camera or video on it or otherwise have a camera or video recorder available, take photos and or videos of the scene.

What you want to depict are the roadway itself and the nearby traffic controls. You want to show the position of the vehicles where they came to rest after the accident. And if they were moved, you want to also show where they were eventually moved. You want to show the damage to the exterior and the interior of the vehicles that were involved. You want to show debris like broken glass. If if there, if there are such, if there is such evidence of debris. You’re also going to want to show skid marks. You want to show the vehicle license plates.

In addition, you want to gather information from witnesses to the accident. The contact information, their names, what they might recall as far as the scene of the accident. Take note of any potential traffic cameras or security cameras in the in the area because they might have actually picked up footage of the accident. One thing you might want to be aware of also is that if there are ATMs, automatic teller machines, nearby don’t rule out the possibility that the cameras in those machines may have actually picked up footage of the accident.

You also want to note the weather and the road conditions. If, if you can’t take pictures, you’ll want to make a diagram while everything is still fresh in your mind or record it on on your your phone with audio, if possible.

Next, call the police. If nobody else has done so, it’s a good idea to call the police, even if it doesn’t appear that there are any serious injuries. You may need to make a police report in order to file a claim with your insurance company, even if it’s just a claim for damage to your vehicle.

The vehicles that are involved in the accident, as I mentioned before, should remain where they are unless they interfere with traffic. That way, when the police arrive, they can make a determination as to how the accident occurred and perhaps assess liability by issuing tickets or traffic citations.

When the police arrive, make sure you tell the officer or the officers exactly what happened. If you don’t know certain facts, tell that to the officer. Don’t speculate, don’t guess. Don’t misstate any of the facts.

If you’re asked if you are injured and you’re not sure, tell them that you’re not sure rather than saying, no, you’re not, not injured. Because often the pain and injuries from the accident don’t become apparent for hours, sometimes even days. So don’t say no or that might be held against you later on when you find out that you’re actually hurting from the accident. You should also make sure that the statements that are made by other persons who were either involved or witnessed the accident are accurate as well.

Be sure to write down the name, the badge number and the agency of the law enforcement officer who responds to your crash and prepares the traffic crash report. Also, make sure you get the report number. You should be able to contact that law enforcement agency within a day or two after the crash and request a copy of the report. In many instances, you’re just going to leave that up to an attorney, assuming that you do hire an attorney to help you, and I’m going to tell you why you should do that in just a moment.

In some states such as Illinois, you also have a legal duty to file a written report with the state’s Department of Transportation. Now, if you’re in a car wreck, when you’re in a different state, it’s best to always call 911 one to make sure that you are compliant with the state laws and to properly document what happened. If the police can’t come to the scene of your accident or if they have to leave before they take a report or they don’t show up because nobody seems to be hurt or the involved vehicles are not blocking traffic, et cetera, don’t panic.

Just make sure you go to the nearest police station and file a report as soon as possible after the accident. Most states allow up to seventy two hours to make a police report, but the laws vary by state. So get there as soon as possible if the police cannot arrive at the scene.

Next, exchange information with the other driver. Now, typically, an investigating officer will obtain that information for you or your insurance company may also do that.

But regardless of whether injuries are seemingly involved or if the police is called, you need to exchange certain relevant information with the other driver. State laws differ on what information you’re expected to exchange, but at very minimum, you’re going to want to get the other driver’s name and insurance information. You should ask to see the other drivers insurance card and if possible, look at that person’s license to confirm that the name and address that they give you are accurate. I’m not suggesting that people don’t give that information accurately, but you can assume that it does occur on occasion.

Also, don’t make any side deals with the other drivers to accept or pay cash for the accident instead of filing an insurance claim. Even if the other driver offers a significant amount of money or claims that they have no auto insurance, it generally creates more problems than it solves. So don’t cut those deals. If they tell you they don’t have insurance coverage again, let an attorney address that issue for you later on.

Important: get emergency medical attention if it’s necessary. All of the other things that I’ve mentioned here may not be addressed immediately if you have acute injuries that require immediate medical attention. Your health and well-being comes first.

Along those lines, don’t reject the emergency care at the scene, nor an ambulance ride to an emergency department if it’s offered or suggested by the emergency personnel who arrive there at the scene.

Even if you think you can tough it out or you can drive yourself to the emergency room, you may find that your injuries are more serious than you thought. And your rejection of care at the scene could later be viewed by an insurance company or even a jury, if it goes that far, as one: an indication that you must not have been injured if you didn’t accept that kind of care or two: you failed to mitigate your damages.

And by that, what I mean is everyone is obligated to do what they can to minimize the impact of damages that they sustain as a result of an accident. So if you don’t get the medical attention that a prudent person would ordinarily allow, that could be held against you. So don’t let that happen.

Next, make sure you report the accident to your own insurance carrier. Even if you weren’t at fault, you’re going to want to alert your insurance carrier to the accident. Many policies require that you report as soon as possible and you cooperate with with them. Otherwise they can deny benefits to which you might be entitled.

Now, why would you care if that’s the case if the other party is at fault? Well, I’ll tell you, because often the other parties insurance is going to delay in paying anything. Even if the other party is at fault, a lot of times their insurance is going to drag their feet. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for their delay. For instance, they need to conduct their own investigation and speak to their own insured. Other times they’re simply being obstructionist in order to force you to accept a nominal settlement. So you can turn in those instances, you can turn to your own insurance to repair or replace your vehicle and get your rental vehicle if it’s necessary.

And if you have MedPay, medical payments coverage, or PIP, personal injury protection, you may rely on that coverage to pay some of your initial medical bills or at least cover any deductible or copay you may have with, if you have other health insurance options. And don’t feel bad for your own insurance company, that’s what you pay for. And they’re going to be reimbursed in most instances when a recovery is made against the other person’s insurance. So be sure you get in touch with your own insurance carrier so that you can take advantage of any coverage that you have.

Also, make sure you follow up and we talked about the emergency attention, but follow up with medical care and treatment. Whether you seek emergency care or not, after the accident, the chances are you’re going to feel the effects of an accident in the hours or days that follow. Don’t delay, seek the appropriate care and treatment. Sometimes that will be emergency care. Sometimes that may require a visit with a family doctor or a chiropractor. And then once you’re seen by an initial treatment provider, there might be a determination made that you need further follow up with other treaters like physical therapists, orthopedist, neurologists, et cetera.

Also, keep in mind that if you lost consciousness or were dazed for even a short period of time following a collision that you may have suffered a concussion or a closed head injury. This can cause cognitive and behavioral changes if it’s not treated properly. So be sure to get that proper follow up.

Next issue to discuss, do not help the other person’s insurance company. You have an obligation to cooperate with your own insurance company, but there’s no such obligation with respect to the other driver’s insurance company.

That company representative may certainly reach out to you and attempt to get a recorded statement. Don’t do that. It may appear to be innocuous. It may appear to be innocent. But even though it may not lead to problems, it certainly can. Their job, bear this in mind, their job is always to minimize that insurance companies obligation to pay compensation to you. And they’re going to frame questions and information in the way best suited to do that.

So similarly, don’t sign anything that they ask you to sign. Don’t sign medical authorizations, don’t sign release forms. They may tell you that they need an authorization in order to review and pay your medical bills. However, they’re often going to use those authorizations to dig into your past medical history in order to argue that your injuries are related to something other than the accident. All information should be provided to that insurance company, via an experienced attorney who is representing you. And we’re going to talk about that again in a moment.

I do want to point out, however, that sometimes the insurance company that represents you is also the insurance company that represents the other party. So in those instances, you do, it’s kind of odd, because you do have an obligation to speak to the adjuster who is assigned on your policy, but you don’t have any obligation, and again, what I just outlined applies when it is the adjuster who is assigned for the other party’s policy, even though there is, it’s the same company, they’re supposed to keep those claims issues separate and apart.

That, again, is why it is important to speak to an attorney and make sure that you are compliant with your obligations under your own coverage, but you are not giving up opportunities to make arguments for compensation under the other person’s coverage.

So, as I mentioned, speak to an attorney. If your injuries warrant the attention of a treatment provider, they likely also warrant the attention of an attorney.

There are so many things that can go wrong when an accident victim tries to go it alone. As an accident victim, you’re not going to know what you’re obligated to provide to insurance carriers, nor are you going to know what you’re entitled to receive in the way of compensation. That creates an environment that allows accident victims to be exploited by greedy and unscrupulous insurance companies. And I’m not saying that all companies are that way, nor am I saying all adjusters are that way.

But the insurance industry hasn’t become a trillion dollar industry by willingly giving everyone the compensation to which they’re entitled. Their job is to try to resolve claims for as little as possible while they accept the premiums from their insureds. So an experienced injury attorney will know how to gather the necessary information, ensure that you get reasonable and necessary medical care or other care and treatment, and make sure that you’re properly compensated for your medical bills, your lost wages, your out of pocket expenses, property damage, pain and suffering and other damages.

To help your attorney get you that proper compensation, be sure that you’re also keeping a journal and or a file of your accident and treatment. Write down your memories of what happened in the accident, while those details are still fresh in your mind. Keep a journal that records your injuries and the way they’ve impacted your normal life activities. It’s also a good idea to keep a file in which you can store copies of medical bills and other receipts, accident reports, work records and correspondence between you and the insurance company representatives. Now, good attorney is also going to gather that from the sources, but it doesn’t hurt for you to start gathering that right away.

Also, make sure that you keep all of your treatment appointments and don’t do anything inconsistent with your care. Insurance companies will be watching. As I mentioned before, you have a duty to mitigate your damages. If you fail to keep your treatment appointments, there’s an argument that can be made that if you had done so, if you had properly treated, your injuries would not have been as, as difficult to deal with, they would have resolved quicker, et cetera. So you need to mitigate those damages by making sure that you are keeping those appointments.

You also don’t want to do anything inconsistent with your care, as I mentioned. So if you have a neck injury, it doesn’t make sense for you to try to go out bowling. And then, of course, somebody may post a photo of you enjoying yourself bowling. That’s obviously very inconsistent with your injuries and the care that your treatment provider may be attempting to provide.

Along those similar lines, do not share your case with other people. While you might be able to discuss what happened with your family, you should be cautious about talking to others about your accident, because conversations with friends or with the general public are not protected by confidentiality privileges. So specifically, never discuss your cra, crash or your injuries or your treatment or your dealings with the insurance company on social media.

So don’t post on Facebook, don’t post on Twister, Twitter or any other social media, because those posts and those comments can be used by the other side, if the case goes to trial, they can be admissible and they can be used against you. So be sure to avoid that.

I hope this information was useful. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, again, it’s extremely important that you get a personal injury attorney on board as soon as possible. I’m not here to solicit cases, but if you have any questions or need help with the car accident, feel free to contact me directly or contact VanDerGinst Law at 800-960-8529 or info@vlaw.com.

As with most, as with most personal injury attorneys, consultations are free and there’s never an attorney fee unless we get you compensation.

Thank you for listening to Legal Squeaks. Again, if you haven’t already done so, please register, subscribe, review and or like Legal Squeaks on your favorite podcast platform. You can check out the video recording of this podcast and other episodes at legalsqueaks.com. Also, please be sure to check out our other podcast, Uncommon Convos.

Look for us next week when we will have some more important legal and consumer information on Legal Squeaks. In the meantime, have a great day. Stay safe. And I love you all.

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The information contained on this website is presented by VanDerGinst Law P.C. It is not intended nor should it be construed as professional legal advice. The information is general in nature about the Firm, the scope of services we offer, and our community outreach, it is not legal advice. Please contact us by phone, email, mail, or via this website for inquiries. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please contact a personal injury attorney for a consultation regarding your situation. This website is not intended to solicit clients outside the State of Iowa and/or the State of Illinois.

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