Should I Settle My Personal Injury Claim?
Personal injury lawsuits rarely make it to the courtroom. Instead, most settle during the negotiation or mediation processes. If you are representing yourself, you may struggle with deciding when to settle and when to continue negotiations or even move on to the trial phase. There are several factors to consider, but first, you need to understand how the settlement process works and what you can do to negotiate. Also, consider how you may benefit from talking to a personal injury attorney.
How the Demand Letter Works
A crucial contribution your personal injury attorney can make to the legal process is negotiating with the insurance company to help you reach a fair settlement. The process begins with a demand letter, which should contain the following elements:
- Heading and introduction. It should begin with your name, contact information, and the date as any formal letter does. The opening is where you provide a brief description of the accident, including how it happened, the injuries you suffered, and a short descriptor of other damages.
- Claim for recoverable damages. This is where you expand on the details of the accident, your injuries, and the resulting damages. Walk the defendant through the case from your perspective and explain when and how you sustained an injury. If your accident resulted in property damage, you could also detail that.
- Allegations of negligence. Now explain why the defendant’s actions were negligent using facts and supporting documentation. Attach relevant documents to support your argument as well.
- List of demands for economic damages. Now you can make your demands for compensation. List the compensatory damages directly related to the injuries you suffered. Start with economic damages, such as the cost of medical care, lost wages, future lost wages, the cost of ongoing medical care, the cost of damaged property, and any other expenses you paid for out-of-pocket.
- List of demands for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include losses with no inherent financial value. They are just as valuable as the economic damages but more difficult to substantiate. Examples include pain and suffering, loss of the ability to enjoy life, mental anguish, loss of consortium, loss of companionship, disability, disfigurement, and loss of reputation.
- Conclusion. Now you finish the letter with a condensed reiteration of your allegations. Then, you can sign it and send it off.
Typically, the defendant has 30 days to read and respond to your demand letter. After that, they often reply with a denial of allegations or some allegations of their own. Either way, this is the beginning of the negotiation process.
How To Properly Negotiate a Settlement
You may feel eager to settle as the medical bills and missed work days pile up. However, receiving your first settlement offer typically signals the start of negotiations rather than the end of your case. If you choose to participate in talks, consider these basic rules for a proper negotiation:
- Stay calm and speak directly. Insurance adjusters can sometimes get aggressive, especially when you are not responding the way they want you to respond. Maintain your composure regardless of their behavior.
- Stay organized. Record or make written notes of your conversations with the adjuster. Then, when they ask you for anything, send written confirmation.
- Do not give up. Patience is an important characteristic to have in negotiations. It can take a long time to acquire all the evidence you need to support your claim, but once you have it, you can negotiate a higher compensation.
Remember, persistence is vital. Negotiations can get uncomfortable, and if you have no professional inexperience, you may struggle to read the reactions from the insurance company. On the other hand, an experienced attorney may recognize signs the insurer may go higher or stick with their offer.
Questions To Consider Before Settling a Personal Injury Case
Deciding to accept a settlement offer is crucial in the personal injury case process. Generally, there are several factors you should consider before you make a choice that will impact your financial health. If you are considering settling your case, ask yourself the following questions first:
- Would going to trial be less beneficial than accepting the settlement? Sometimes it makes more sense to settle than take the case to court. The trial process can be unpredictable. It can take weeks to years, depending on the judge’s schedule.
- Have you spoken with a personal injury attorney yet? Personal injury lawyers offer free consultations and work on contingency. Therefore, it costs you nothing to reach out to one and get their opinion. Additionally, people with representation often receive a significantly higher payout.
- Have you attempted negotiations? The first-time offer from an insurance company is typically a low-ball amount, but negotiating can be intimidating, especially if you have no experience. Another benefit of hiring an attorney is they bring that professional negotiation skills to the table.
- Is the offer enough to cover your damages? If the offer does not cover basic damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages, it is not an appropriate settling point. Your goal should be to reach maximum recovery to ensure you do not pay out-of-pocket for losses caused by the defendant.
- Have you taken your claim to civil court? Negotiations can continue even into a lawsuit. Check the statute of limitations on the type of personal injury you suffer to see if you can still file a lawsuit. It shows the insurance company that you are unwilling to accept anything less than fair value.
- Does the offer fairly compensation for your pain and suffering? Compensation for economic damages alone is not enough. Personal injury cases often result in significant mental and emotional losses as well. Your settlement should reflect an acknowledgment of those losses.
As you navigate the settlement process, keep in mind insurance adjusters primarily concern themselves with the company’s best interests. Their job is to poke holes in your claim for damages and find a way to lessen the company’s responsibility to payout. Sometimes they will even resort to unsavory tactics, such as misrepresenting the legal framework of the defendant’s policy or changing the policy to suit their agenda. However, they do not typically attempt that behavior with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Talk to a Personal Injury Attorney First
If you are already questioning when you should settle your case, the first thing you should do is talk to a personal injury attorney with experience in cases with circumstances similar to your lawsuit. Personal injury attorneys dedicate their careers to honing their negotiation skills and ensuring their clients get a fair and fast settlement. They understand the balance of how much your claim is worth and how much you can realistically expect the insurance company to pay based on the evidence you provided. Therefore, if you suspect the insurer is undervaluing your claim, talk to a personal injury attorney about what you should do.
The attorneys at Fielding Law are available to answer your questions. We can help you build a case that supports your claim and adequately values your damages. We handle all the communication and negotiation with the insurance company so you can focus on your health. With our team on your side, you are armed with years of personal injury experience and a tenacity for reaching the best possible outcome for the client. Contact Fielding Law today for your free case evaluation.