1. When will my case settle?
It is impossible in the early stages of a personal injury claim to predict when that particular claim will actually settle. Some cases settle in a matter of months after the injury while others can take years to get to settlement or trial. Your lawyer will usually wait until you have completed recovery from your injury or have at least come close to recovery before trying to settle your case. It is important to know the following before your case is settled:
- What is the total of all medical bills?
- Will any further medical treatment be necessary?
- If further medical treatment is necessary, what is the prediction of its cost?
- Are any of your injuries permanent?
- If any of the injuries are permanent, how do such permanent injuries affect your earning capacity?
- What was your total loss of income and what other employment benefits were lost because of the injury?
- Is it likely that you will lose any further income as a result of your injury?
There are other factors that must be taken into consideration before settlement. As the case progresses, your lawyer will have some idea as to the approximate time that the case may be appropriate for settlement.
2. How much is my case worth?
This question is one of the most frequently asked questions and is also very difficult to answer in the early stages. It is virtually impossible to predict the value of a case until all of the information has been collected and you have recovered or almost recovered from your injury. There are many factors that determine the value of a case. They include:
- The actual amount of all of your medical bills.
- How such medical bills were incurred; that is, from diagnostic tests, treatments, physical therapy, hospital stays, prescription medication, over‑the-counter medication, chiropractic care and other treatment.
- How much income and other employment benefits were lost as a result of your injury. This would include lost pay, sick leave used, vacation time used, loss of insurance benefits and other losses resulting from your injury.
- The actual extent of your injury and how such injury affected your daily life. This would include limitations of household activities, sports and leisure activities, and social life.
- Whether or not any aspect of your injuries is permanent. This would also include permanent disfigurement such as scars, blemishes and other disfiguring characteristics.
- Whether any of your injuries required hospitalization.
- The extent of liability on the part of the potential defendant.
- Whether there is any evidence that you were partly at fault for your own injuries.
- The status of the law as it relates to your case.
- The quality of your witnesses, including those who will testify about the incident, your injuries, and your medical treatment.
- Other factors such as pain, suffering, inconvenience and loss of consortium (how the injury affected your marital relationship).
- Which insurance company is involved in the case.
The above are just a few of the factors that must be taken into consideration in determining a settlement value. Some factors are more important than others and because insurance companies require specific documentation, it is your responsibility and that of your lawyer to provide the insurance company with as much clear information as possible to support your claim.
3. Who determines the settlement value of my case?
Your lawyer, and the firm in which your lawyer is a member, have a great deal of experience in the area of personal injury law. After evaluating all of the factors enumerated in question 2 above, your lawyer will discuss the case with you to arrive at a possible settlement range.
Once you have agreed upon a general settlement range, your attorney will present a demand to the insurance company in the hope and expectation that the insurance company will pay a settlement within the range determined.
It is important to know that you have the ultimate decision to make, but, because of your lawyer’s experience in this area of law, you should seriously and carefully consider any recommendation he or she makes as to the ultimate value of your case.
4. What steps will be taken to settle my case?
After all the investigation and research has been completed, your lawyer will keep in touch with the progress of your recovery. Hopefully, your injury will not be a serious one and eventually it will be appropriate to attempt settlement. After a settlement range has been decided upon, the lawyer will send what is usually called a letter of demand to the insurance company.
The letter of demand summarizes the important factors of your claim and is a formal request to initiate settlement discussions. After the insurance carrier’s claims adjuster receives the letter of demand, he or she will meet with appropriate supervisors to obtain settlement authority. Once the adjuster has his final authority figure, he will respond and negotiations between your lawyer and the insurance adjuster will take place.
Some cases can be concluded with a series of telephone conferences, office conferences, and correspondence. The period of time required to complete negotiations usually depends upon a number of factors including the nature of the insurance company, how busy the insurance adjuster is, and other factors.
5. Will the insurance carrier pay the demand figure in my attorney’s request for settlement?
In almost every case, the final demand figure issued by your attorney in the first letter requesting settlement is substantially higher than the actual settlement range. This is a common negotiation tactic for personal injury cases.
Because of your attorney’s experience in this area of law, a request for settlement will usually be made in an amount that gives both parties a fair amount of room to negotiate. Therefore, do not consider the demand figure to be the actual settlement range of your case.
6. How long does it take to complete settlement after the first letter of demand?
In most cases the amount of time it takes from the first letter of demand to final settlement can be several weeks to a few months or sometimes longer. In smaller, clear‑cut liability cases where the injuries are fairly minimal, the process can be achieved in a month or two usually. Every case is different, however, and your lawyer will advise you about his opinion on the amount of time it will probably
take to settle your case. There are many factors which affect the response time and the adjuster’s final offer. They include:
- How many files the insurance adjuster is handling.
- How well documented the claim has been during the preparation period.
- Whether or not liability is clear on the part of the insurance company’s client.
- Whether or not there is any comparative negligence on your part.
- Whether or not there are any other parties that may be responsible for your injuries.
- The internal claims process of the particular insurance company including the number of supervisors required to approve the adjuster’s settlement offer.
- How reasonable your lawyer’s demand figure is.
- The time of year (some months are better for settlement than others).
- The state of the economy as it relates to the insurance claims process.
- Other possible factors.
7. Because the insurance company will undercut my attorney’s request for settlement, why not request a very large sum to begin with?
Many people believe that because the carrier will come back with a lower figure than the demand, the attorney for the injured person should request a very high figure to begin with. Such a process never works. If the first demand figure is way out of line, most insurance companies will not even respond to the request for settlement.
Asking for a high figure for settlement that is ridiculous will often delay the process and sometimes will make the insurance company refuse to make any offer at all. Therefore, it is important that the first demand be reasonable at least. Because your lawyer is experienced in this area of law, he will have the best idea as to amount for the first demand figure.
8. After the insurance company and my attorney agree upon settlement, how long will it take to get my money?
After an agreement has been reached between the insurance company and you through your lawyer, it usually takes between two and six weeks to complete the settlement process. There may be exceptions to this range, but the average time to sign all the documents, receive the check, and figure out the exact proceeds for each party usually requires at least a month.
9. What has to be done before I get the money that is due me from the settlement?
First, the insurance company will require that you, and perhaps your spouse, sign a release. This is a document that settles your claim. In the release, you will read language stating that you are forever giving up your right to sue the person, persons, or company who was responsible for your injuries. In exchange for giving up your claim, you will receive a certain sum of money when the insurance company receives the release.
Second, your lawyer will have to pay any medical bills that have not been paid and may be required to reimburse any insurance company that has expended money for medical bills such as your health insurance carrier, automobile insurance carrier or some other party who paid for your medical bills resulting from your injury.
Third, your lawyer will deduct attorneys’ fees, actual out‑of‑pocket expenses, and other possible costs associated with the claim. After all deductions have been made for medical bills, possible liens, attorneys’ fees, and costs, you will receive the balance in a check processed from your own attorney’s office.
10. After attorneys’ fees, medical bills, liens, and costs, will there be anything left for me?
In most cases there should be a fair sum of money left for you to compensate you for pain, suffering, and some loss of income. There are many factors influencing settlements. Such factors include the amount of your medical bills, whether those medical bills have to be paid from the settlement, whether you actually lost income from your job or used sick leave, etc. If you have to pay all of your medical bills from your settlement or reimburse a health or medical payments carrier, this will substantially affect the final amount.
You must remember that the law allows you to be compensated for your injury -‑ to give you compensation for lost wages, medical bills, and a reasonable amount for pain and suffering. The law does not provide that injured parties “get rich” from insurance claims, especially in small cases. Your attorney will do his or her very best to see that you get fair compensation for your injuries.