Personal injury lawsuits that involve review of medical records, medical claims review and other formalities can be quite complicated. Depositions, court dates, meetings between lawyers and clients, medical record retrieval – all these require a considerable amount of time and work. Most cases are settled out of court to prevent a long drawn out trial. But do these cases settle for a fair amount? The plaintiff may end up settling the case for a lot less than the case is worth. Sometimes the defense may pay a premium to resolve the case. It is important therefore to know whether the settlement offer being made is adequate.
Here are some factors to consider.
- Damages: In a personal injury lawsuit, damages include all medical expenses, lost work and other financial losses caused by the defendant. It also includes compensation for the plaintiff’s physical and emotional pain and suffering. Punitive damages may be available if the defendant has acted intentionally or very negligently. Based on the facts of the case, tangible damages such as medical expenses may not be that high, but the plaintiff’s potential compensation for physical and/or emotional pain could be very high. Emotional damages are typically calculated as 2 – 3 times the medical bills. A good settlement would be 3 – 5 times the medical bills incurred whereas 1.5 times the medical bill amount would be a bad settlement. Consider whether the settlement amount would cover all medical bills – present and future. Punitive damages could be higher if the defendant is very well-off since punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant. A very wealthy defendant may offer to settle for a bigger amount if the plaintiff has evidence of serious wrongdoing on the part of the former.
The plaintiff must be compensated for the hours of work he/she misses and wages lost. Plaintiffs should therefore document every day that they missed work. If the plaintiff works on a commission system, on an hourly or salary basis, he/she must make sure to document the average commissions they would have made during the time they were away from work.
- Liability of the defendant: This is a very important consideration. If the defendant is clearly at fault, a settlement offer should not be decreased because of the risk of losing the case. If more than one entity is responsible for the fault, any settlement offer made must account for that fault.
- Whether the value of an automotive (in a car accident case) has been paid off via the settlement: The value of a car can change significantly which makes it challenging to arrive at a fair settlement value for a car that is a “write-off.” If the plaintiff has a lease and his/her car is totally damaged, they have to pay off the balance of the lease and the balance of their car. Based on the amount of down payment the plaintiff used, the insurance company may value the car at a lower value than expected. Any good settlement will be one that can pay off the total value of the car.
- Court jurisdiction: Certain jurisdictions have jury pools that are more conservative or liberal than others. Liberal juries would award more money to injured persons. If the court where the case is pending draws from a more liberal jury pool, the settlement offer should take that factor into consideration by being on the upper end of the range of possible judgments.
- How long the plaintiff is willing to wait: A defendant who knows that the plaintiff and his/her attorney are willing to wait as long as it takes to recover the maximum amount of money, then they may be more willing to settle for a higher amount.
Personal injury attorneys take into account the various facets of the case before advising their clients. Utilizing medical review services they determine the medical aspects of the case and arrive at a fair settlement amount, also taking into consideration the emotional aspects involved. If the case is ambiguous in some way or another, both plaintiff and defendant may not be totally confident of winning it. During the pre-litigation stage, when a clearer idea is obtained regarding the possible outcome, the parties concerned may be more likely to agree on a satisfactory settlement.