By Francis M. Smith
You are pursuing a claim to win compensation after an injury caused by someone else's negligence. You've listened to the advice of your attorney. You've worked hard to educate yourself about the legal issues in your personal injury case. Then you face a point in time that's intensely stressful -- the moment when the opposing counsel makes a settlement offer. You knew this day would come eventually, but now you're faced with a deadline. The other side is expecting an answer today, and all you have are questions. Is it enough to recognize your injury? Will you get more if you hold out a little longer? Is the insurance company trying to avoid paying you what you truly deserve?
You were careful in choosing an attorney to represent you in your personal injury case. You found someone who makes you feel comfortable, and whose experience you trust. But your lawyer can only advise you. The final decision about whether to accept that settlement offer is yours, and it's natural to feel unease and uncertainty.
Many people, when faced with a difficult choice, reach out to the people in their lives who are closest to them, who they trust the most: a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a best friend. This impulse is built into some high-stakes game shows – when contestants have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, they use a lifeline to call a trusted friend or relative for a second opinion about what they should do. When you have the same magnitude of financial stakes on the line in a personal injury case, doesn't it make sense to do the same thing – to make a lifeline call and ask someone you trust for advice about whether to take a settlement offer?
That's not an intuitive answer, is it? Why wouldn't it be a smart choice to call for advice when there's so much riding on your decision?
Think about those game shows, where contestants get a lifeline call to ask for help. The contestant is seeing that question for the first time that day, and has no prior knowledge or experience to help him make a decision. Neither the contestant nor the lifeline call recipient has any prior knowledge. Both people are approaching the problem on equal footing.
But that's not the same as with your personal injury case. You have been working alongside your attorney since the very beginning, and are intimately familiar with all the details of your case. Every development, every negotiation, every point of law that your attorney has explained to you, has shaped your understanding of what's best for you regarding the settlement offer. When the offer was presented, your lawyer spent time with you and explained:
- All the facts involved
- All the advantages and disadvantages of your options
- The risks you're facing, and
- The implications of accepting or rejecting the offer
You have had many opportunities to hear information, ask questions, seek clarification, and get answers from your experienced attorney.
No friend, spouse, or relative who hasn't been in the room with you throughout that process has that same critical knowledge and understanding of your case. There's no way you could impart all that information and context effectively in the course of a single phone conversation. No one you can call will know enough about your situation to be able to offer you a fully informed opinion about what you should do. They will try their best and may have your best interests in mind. But there's only so much they can do with the limited information at their disposal. You would never ask someone for advice on whether to buy a particular house if they hadn't visited the property. Likewise, you wouldn't ask them for an opinion on a car you wanted to buy if they hadn't come to look at the vehicle – no matter how much you trusted them and their ideas. You probably wouldn't offer your advice to someone else in any of those situations either if you hadn't gone to see the situation yourself. So it's a bad idea to expect a friend or relative to offer useful advice about your personal injury case when they haven't had the opportunity to learn the facts first.
If you have a trusted friend or relative who you want to make a part of your decision-making process, the best thing to do is to bring them in from the beginning. That way they can:
- Hear your attorney's answers to your questions
- Read the medical reports
- Know what the defense is saying to counter assertions of negligence
- What law applies to your situation
- What similar cases have settled for in the past
- Whether you are in a county that has conservative juries traditionally
- And any other considerations
YOUR ATTORNEY would apply to considering a settlement offer. After considering all this, perhaps you'll conclude that there is no one better equipped to advise you than - of course - the attorney representing you.
If you or a family member has been seriously injured and would like a free consultation to discuss your legal options, feel free to call Francis M. Smith, Esq. at 908 233-5800, or contact me online or email me.