Are Car Accident Settlements Public Record?
With over 15 million cars and more than 6 million other vehicles currently on the state’s roads, it’s no surprise that a trip behind the wheel is part and parcel of the average Floridian’s day. Unfortunately, though, not all trips deliver passengers and drivers safely from Point A to Point B.
Last year alone, over 400,000 car accidents resulted in nearly 170,000 injuries to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. While many accidents are minor, some cause lasting damage, distress, and pain to those involved. When these injuries occur through the negligence of another party, a personal injury claim for injuries sustained in the accident may be the best course of action.
If you’ve been the victim of a car accident, you may hesitate before you seek the compensation you deserve, fearing the details of your case will become public record. But is that always the case? Will the intimate details of your claim be revealed?
One of the most common questions heard by attorneys when filing a personal injury claim is, “Are car accident settlement claims public record?”. The short answer is: it depends!
What It Means If a Settlement is Public Record
Many people may be surprised to learn that a wealth of personal information about them can be easily accessed through public record databases. Details ranging from birth, death, and marriage certificates to details of criminal history can be accessed by anyone who wishes to search.
Both the courts and government agencies file documents in public record databases, so should your personal injury case go to court, all information pertaining to the case would be made public record. Details of the settlement figure, transcripts of arguments and testimonies, and intimate details about the nature of your injuries are immortalized and accessible by all. So, it’s no surprise that people want to know whether this information will be public or not.
So, the question you should really ask is, “Will my case go to court?”
Generally speaking, if a case is settled outside of court, the details of the claim do not become public record.
Most personal injury claims, including car accident injury claims, are settled by each party and their attorneys. These cases do not make it to court. If your case settles, personal details about you and the compensation you receive will not be revealed publicly.
It is most common in personal injury claims that both parties will agree on a settlement figure, making the process of completing a claim a relatively smooth one. With the right attorneys involved, brokering a deal without the need for the courts to intervene could be a relatively quick process.
If Your Claim Goes to Court
If your claim goes to court, then the details pertaining to the case, the nature of your injuries, compensation figures, and any other case details will be made public record.
It is less common for a personal injury claim to go to court since most are settled without going to court. On the occasion that civil cases do go to court, it is generally because a fair settlement cannot be reached.
Should You Settle Outside of Court?
Many factors determine whether it’s necessary to take your personal injury claim to court. Most claims are settled outside of court because both parties can accept the agreed-upon settlement figure. On the occasion where both parties do not agree that the settlement figure is fair, the question remains, should you go to court or cut your losses?
Sometimes, the downsides of taking a claim to court outweigh the potential benefits, leading previously unsatisfied claimants to settle outside of court despite their initial hesitation.
So, What Are the Benefits of Settling Outside of Court?
Benefits of avoiding court may include:
Your Personal Details Remain Personal
When you settle outside of court, you benefit from keeping your personal information private. With no documented testimonies, arguments, or in-court settlements, there are no details of your case that would be made public record. To some, keeping their personal information out of the public eye is of the utmost importance. To others, it may seem insignificant. The weight of this consequence comes down to the claimant’s personal preference.
You’ll Likely Get Quicker Results
Ordinarily, when personal injury claims are settled out of court, a settlement will be reached much quicker than the time it takes to secure a judgment in court. From waiting for court dates to enduring lengthy trials, it may take months, or even years, for a court case to end. This may delay your receipt of compensation.
No Additional Fees
Taking a case to court can be costly, and in some cases, court and attorney fees can surpass the potential settlement figure, making a court case a nonviable option.
But Here’s Where You Must Exercise Caution!
While it is true that it is more common for personal injury claims to be settled outside of court, there are arguments for taking a claim to court despite the threat of them becoming public record.
Reasons to Take a Personal Injury Claim to Court
You may choose to take your claim to court because:
A Settlement Offer Does Not Reflect Your Damages
In some cases, claimants may have sustained injuries far greater than the defendant is offering compensation for. This may be the case when claimants have sustained lasting damage that will severely impede their life, and the offered settlement does not reflect this hardship.
Even if they admit fault, the defendant can refuse to negotiate when the claimant feels the settlement offer is much lower than what is deserved. This may potentially pave the way for you to bring a lawsuit.
You Are Seeking Additional Damages
After serious car accidents, claimants may have a case to seek additional damages beyond medical bills or loss of earnings. In cases where car accidents have seriously affected you both physically and emotionally, your attorney may be able to help you fight for the compensation you truly deserve.
Should You Hire an Attorney After a Car Accident?
Hiring an attorney can be highly beneficial for a car accident victim. An attorney will:
Protect Your Rights
An attorney’s first order is to defend your rights. As soon as an accident happens, your rights come under fire. Car accident victims may realize that insurance companies, others involved in an accident, and attorneys can all violate their rights. By hiring your own attorney, you make the decision to protect your rights.
Stand Up to the Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are beholden to one party—themselves. Even if you have a signed legal contract with an insurance company, insurers may try to avoid their financial obligations to you. Your attorney will work to hold insurers accountable for their agreements and prevent them from twisting your words.
Lead Settlement Negotiations
Someone has to lead all those settlement talks that you’ve learned about. Your attorney will be your stand-in during settlement negotiations. They will present evidence, explain why you deserve a certain settlement figure, and combat any arguments against your case.
Enlist Any Experts Who Can Help Your Case
A benefit of hiring a lawyer is their network. Your attorney may be familiar with experts in car accident-related matters. Those experts may testify on your behalf, strengthening your case. Hiring experts does not come at an extra cost to you—your lawyer’s firm will foot the bill.
Handle Your Court Case
If your case does go to court, your lawyer will be the point man for your case. They’ll complete discovery, cross-examination, and all other steps in a trial. Though going to court can be complicated, an attorney will be completely prepared.
Keep in mind, too, that your attorney may have experience and legal training. These are invaluable assets that you may not possess.
Risks of Handling a Civil Case Without an Attorney
You can handle a car accident case without an attorney—some accident victims do. Before you make this choice, though, you should know what you’re getting yourself into. When you choose to go without a lawyer, you put the entire weight of your case on your own shoulders.
Dealing with a car accident case on your own may:
Compromise Your Physical Health
Stress can have a detrimental effect on our physical health. Dealing with a civil case can be extremely stressfully. It stands, therefore, that handling a car accident case on your own could harm your physical health.
Compromise Your Mental and Emotional Health
Stress may have a similarly negative effect on your mental and emotional health. You may also have negative reactions to re-living your car accident through your case. Without a lawyer, you may have nobody to take over when you become overwhelmed.
Lead to Poor Case Results
Inexperience, stress, and other challenges could lead to poor case results. Though hiring an attorney doesn’t guarantee you a positive result, you should now understand the risks of handling your case alone.
For many car accident victims, hiring an attorney is the safest, most logical decision.
Seek Advice From an Attorney Experienced In Personal Injury Claims
Vehicular travel is part of our day-to-day routines, but accidents are anything but routine. So many victims who have suffered due to the negligence of others never lay claim to the financial support they deserve.
If you’ve been the victim of a car accident and suffered injuries, your first course of action should always be to speak with an experienced attorney who can help you understand your unique case. Car accidents can have life-altering and lasting consequences. Having an attorney on your side could make obtaining the compensation you deserve simple and smooth.
Call Distasio Law Firm today for a free consultation.