You may be thinking of filing a personal injury claim after being hurt in a car accident, a slip-and-fall, or another incident caused by someone else’s carelessness. If so, you probably have lots of questions: What are my chances of getting fair compensation for my medical bills and other losses? Is it better to hire a lawyer, or can I handle it on my own? Is there anything I can do to increase my chances of success? How long will the process take?
To help get answers to these and other pressing questions, we surveyed our readers across the United States and asked about their recent experiences with personal injury claims. Here’s what we learned.
Overall, 70% of our readers with a personal injury claim received a payout (an out-of-court settlement or an award after a trial). And for nearly that many (67%), the compensation came in the form of a settlement. Very few readers (4%) saw their case go to trial, which is typical in personal injury cases. Trials can be time consuming, expensive, and risky for everyone involved. That’s why insurance companies—as well as the lawyers helping injured people—are usually motivated to reach a settlement.
More than half of our readers received payouts ranging from just $3,000 to $25,000. But another 26% of readers received over $25,000, making the overall average $52,900. When you’re looking at these results, keep in mind that the readers we surveyed had come to our websites to find information about a claim and to look for a lawyer. It may be that those with the most severe injuries (which lead to a higher settlement or award) immediately retained a lawyer and therefore did not participate in our survey.
What Affects the Outcome in Personal Injury Claims?
There tend to be general patterns as to how much insurance companies will agree to pay in a personal injury settlement. You don’t have control over some factors that affect those patterns, including:
However, our survey results point to several things you can do that significantly affect the likelihood of a successful outcome as well as the amount of compensation you might receive: hiring a lawyer, negotiating settlement offers, and taking steps to involve the court.
Our survey showed that hiring a lawyer is the most important step you can take to increase your chances of getting compensation for your personal injury. More than nine out of ten readers who had legal representation received a settlement or award, compared to about half of those who proceeded on their own.
Legal representation also made a big different in the amount of personal injury payouts. Readers who hired a lawyer walked away with an average of $77,600 in compensation, compared to an average of $17,600 for those who handled their own cases.
When we combine the survey results on compensation and attorneys’ fees, it’s clear that readers who hired lawyers still came out far ahead.
After deducting the average 32% contingency fee reported by our readers, they ended up with net payouts that were nearly three times higher, on average, than what unrepresented readers received. These results aren’t surprising. Lawyers know what it takes to build a solid personal injury claim, gather evidence, and deal with insurance adjusters. (For more details, see our article on the difference personal injury lawyers make in money and time.)
It may seem obvious that you’ll end up with a higher settlement by negotiating rather than simply accepting the first offer from the other side. This may not be true in every case, but it’s still one of the most effective strategies for getting more money. Most of our readers (70%) held out for a better deal. As a result, they received settlements that were $30,700 higher, on average, compared to those who accepted the insurance company’s first offer.
Just over half of our readers settled or otherwise resolved their personal injury claims without filing a lawsuit or even notifying the other side that they were ready to do that. But readers who did take one of those steps were more likely to receive a settlement or award, and their payouts were almost twice as high as those who didn’t file or threaten lawsuits ($45,500 compared to $23,000).
Even though trials are rare in personal injury cases, insurance companies are clearly more inclined to make a reasonable settlement offer if you show them that you’re serious by moving ahead toward a lawsuit.
Half of our readers resolved their personal injury claims within two months to a year, while 30% of readers waited over a year for their cases to be resolved. The overall average was 11.4 months. It’s natural to want a quick payout, but a faster resolution doesn’t necessarily mean a better result.
For one thing, it took longer to resolve claims that had a successful outcome—a settlement or court award—than those that didn’t. Also, many of the factors that increased the likelihood of successful outcomes and higher payouts also increased the average time needed to resolve claims, including hiring an attorney, filing or threatening a lawsuit, and negotiating with the insurance company. (For more details, see our article on how long personal injury cases take.)
When it comes to getting the most out of your personal injury claim, our survey results show that there’s no substitute for standing up for your rights and fighting for the best result. For many readers, that meant putting their case in the hands of a lawyer rather than leave thousands of dollars on the negotiating table. If you’re thinking about making a personal injury claim, your best first step might be to sit down and discuss your situation with an experienced attorney.
The data referenced above is from Martindale-Nolo Research's 2017 personal injury study, which analyzed responses from readers who had personal injury claims, had researched hiring a lawyer, and agreed to participate in the survey. The names of any quoted readers have been changed to protect their privacy.