The overwhelming majority of personal injury cases are settled before trial. This is because the expenses of litigating a losing claim make it hard for parties who may ultimately be found liable to fight. It is also because law firms are focusing more on the serious cut and dry cases to push for large awards and quickly settling smaller cases.
When you consider the caps that some courts are engineering on personal injury claims that involve an insurance company, it is always best practice for an attorney to keep a realistic vision of the litigation. This can make the money most valuable when a client needs it the most, immediately after an accident. It can also protect the personal injury case-law in a jurisdiction from being slanted in favor of insurers with lobbying power. Let’s consider the 7 key things to consider in your settlement, below.
1. Predetermine an Acceptable Offer
Insurance adjusters like to create high-pressure situations to make you think that you only have one chance to get a fair settlement. And while these settlements may be fair and within the range that you are willing to accept, you will be apprehensive and reluctant if you haven’t put a lot of research into what your claim is really worth.
This is why you must be objective in determining the damages and the expected financial and intangible losses that you will incur as a result of the accident. Calculate a number that is in a range of compensation from minimal to cover actual damages incurred and another that includes emotional and prospective damages.
You should also be aware of any particular rules regarding damages in your jurisdiction. Punitive damages may be limited to 3 times the actual damages or can escalate sky-high such as when a multi-billion-dollar corporation has injured millions of people (e.g., large tobacco settlements). When you have this range in mind, it will be easier to determine if a settlement offer is fair.
In addition, you must consider any attorney fees and specify where they stand in the negotiation. If the adjuster is not willing to cover your attorney fees, you may want to hold out until trial, when they would be forced to pay them and use knowledge of this fact to force a better offer.
2. Always Turn Down the Initial Offer
No matter what an adjuster may tell you, the first offer indicates that they are willing to cut their losses and acknowledge that they’d likely lose at trial. Nevertheless, the textbook approach of adjusters is to offer as little as possible to mitigate the costs of an injury. For this reason, you should never accept the first offer.
3. Force Adjusters to Validate a Low Offer
If the defendants in a cause of action want to provide low settlement amounts that are far less than you’d likely obtain at trial, you must ask them to validate it. Someone who is objective and reasonable would be open to hearing why they have calculated such a low offer and why they think it is fair. In some cases, they may be overlooking a critical point or certain damages in their calculations.
Once you know the specific points in debate for deflating your damages, you can offer supporting evidence or reasons to compel a better offer. You may also admit the weaknesses to yourself and consider accepting a compromised figure to be fair.
4. Emphasize the Most Poignant Examples of Evidence
Pleading to a jury is a very melodramatic experience. Juries love a tearjerker story that tugs at their heartstrings. And because juries ultimately decide the extent of the damages, points that have a heavy emotional weight are the most valuable. Even though it is hard to quantify emotional damages, graphic evidence can force their hand at the negotiation table.
You have to persuade them that this wasn’t just some mundane accident. No, this was a case where your face looked horribly disfigured from stitches, and your wounds were deep enough to see your bones.
Any kind of inculpatory evidence that may influence the jurors to empathize with your human experience and the trauma incurred is powerful. A mangled car that looks like no one could have walked away from it, a blazing inferno, or even a story about how your family struggled with expenses due to lost wages can all work wonders for your settlement.
5. Make a Single Counteroffer
It is never good form to keep dropping down your offer. This will cause an adjuster to stand firm on their original offer in hopes of you arbitrarily reducing it again. Adjusters can smell blood and can tell if you have a Chicken Little syndrome and think that the sky is falling. They will prey on your desperation and use this to harden themselves against any further negotiation. Always wait for a new offer before you make a reduced counteroffer.
6. Hire a Qualified Attorney
If you haven’t already, you should search for a qualified attorney with lots of experience in this field such as Personal Injury Firm Foyle Legal. A qualified attorney can help to amplify your case by bolstering it with expert testimony and presenting it in the best light. Because adjusters are trained to look for ambiguities in your words to deflate the strength of your claims, an attorney is often needed for his language skills.
An attorney can also advise you on what a fair offer is for this type of claim. Although you may think that the fees are excessive for a cut-and-dried case, the advantages of hiring an attorney far outweigh any fees involved.
7. Put the Settlement in Writing
A settlement is essentially a contract. Although the language is to be simplified into common parlance to make it more universally understandable, there are always loopholes. The interpretation of contracts is strictly construed and gives profound meaning to words like “shall” or “will” when it comes to performance obligations. For this reason, an attorney is almost always needed to at least verify that the settlement is drawn out properly.