If you’ve never experienced a severe personal injury in which someone or some organization was at fault, then your only knowledge of settlements probably comes from the media or TV. Because the media likes to report mostly interesting and sensational stories, you may immediately think of righteous, multi-million dollar settlements against “bad” companies who get punished for extreme negligence. A recent look at some news headlines shows settlements in the range of $60 million to $225 million.
However, the reality of more normal, commonplace settlements is much different. Instead of attorneys battling it out over high-stakes settlements in court, settlements are usually more like everyday business negotiations. Because many settlements are much less exciting and more low-key than what you see in the media and on TV, you might think your case isn’t worthy of negotiating for a better settlement.
The good news? Your case is likely absolutely worthy of a settlement. But let’s look more at the reality behind settlements, how they’re all about “getting real,” and why it’s essential that an attorney represents you to help you stay focused on your settlement goal.
1. How much are you willing to accept? What’s your realistic goal?
To settle a personal injury case, you need a realistic goal that’s backed up by data and evidence. To use an absurd example, if an insurance company is willing to give you $5,000 to settle and you angrily demand $2,000,000, then your goal is not realistic. An unrealistic settlement goal jeopardizes your chance of getting the compensation you deserve. You cannot just throw out a random high number in the hopes that an insurance company or business will pay more. However, if it’s clear that your medical expenses are $5,000 and the insurance company is only offering you $1,000 as a settlement, there is probably room to negotiate for a higher settlement. An attorney will help you figure out a realistic goal based on their extensive experience in similar cases.
2. What is the total of your to date and estimated future expenses?
To help set your realistic goal, you need to get together all of your expenses to date and estimate your future expenses. That includes:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages and other costs due to missed work
- Pain and suffering costs
Collecting this documentation is essential to know if companies are offering you a low settlement, and an attorney will help you collect what you need.
3. What are the severity of your injuries?
With the help of your attorney, you also need to document the severity of your injuries through medical records and reports. The more severe your injuries, the greater chance of receiving a higher settlement. But insurance companies will easily dismiss the severity of the injuries you claim without proper documentation.
And while this post focuses on personal injuries, not property damage, you still want to take property damage into account—especially for a motor vehicle accident. For example, if you claim $20,000 in medical expenses but only sustained $500 in damage to your vehicle, the insurance company will probably not pay for your medical expenses unless other circumstances justify those high expenses. Documenting the amount of damage to your vehicle is a very important part of negotiating a settlement.
4. Who is at fault, and what’s the extent of their fault?
You will need to clearly show that another person or company was clearly liable for your injury through police records, court records, and other evidence. Without clear fault, it’s much easier for insurance companies or businesses to offer a much lower settlement. If possible, an attorney will help you establish clear-cut fault and liability that will add to your evidence supporting a higher settlement.
5. Do you know when it’s the right time to settle?
Remember, the goal of settlement isn’t to get revenge or try to get an unrealistic amount of money out of spite. Once the insurance company or business gives you what you want, take it. That’s literally what “settling” means. Consider it a victory. You won. However, don’t just take the first thing offered out of desperation or think that if you reject the first offer that you won’t get anything. Insurance companies and lawyers representing businesses will often toss out a low figure early on to see if you’re desperate enough to take it. Don’t. That’s why it’s essential have an attorney guide you through negotiations, as they will know when a company is giving you a lowball figure.
As a final note, know that insurance companies will use mathematical formulas to help them figure out how much they will pay you, but these formulas often tend to simplify cases and compare dissimilar cases like apples to oranges. It’s your thorough evidence and attorney’s negotiating skills that will best help your case. Only an attorney will guarantee that you are best prepared to maximize your settlement.
Going through a case that’s leading to a settlement? Give us a call today for a free consultation.