Anyone who suffers an injury in an accident caused by the negligence of someone else has the right to seek compensation for their damages through a lawsuit, though in practice the great majority of these cases are resolved with a mutually agreed-upon settlement rather than a jury verdict. There are several advantages to reaching a settlement with the insurance company involved in your case, but it’s critical that you understand what’s involved with the settlement offer. Your attorney has extensive experience with personal injury suits, but ultimately he represents your interests and wishes – so you need to be able to make informed decisions about how to resolve your case.
First, consider why you might want to accept a settlement offer from the insurance company rather than going to trial. Agreeing to a settlement will get your compensation to you faster than going through the courts, and there is much less uncertainty; you know exactly what the outcome is going to be when you accept a settlement figure, whereas the outcome of a trial (including the amount of compensation you receive if you win your case) rests in the hands of a jury. Furthermore, injured plaintiffs who have little experience with the legal process may find going to court stressful or intrusive, and may welcome the opportunity to have their case resolved under more relaxed circumstances. However, it’s not always possible to reach a settlement agreement that meets your needs, and the willingness (and readiness) to go to trial is an important tool in your settlement negotiation arsenal. The insurance company wants a quick and easy resolution to your case too, so you and your attorney can use that desire in your favor.
Under most circumstances, your lawyer will advise you not to accept the first settlement offer the insurance company makes. Rather than shutting down the settlement process, rejecting an initial offer is often the first stage in a dialogue with the insurance provider. Sometimes an initial settlement offer is made fairly soon after you begin the process of seeking compensation. At this point, it’s likely that you don’t know the full extent of the treatment your injuries will require, or even exactly how severe your injuries are. In addition, there may be third parties (such as your health insurance carrier) who have the right to lay claim to a portion of any injury settlement you receive, in compensation for the bills they paid for treatment provided for those injuries. Before you accept any settlement offer, it’s critical that you determine what liens may be claimed on your settlement funds, and whether the remainder of the settlement after these liens are subtracted is enough to cover your expenses. If the liens exceed the settlement figure, you could even end up owing money to these third parties! If you accept a settlement offer, you agree to free the party responsible for your injuries from any future liability for damages resulting from that accident. If you later discover that your back injury will require surgery to repair, or that your health insurer is seeking extensive reimbursement for your treatment, or that you have sustained a permanent disability that prevents you from returning to work, you can’t go back to the insurance company and demand more money. You and your attorney need to be certain of the full value of your case before you accept any settlement offer.
The parties involved in a lawsuit can agree upon a settlement at any time up until the court issues a verdict, so your attorney can continue with trial preparations even while continuing to negotiate with the insurance company. In fact, many of the preparations your lawyer will make for a lawsuit will also be useful in the settlement negotiation process. The evidence your attorney collects in the form of eyewitness accounts, expert testimony, medical scans, photographs, and other documents will show the insurance company the strength of your case and the likelihood of an outcome in your favor if your case goes to trial, making them more likely to agree to a settlement that meets your needs.
Ultimately, there are a number of factors that may affect your decision of whether or not to accept a settlement offer – not all of which are quantitative in nature. If you need to be compensated quickly in order to pay off some major debt or expense, or if you find the prospect of a lawsuit dragging on for years too stressful to deal with, these may be points in favor of accepting a settlement offer. Your personal injury lawyer can offer you an experienced perspective on the range of settlement values usually attached to injuries like yours, under the factual circumstances of your case, and advantages and risks inherent in the available options, but ultimately his or her job is to represent your wishes, and although you should listen to the attorney's advice, based on experience, the final decision regarding a settlement offer is yours.
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.