Can a car accident claim be reopened? A sense of relief often accompanies the resolution of a car accident claim through a settlement or court judgment, especially when a check finally arrives. However, you may discover that you have losses from the accident you did not anticipate when negotiating a settlement or litigating a car accident lawsuit. The driver who hit you and other liable parties should compensate you for those new losses, right? But pursuing additional compensation would mean reopening your car accident claim. For more information, reach out to a car accident lawyer. Do you have the right to reopen a car accident claim? In most cases, once a car accident claim settles or ends in a court judgment, an injured accident victim cannot pursue additional compensation from the opposing party or parties if future expenses arise. Exceptions, however, can apply. Here is more information about recovering compensation in a car accident claim and your options for getting more money when you have unanticipated expenses after settling your car accident claim or winning a judgment at trial.
Options for Recovering Compensation After a Car Accident
You may have several options for recovering financial benefits or compensation for injuries and property damage you suffered in a car accident. Common options include:
Personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Florida law requires all auto insurance policies to include PIP coverage. Also called “no-fault” insurance, PIP coverage helps pay your medical expenses and lost wages that result from car accident injuries, regardless of who caused the crash.
Comprehensive/collision coverage. These are optional coverages that can pay for repairs of car accident damage or reimburse you for a totaled vehicle.
Bodily injury (BI) coverage. If the at-fault party carries this coverage, it will compensate you for the economic and non-economics expenses associated with your car accident injuries. This coverage typically includes medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) coverage. You may have purchased this optional coverage with your auto insurance policy. Uninsured motorist coverage allows you to recover compensation from your insurer after a car accident caused by a driver who lacked liability insurance or a hit-and-run driver. Underinsured motorist coverage also allows you to recover from your insurer if the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy limits won’t fully compensate you for your losses.
How Long Do You Have to File a Car Accident Claim?
A law known as the statute of limitations imposes a deadline on filing your car accident lawsuit. In Florida, Florida Statutes Section 95.11 requires you to file suit within four years of the date of a car accident. In certain circumstances, a court may extend or “toll” the statute of limitations. But the court can permanently dismiss your case if you file your lawsuit after the statutory period expires on your car accident claim. Car accident claims against the state government have a shorter deadline. Florida Statutes Section 768.28 requires you to give notice of your claim to the Florida Department of Financial Services within three years of the car accident. DFS has 180 days to review your claim. You may file a car accident lawsuit against the state government only after DFS denies your claim or the 180-day review period expires. Finally, you should review the terms of your car insurance policy to confirm when you must notify your insurer about the car accident. Many insurers require policyholders to give timely notice of a car accident, often within 30 days of the crash, to maintain eligibility for coverage under their policy. The various deadlines on your car accident claims make it critical to reach out to a car accident lawyer promptly after a crash. Your lawyer can ensure you do not inadvertently lose your rights to recover compensation by missing a deadline.
Compensation Available in a Car Accident Claim
A car accident claim can compensate you for the losses you sustained or will incur in the future due to the crash. Financial recovery in your car accident claim can provide you with money for your:
Car repair expenses
Reimbursement for your car’s value if the insurance company declared it totaled by the accident
Costs of medical treatment and rehabilitation of your injuries
Costs of long-term healthcare and support services to help you cope with permanent disabilities caused by your injuries
Reduced wages/income due to missed time from work or a transfer to a light-duty role while you recover from your injuries
Loss of earning capacity and job benefits after permanent disabilities prevent you from returning to work
Physical pain and anguish
Emotional distress or trauma from the accident and your injuries
Lost enjoyment and quality of life caused by physical disabilities or permanent scarring/disfigurement that interferes with daily activities or causes you embarrassment or humiliation
How Car Accident Settlements Work
Most car accident claims provide accident victims with compensation through a settlement. Most settlements come in one of two different forms:
Lump-sum settlements. A lump-sum settlement pays you the total settlement amount in one payment. Car accident victims often favor lump-sum settlements because they receive a large amount of money they can use to pay debts that may have accumulated, such as medical bills or credit card balances. Most car accident settlements involve a lump-sum payment, especially when an insurer agrees to pay the policy limit of an insurance policy.
Structured settlements. A structured settlement pays you compensation from a settlement over a series of regular payments. These payments may occur monthly, quarterly, annually, or according to a schedule established by the settlement agreement. Although structured settlements happen less frequently in car accident cases, parties may agree to this type of settlement when negotiating a high-dollar-figure settlement. A liable party may agree to pay more in a settlement if they can pay compensation over time. Structured settlements may also benefit injured victims by providing a regular income as they recover from their injuries and try to return to the workforce.
When you agree to a settlement of your car accident claim, the insurance company or defense lawyer will likely require you to sign a release. Under a release agreement, you agree to give up your claims against the opposing party or insurance company that arise from the car accident in exchange for the settlement. That means you can no longer pursue compensation for losses you incur due to the car accident from the opposing party or insurer. The finality of a release makes it necessary to ensure that you recover compensation for past, ongoing, and future anticipated losses from the car accident since you cannot demand more money from the released party if you incur additional losses in the future. Wait to sign a settlement and release until your car accident lawyer has reviewed it and explained the terms of the agreement to you. You should only sign a release if you feel comfortable with it. Remember that you have no obligation to accept a settlement.
Obtaining Compensation From a Court Judgment
Some car accident victims obtain compensation by taking their car accident claim to trial and winning a verdict and judgment in their favor. But an injured plaintiff still must collect that judgment once it becomes final. In most cases, a liable party will pay the money awarded by a court judgment. However, if a defendant does not willingly pay, the injured plaintiff must undertake collection efforts. A plaintiff can recover a judgment from a defendant’s assets, including wages, bank accounts, accounts receivable, or physical property.
Can You Reopen a Claim if You Have Additional Expenses or Losses?
Once you obtain a settlement or judgment against an at-fault driver or another party, you generally cannot reopen your claim against that party even if you incur additional expenses in the future. For example, after a few years pass following a settlement or court judgment, your doctor may recommend surgery or a medical procedure for an injury you suffered in a car accident. But you typically cannot demand that the at-fault party pay you compensation for these additional medical expenses if you executed a release or received payment of your court-ordered judgment in your claim against that party.
Can You File Another Claim or Lawsuit?
You cannot file another insurance claim or lawsuit against a party or insurance company from whom you already obtained a settlement or court judgment. However, you may have the right to file claims or lawsuits against other liable parties if any applicable statute of limitations or deadline has yet to expire on your claim against that party. For example, if two drivers caused the accident and you settled your case against one of the drivers, you may still have a claim against the other driver.
Circumstances Where You May Have the Right to Reopen a Car Accident Claim
In certain circumstances, you can reopen a car accident claim in which you secured a settlement or judgment. These circumstances include:
The settlement agreement contained a technical defect, such as accidentally writing a lower settlement figure than you and the insurance company agreed.
You did not execute a release of your claims against the other party.
The settlement expressly permits you to seek additional compensation. For example, you might negotiate a settlement that allows you to present future medical expenses for reimbursement.
The opposing party failed to pay you according to the settlement agreement. If the opposing party fails to send you a lump-sum settlement check promptly or misses a scheduled payment in a structured settlement, you may pursue reopening your claim.
The insurance company negotiated in bad faith, such as lying about the scope of coverage or the applicable policy limits.
Other Alternatives for Recovering Compensation After Resolving Your Car Accident Claim
You may have additional resources to obtain money for your car accident recovery, such as:
Health insurance. You might obtain coverage for future medical expenses through your health insurance coverage. However, you may need to review the terms of your health insurance policy because some insurers exclude coverage for injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents.
Underinsured motorist coverage. After you’ve settled a car accident claim against an at-fault driver’s liability coverage, you might be able to file an underinsured motorist coverage claim with your insurer to recover losses the at-fault party’s insurance didn’t compensate you for. However, you should review the terms of your car insurance policy, which may impose conditions on receiving underinsured motorist coverage. For example, you may need a UIM policy limit higher than the at-fault driver’s liability coverage, or you may need to choose between UIM coverage from your insurer and settling with the at-fault driver.
Disability insurance. You may choose to apply for disability insurance benefits if your car accident injuries leave you with permanent disabilities that prevent you from working.
How a Lawyer Can Help You Maximize Your Financial Recovery in Your Car Accident Claim
A car accident lawyer can help you pursue maximum compensation in a settlement or court judgment in your car accident claim. That way, you can avoid needing to reopen your car accident claim if you incur additional losses in the future. Your attorney can:
Thoroughly investigate a car accident to obtain evidence and review your case to identify the parties who caused your injuries and losses
Document your ongoing financial expenses to gather proof of your losses
Work with medical, vocational, and financial experts to determine the prognosis of your injuries and calculate your future needs and losses, such as anticipated medical care or loss of future earning capacity
Evaluate available options for recovering compensation for you, including applicable insurance coverages
File insurance claims and lawsuits on your behalf against all liable parties
Aggressively negotiate to secure maximum compensation for you
Review settlement offers and advise you whether they provide fair financial recovery given the circumstances of your case
Help you pursue other avenues for recovering money to assist you with getting your life back on track after a car accident