How to Avoid Going Broke If You’re Hurt in a Car Crash

Note: This article was updated with the latest numbers, percentages and statistics on February 25, 2021. No one believes it will happen to them. Still, the fact is that millions of people face huge medical bills and other expenses after car accidents each year. If you think recovering from a car crash injury is difficult, just imagine the pain unpaid medical bills can cause.

In many cases, you can file an insurance claim to recover lost wages and medical bill costs. However, not every case ends with a neat resolution. Sometimes, the responsible driver doesn’t have adequate insurance coverage. (Or their insurance provider refuses to cover your medical and property damages.)

Things can get complicated, which is why you may need to file a personal injury claim instead. When this happens, a lawyer who specializes in recovering car crash damages may help you avoid significant financial hardship. Here’s why:

Catastrophic Medical Debt Can Lead to Bankruptcy

Uninsured trauma patients are at risk for incurring catastrophic medical debt, according to an April 2017 Annals of Surgery study. More specifically, almost 71% of uninsured ER patients aged 18-64 face financial hardship over medical expenses.

You’ve probably heard the statistic: Unexpected medical costs drive more bankruptcy filings in the U.S. than other types of debt.

If your car crash results in expensive doctor’s bills, you should act quickly to recover any funds you’re owed. Skipping or avoiding this step could mean the difference between bankruptcy and life as usual after recovering from injuries.

Car Crash Injuries Produce the Bulk of PI Claims

The biggest car crash-related expense isn’t property damage or even high medical bills. No, it’s “lost quality of life,” according to the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Lost quality of life accounts for fully 71% of car crash costs that involve injuries. Expenses like physical therapy and lingering pain from whiplash would also fall under the “lost quality of life” umbrella.

  • The responsible party’s vehicle insurance policy only covers 54% of car crash expenses, on average, after an accident. It likely won’t cover things like physical therapy sessions, which can be crucial for recovery from many car accident injuries.
  • A personal injury claim can recover much more (ideally, 100%!) of your medical, lost wages and quality of life costs.

Car Crash Injuries Include Many Unexpected Costs

And car crash victims are often too quick to settle for a payout from the responsible driver’s insurance company. That’s because the settlement won’t fully account for all costs that come up in the wake of an accident. After all, most people don’t experience more than one major car accident in their lives. Without an experienced lawyer to fight for you, there’s no way to recover additional unexpected costs down the road. Many of these surprise items could lead to major financial pain a few months or years later.

Here are a few things you need to consider:

  • Higher insurance premiums. Drivers who file insurance claims for accidents see their premiums increase 44.1%, on average, according to a 2017 and Quadrant Information Services study.
  • Lost wages. You can usually get three months’ lost wages repaid through car insurance settlements. But that’s only true if you or the at-fault driver has liability bodily injury, uninsured/underinsured motorist or personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Also, three months is the maximum timeframe most insurers will cover. Whiplash injuries typically take 60+ months to fully recover from, for comparison’s sake.
  • Secondary expenses. Chronic pain is incredibly common for those hurt in a car crash. Of course, physical therapy can help speed the recovery process — but it costs money.

A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help Maximize Your Recovered Damages

The average court-awarded payout for personal injury cases in 2015 was $64,761, according to the Civil Justice Initiative’s annual report. It also shows that 92% of settlements went to plaintiffs with attorneys. Vehicle-related accidents make up the majority of personal injury cases in the United States.

While purchasing good car insurance is an important first step in protecting yourself after a serious auto accident, a personal injury lawyer can help you avoid financial hardship if the crash wasn’t your fault.

Can’t Work for More Than A Year Due to Your Injuries? Apply for Disability Benefits

Recovering from your car crash injuries can take longer than some people expect. And while a personal injury attorney gives you the best chance to recoup all your costs, taking a year off work (or longer) makes covering that lost income your top priority.

Applying for Social Security disability is often the best way for you to take time off without stressing about lost income. If you can answer “yes” to each question below, then you may qualify for SSD benefits:

  • Have you worked 5 in the last 10 years full-time in a job that withheld FICA taxes? If you’re not sure, just check your last pay statement. You should see a line that says “FICA” or “Social Security taxes” somewhere in your withholdings section.
  • Do you need to stop working for at least 12 months to recover? If your doctor says you’ll get well enough to go back to work any sooner, you might not qualify.
  • Are you at least 18 years old, but younger than 65? You need to be a working-age American in order to qualify for SSD benefits.

In addition to the above, you cannot currently receive any Social Security benefits to qualify for SSD. If that sounds like your situation, you can start the application process online right now using this form.

Related: 5 Things An Auto Accident Lawyer Will Do For You

Laura Schaefer

Laura Schaefer is the author ofThe Teashop Girls,The Secret Ingredient, andLittler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at and