By Francis M. Smith
One of the most traumatic events a parent can experience is when their child sustains a serious injury. Accident injury claims are complicated at the best of times -- dealing with doctors, specialists, physical therapists, and health insurance providers is never easy, and navigating an injury claim that may go to trial exacerbates that difficulty. On top of that, there's the insurance adjuster and the company he works for, who will actively work against your efforts to secure fair compensation for your child's injuries. Even once that hurdle is cleared, injury claims involving children have the added complication of structured settlements, designed to keep your child's money safe until they come of age. For any even remotely serious injury, you're much better off working with an experienced child injury lawyer to make the claim process go smoothly and successfully for you and your family, while you focus on taking care of your child.
In handling your claim, your child injury lawyer has a decision to help you with right away. Do you choose to move forward with a lawsuit immediately, or try to reach a mutually agreeable settlement with the insurance company? Filing suit right away has the advantage of getting your lawsuit on track sooner; the courts are often clogged with heavy case loads, so your court date might be as more than a year away from the date you first file. Starting the wheels in motion sooner means that you and your child will have your day in court that much faster. On the other hand, there are advantages to attempting to settle with the insurance company first, and indeed most injury lawsuits are settled out of court before they would go to trial. The chief advantages to negotiating a settlement are speed and certainty: your claim will be resolved and you will receive your child's compensation sooner if you and the insurance adjuster can agree to a settlement. In addition, you know before you accept the settlement exactly what you are getting; there's an element of uncertainty when you put the final decision about your child's injury compensation in the hands of a jury. In most cases, it's best to hold off on pursuit a court case until it becomes clear that the insurer will refuse to agree to a reasonable settlement that covers your child's medical bills and other expenses.
The other circumstance in which your child injury lawyer might advise you to file suit is if the statute of limitations on your case is about to expire. In most traffic or other accident injury cases, you have the right to file for up to two years from the date of the accident. Because minor children do not have the ability to pursue a court case on their own behalf, the statute of limitations when the injured person is a minor lasts for two years after the child's 18th birthday.
While it's often the case that negotiating a settlement will result in a faster resolution of your case, your child injury lawyer will undoubtedly remind you not to be impatient in settling. You should never agree to a settlement figure until your injured child has reached their maximum recovery potential, and you should follow the complete course of treatment recommended by your child's doctors. This is true for a couple of reasons: first, if you accept a settlement prematurely and it turns out later that your child needs additional treatment, you will not be able to go back to the insurance company and seek further compensation for those extra bills. Accepting a settlement closes the claim forever. Also, the total amount of your child's medical bills and the duration of their treatment are often used as a starting point to determine non-monetary damages such as pain and suffering. In addition to giving your child every medical option available for a maximum recovery, carefully following medical advice is highly beneficial for your injury case.
Most insurance companies will not negotiate seriously or be willing to accept a truly fair settlement unless your child injury lawyer is willing to take your case to trial if necessary. Insurance adjusters perform a sort of mental arithmetic, in which they balance the cost of giving you the settlement compensation that you're asking for against the risk that a jury would decide to award you an even larger sum. Insurance companies also keep track of the cases handled by your attorney, and how much your attorney has been paid in the past as a rough guide to how competent and persistent your attorney is, and that knowledge is added to to the equation when trying to determine whether a fair offer should be made to settle a case. Don't be afraid to ask your lawyer any questions you may have about the process, and if your case does go to court, be prepared for the fact that it may be some time before the economic recovery is paid.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a serious accident, please contact me or call me at 908-233-5800 for a free consultation.