Following a car accident, the majority of claims will end in a settlement agreement – or a series of settlements – between liable defendants and injured plaintiffs. Usually – though not always – this involves at least one insurance company.
It’s imperative to secure the services of an injury attorney experienced in pre-trial negotiations. There are often a number of advantages to reaching a settlement agreement before trial, but only if you can successfully reach a deal that’s fair.
Advantages may include:
- Expedient compensation
- Reduction of attorney’s fees
- Avoiding the hassle of trial (including appearances as depositions, hearings, trial, etc.)
- Avoiding a potentially unpredictable decision by jurors
Of course, all of this assumes your injury attorney has diligently conducted a thorough investigation and carefully weighed whether the offers on the table are adequate and acceptable. There is no advantage to a settlement when your case is strong and the insurance offer is low.
A trial may be necessary in situations where insurance companies and other defendants are unwilling to make reasonable offers for settlement. Your car accident attorney has to be prepared for that possibility as well.
It’s worth noting a settlement can occur even before a lawsuit is filed, after submission of a claim. It can also be reached while a lawsuit is pending, or in some cases, even during trial.
Settlement can often be advantageous for everyone involved, but it’s imperative you ensure your best interests are protected by hiring a legal team with a successful track record of settlement negotiations.Private Settlements
Private settlements are those reached between the two parties following a crash, without involvement of lawyers or an insurance company. It’s usually requested and agreed to by individuals who don’t want to see their insurance rates go up.
We cannot stress enough the risks.
For one thing, determination of fault is no simple task. Even in a seemingly straightforward case, such as a rear-end collision, there could potentially be numerous defendants. The vehicle owner could burden some responsibility for negligent entrustment. If either of the vehicle’s is defective in any way (which is more common than you might think), there could be grounds for a products liability claim. If the crash was at least partially the result of a defective roadway, it could be grounds for a claim against the government.
Further, calculating damages is also an intensive process. If the other party is liable, you may be entitled to recover not only damages for past and future medical expenses, but also for lost wages and non-economic damages, such as for mental suffering, future pain, inconvenience, disfigurement and grief. In some situations, punitive damages may be appropriate, which can entitle you to additional compensation.
The point is, absent a thorough examination of your case by an experienced injury attorney, it may be impossible to know for sure who is legally responsible for damages, and to what extent. You may end up cutting yourself far too short.Why You Need a Lawyer in Settlement Negotiations
Even if people choose to involve insurance companies in settlement negotiations, they may look at the possibility of avoiding the involvement of a lawyer.
If search engine results are any indication, many people want to know how to navigate this process without an injury lawyer. It’s possible, but again, those who do are taking a huge risk. End results are often not what they hoped.
Insurance companies and other defendants are familiar with this process. They know how to gain the upper hand. Too many people make the mistake of assuming that because insurance coverage exists, there is no need to involve an attorney. But the fact is, insurance company interests are directly at odds with yours. They are not “on your side” or keeping you “in good hands.” They are in fact seeking to pay out as little as possible. Especially if you are seriously injured, it’s not a chance you can afford to take.
Also, if settlement negotiations are not successful, you risk being forced to court anyway, where you will almost certainly need an attorney.
If you are concerned about the costs, talk with your injury attorney about contingency fee agreements, in which attorneys do not collect a fee unless you win your case or reach an advantageous settlement agreement.Settlement Process
The first step in a settlement process is information gathering. You want to get as much information as possible as early as possible so that your legal team can make a strong argument for why you should receive the amount requested.
Relevant information may include:
- Identification, contact information and insurance details for all involved parties
- Witness names and numbers, if there are any
- Police report number and name of officer who gathered information
- Vehicle information of all involved vehicles
- Estimates from multiple auto body shops
- Medical bills and physician reports
- Photographs of the crash scene
We understand if you may not be able to collect of this in the immediate aftermath, particularly if you are hurt. Contacting an injury attorney as soon as possible after the crash is key to preserving key evidence and obtaining important information.
The formal steps involved in settlement are:
- Notification Letter. This notifies the at-fault party’s insurer of the crash, making it clear injuries were suffered and citing other damages due to negligent actions of the other driver. The letter signals intention to seek compensation for those damages.
- Reservation of Rights Letter. This is the insurer’s response to the notification letter. It will indicate a review of your claim, but no admission of liability.
- Demand Letter. Following medical treatment, a letter is submitted to insurer citing all damages, including medical bills, lost wages, other expenses and special damages.
- Adjuster response and counter-offer. An adjuster will respond to the demand letter, and almost certainly challenge the veracity of the damage claims. Often, these responses will contain a lowball offer. Claimant may at that point issue a counteroffer.
- Barter. Both sides may go back-and-forth before reaching an agreeable amount.
- Stalemate. If negotiations stall out and the insurance company or other defendants refuse to settle for a reasonable amount, a lawsuit may be filed at this time.
Call us today to learn more about how we can help you navigate the settlement process following an accident.
Contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman today for a free and confidential consultation.
Call (617) 367-2900 – NO FEE UNLESS SUCCESSFUL