Breaking Down Your Car Accident Settlement

Being in a car accident is bad enough; being injured, and sustaining a lot of property damage, just makes the whole situation worse. One of the questions our Nashville car accident lawyers hear the most often is, “How much money could I get after a car accident?”

The truth is, the money you are awarded depends on the circumstances of your case. There is no set amount detailing how much your settlement is worth.

Today, we’re going to try to break down what goes into determining a settlement award, and what steps YOU can take, along with your attorney from Rocky McElhaney Law Firm, to ensure that you have your best chance at recovering the most compensation you can under the law. If you have questions, contact us to schedule a free consultation.

How Much Can I Get From a Car Accident Case

What types of compensation can you claim after a car accident?

There are two different types of compensatory damages you can claim after a wreck. Economic damages compensate you for the money you lost, and the expenses associated with your care and your property damage. Non-economic damages are assigned for the “intangibles” – the losses you suffered that don’t have an exact or precise dollar figure.

  1. Medical Bills & Property Damage
  2. Lost Wages
  3. Pain & Suffering
  4. Hiring a Car Accident Attorney
  5. What Is Comparative Negligence?
  6. Other Expenses to Remember

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Medical bills, property damage, and other economic damages after a car accident injury

If you were injured in a Nashville car accident, the largest bills you’ll have will probably be your medical bills. Even if you have health insurance, you still have to deal with the costs of medications, deductibles, co-pays, and traveling to and from doctors and therapists. If your car accident injuries are serious enough to warrant a hospital stay, your bills could quickly rise to tens of thousands of dollars.


An ambulance ride alone, on average, can cost anywhere from $224 to $2,204?

- United States Government Accountability Office

And those are just your medical expenses. Out of the 150,708 car accidents in Tennessee in 2018, 114,385 of them led to property damage over $400. Plus, you could be responsible for rental car costs, replacement of any additional property that was in the car when you were hit (like your child’s sports equipment, or any groceries you’d just picked up). Car accidents cost a LOT of money, and you can make a claim to get that money back.

Neck and back injury settlement amounts

When it comes to car accident injuries, few are more painful than back and neck injuries. While the amount of money you would get in a settlement or award will depend on the circumstances of your case, a good rule of thumb is that the more it costs to treat and recover from your injury, the more money that injury is worth. Herniated disc surgery can cost up to $50,000 if you don’t have insurance, but a spinal cord injury leading to paralysis can cost almost $1 million to treat that first year.

A whiplash injury settlement, on the other hand, can vary wildly. Mild cases may only cost a thousand dollars to treat, but whiplash with cracked cervical vertebrae can costs tens of thousands of dollars to treat, when you add in things like physical therapy.

Brain injury settlement amounts

Traumatic brain injuries can last a lifetime. A mild TBI (mTBI), or a concussion, might only require a few days of monitoring, which means the total costs could be limited to a trip to the ER. However, a severe TBI can lead to life-long disabilities. One estimate puts the cost of caring for a TBI at $3 million over a lifetime – and that doesn’t factor in the loss of potential future income, or any financial hardship on family caretakers, either.

Making a claim for lost wages after a collision leaves you unable to work

Say you have enough coverage to handle your car repairs and your medical treatments after suffering a car accident injury in Nashville; there’s still the major issue of you not being able to work. So even if your hospital bills are low, you’ll still have a mortgage or rent, utilities, and other expenses to worry about. With no money coming in, most families have to start tapping into their savings and retirement accounts fast – if they have those accounts to fall back on at all.

After a car accident, you can make a claim for your lost wages. If you have suffered a catastrophic injury that leaves you unable to work at all, you can also claim a loss of future earning potential.

What you should know about pain and suffering, and other non-economic damages

When you have been critically injured in a car accident, you can also make a claim for pain and suffering. These types of damages are more subjective, because grief doesn’t have a set dollar amount. If you suffer severe mental trauma, insomnia, PTSD, or depression, you can make a claim for pain and suffering.

You can also claim damages for physical pain associated with your car accident as well. Slipped disks, hernias, broken bones, lacerations, scarring from burns, chronic headaches, physical pain sustained while you waited for an ambulance: all of these, and more, are examples of pain and suffering which might entitle you to damages.

What Are Punitive Damages?

Hiring a Nashville car accident attorney to represent you

The best investment you can make after suffering a car accident injury is hiring an attorney. People tend to get frightened when it comes to spending money; after all, hasn’t your accident already cost you enough?

But hiring a Nashville accident lawyer is different for two reasons:

  1. You’ll lose money if you try to go it alone. Unless you’ve passed the Tennessee Bar Exam and tried cases in front of a jury, the chances are good that you won’t be able to effectively represent yourself. You could lose out on compensation you deserve this way.
  2. Car accident attorneys work on contingency. This means that our fees are based on you winning your trial, or getting a fair settlement. We don’t get paid unless you do, so you don’t have to worry about “spending” money while you’re focusing on getting well.

When you go to choose your lawyer, do a little research. You want someone who handles car accidents, who is licensed here in Tennessee, and who is familiar with Nashville and the surrounding areas. That familiarity is important, because a local will know about the potholes on Jefferson, and how there are always buses over by CWA Plaza, and how visitors sometimes panic trying to merge off Spring Street. Knowing the terrain helps when it comes to proving you’re not at fault for your crash.

nashville auto accident lawyers

partially to blame

Making a claim when you’re partially to blame

Everything we’ve discussed so far has dealt with you being injured because of someone else’s negligence – but what happens when you’re partially to blame for the car accident? Can you still recover damages?

Yes, you probably can. Tennessee law follows a comparative negligence system. What that means is, if you are found up to 49% at-fault for your accident, you can still recover up to 49% of the total compensation awarded to you in a trial. However, if you are 50% or more at-fault, you can be barred from recovering any money at all.

So, what does that look like? Imagine that you are parked illegally on the street, and another driver crashes into your parked car. Sure, you didn’t cause the other driver to hit you – but if you had parked in a legal spot, you wouldn’t have gotten hit. And if you hadn’t been hit, you wouldn’t have been injured. Thus, a jury could find you partially to blame for your own injuries, and therefore bar you from recovering the full amount. Therefore, your partial fault (or liability) will decrease the overall amount of your car accident settlement award.

Less-known and up-front costs associated with Nashville car claims

Car accidents can cause a lot of damage, and can cost a lot of money. Your medical bills and lost wages, as we said, make up the bulk of those costs, but there are other things you might not have considered. Sometimes, you’ll need to lay your own money out, and wait to be reimbursed by your verdict or settlement.

Your insurance might go up

Not every policy will “forgive” an accident. Even if you aren’t 100% at-fault for the crash, you could find that your premiums (AKA, your monthly bills) go up anyway. According to, the average yearly cost of car insurance in Tennessee is $1,339. After one at-fault accident, that rate increases by 31%, or $411.

But why?

  • You might be considered more of a risk
  • Your car might no longer be considered “safe” (even after repairs)
  • Your driving history shows other accidents (even ones where you weren’t at-fault)
  • Your insurance company might include surcharges (additional fees or charges) on your new bill

For example, if you hit another car because you ran a stop sign, or were speeding around a corner and lost control of your car, or because you were texting as opposed to watching the road, then your overall yearly bill will go up, which means your monthly bill will go up.

Or, if you are hit by another driver who is speeding, but you were ALSO speeding at the time of the collision, you might see an increase in your bill, because you’re partially to blame for the accident.

However, this only applies if another driver makes a claim against you and your policy. Under Tennessee law, your monthly premiums cannot go up if you were to put in a claim for damages with your own company. So, if you get hit by a speeding or distracted driver, and you make the claim, then your premiums won’t go up.

The other driver didn’t have enough insurance

Did you know that about 20% of all Tennessee motorists aren’t insured? That means that there’s a really good chance that if you’re hurt in a Nashville car accident, the driver who hit you won’t have enough coverage to pay for your bills. If you don’t have uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (also known as UM/UIM coverage), you may be forced to pay for your bills out of your own pocket.

You may need to replace more than just your car

After a collision in Nashville, you might think the cost of your car repairs stops at your deductible. The truth is, it’s rarely that simple.

  • Does your policy cover rental cars?
  • What if the only rental available has a 15-gallon gas tank, but you only budgeted gas money for your car with a 10-gallon tank?
  • What if your car is totaled out, but you owe more than it’s worth?
  • What about the property in the car that was destroyed in the crash? (Cell phones, sunglasses, your clothing, those groceries in the trunk, your kid’s hockey equipment, and so forth)
  • What if you can’t clean your house because of your injuries?
  • What if you can’t take care of your kids?
  • What if your eyeglasses broke?

A successful claim might reimburse you for many if not all of these expenses, but you’ll still need to pay them up-front.

You have outstanding medical bills

When you don’t have enough health insurance to cover your care, and you don’t have enough money to pay out-of-pocket for those expenses, the hospital or insurance company may place a lien against your award. A medical lien guarantees that whomever paid for your medical care will be paid back before you get the rest of your settlement. The demand is also known as a subrogation claim.

Many times, people don’t realize that a lien has been placed against them for the remainder of their bills. Many times, your lawyer can reduce the amount of these liens for you.

Associated legal fees

It’s true that you won’t need to pay your attorney for his or her services when the attorney bills on contingency, but there are fees that are billed to the firm that will also need to be paid. For example, before your attorney takes his or her fee, expenses like filing fees, depositions, and things of that nature will need to be repaid. Then, the attorney will take his or her fee from your final settlement or verdict award.

Remember, though, that all of these fees are collected out of your settlement. You never pay out-of-pocket expenses when it comes to these fees. And sometimes, your legal fees might be a part of the settlement agreement. Either way, these will only apply if you win your case.

Call the Nashville car accident lawyers at Rocky McElhaney Law Firm today for a free consultation

At the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm, we fight to get you the compensation you need, and the justice you deserve, after a car accident in Nashville, or anywhere in Tennessee. When you suffer a car accident injury, and you don’t know how you’re going to pay your bills, you can trust our Gladiators in Suits to put your best interests first. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation at one of our offices in Nashville, Hendersonville, or Knoxville, please call 615-425-2500, or fill out our contact form.