Why Should I Settle My Personal Injury Claim?
That is always a very painful decision, not always but many times. There is an old idiom that says that a good settlement is when the insurance company feels they paid too much, and the injured party feels they got too little. It is usually not black and white unless the insurance amount is very limited. A case is usually worth as much as there is insurance. If you sue somebody that does not have insurance or has very little insurance, they will probably go bankrupt. There are very few Rockefellers around. The amount of insurance available might make the settlement too easy because most people do not carry insurance over the minimum amount or have no insurance. I would recommend anybody that gets in a vehicle get as much insurance as they can afford. You need good liability coverage to protect you against your own mistakes.
Get good uninsured and underinsurance. If somebody hits you and they have no insurance or only $15,000 and you got hurt badly, good uninsured coverage will protect you. I would have good underinsurance, as opposed to settlements, which adds on top of the limited liability insurance that the person that caused the accident had. Trials are very expensive, they are very time-consuming, and trials can take 1-2 years in the future to settle. Trials are very unpredictable, they are like a crapshoot, you never know they can go north, they can go south, they can get better or they can get worse during the trial. The defense will many times bring in some surprises that will hurt the case, and you never know when to expect it. I am talking about a medium to heavy injury, not a whiplash matter.
A good attorney will always be prepared to try the case because many cases get settled on the courtroom steps or 3 days into the trial of the case. If you were counting on settling and you are not prepared to try it that is going to hurt the client if the case does not settle. You will learn a lot when you have to prepare your own case, you really learn about the weaknesses and strengths in the case. It is always good to meet with the client well before trial so they know what is realistic, what the weaknesses and the strengths are in their cases. It is good for them to express themselves. I have been practicing for 50 years and I can tell you no two cases are the same. Every case has its problems. There is always something that can surprise you. Remember, if you go to trial, you can lose, plus you can wind up owing the other attorney certain amount of money for their fees.
You do not owe your own attorney any amount of money if you lose but you could, by statute, owe the insurance company’s attorneys. Sometimes, you have no choice. Sometimes the offer of the settlement makes the decision for you. If a case is worth $150,000 and the offer is $17,000, and it is just completely unreasonable, then you have no choice. You have to use dynamite, you have to use leverage, you have to use a trial to get them to budge into a reasonable amount. The defendant’s insurance company also has to be careful. If they have a good faith chance of settling the case and getting rid of it to protect their own insured, that is what they have to do. But if they turn down a reasonable settlement and are acting unreasonable or ridiculous and the plaintiff gets a good verdict, they will be subject to paying the injured party the difference between what they could have settled the case for and what the verdict was.
Many times you do not have the best cases. It is like a 3-legged stool. Sometimes it is partly your own client or plaintiff’s fault, sometimes the injuries are not as serious as you think, sometimes by the time you get to the trial, the plaintiff looks very good, they have healed well, and they are not the same person unfortunately that they were right after the accident. After the time, you will know the amount of the insurance the defendant has and that will tell you if it is worth taking a shot at a bigger number. It is very expensive. You have to go through depositions which means you have to depose doctors and question them under oath before trial. They depose your client, the plaintiff, you depose their insured, the defendant, etc., etc, etc.
There are all kinds of depositions, there are all kinds of expert reports you have to get. You’ve got to meet with your expert, and it could be thousands of dollars getting some rare expert for certain kinds of medical conditions. It can get very expensive. If you lose, that is not good. But remember one thing, if a case is handled properly, the insurance company does not want to spend money on trial if the plaintiff is reasonable. Only about three percent of your cases go to trial, and the rest are settled. Certain areas of the law will usually go to trial or not settle or settle at the last minute. An example would be medical malpractice matters. Always remember, the best cases are lost and sometimes the worst cases surprise you and become better.
You really are floating in the wind actually. You can pin down so much, but you cannot pin down everything. There are always surprises. A small case such as a whiplash, a strain, a sprain has a very limited value. I am not talking about a herniated disc, I am talking about a sprain or strain and you have to be realistic because the jury verdicts are very low in these kinds of cases. If you are getting an offer that is $1,000 less than what you like, you do not spend $10,000 to get the $1,000. Defense insurance attorneys are very good at trials. That is all they do. They play this game day after day, case after case, and they want to win once they go to trial. The defense insurance lawyers want to have more work from the insurance company, they want to dazzle the insurance company, they want to blow your case out of the water.
You are going against very stiff competition but there is no reason to be fearful but you also need to be realistic.
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