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Resolution Before Trial: Settlement

Most legal claims from motor vehicle accidents don't reach a jury trial. They're typically resolved earlier in the litigation process through a negotiated settlement. Sometimes, an informal settlement happens before someone files a car accident lawsuit.

Through a settlement agreement, the plaintiff (the person filing the personal injury claim) agrees to give up the right to pursue any further legal action about the accident or injury. This agreement gets made in exchange for a payment, an agreed-upon settlement amount from the defendant or their insurance company. In rare cases, the defendant will agree to perform or stop a specific action instead of paying money.

Suppose you're considering settling a car accident claim after an accident or injury or getting a settlement offer. You may want to talk to a personal injury lawyer in that case. This article discusses things to consider when meeting with your attorney to discuss a possible settlement of your claim.

Points to Consider

When meeting with your attorney, consider and discuss the following points.

Strength of the Case

You and your attorney should look at the strengths of your case. This conversation should include:

  • Jury verdicts and settlement outcomes in similar cases
  • Your chances of winning at trial
  • Practical difficulties in trying the case
  • Strengths and weaknesses in your evidence
  • Strengths and weaknesses in your opponent's evidence

Money and Damages

You'll also want to discuss damages with your attorney. Things to consider include:

  • What your attorney thinks the case may be worth in a range of dollar amounts
  • What your attorney thinks you could get in damages at trial
  • The minimum and maximum amounts you'll accept to end the case and avoid trial
  • The policy limits of the at-fault driver's insurance coverage
  • The at-fault party's monetary resources

Questions for the Plaintiff

There are questions you need to ponder as a plaintiff. These include:

  • How much of the settlement proceeds will go toward your lawyer's fee and your expenses, including medical bills and liens? In most personal injury cases, your attorney gets paid with contingency fees. That means you don't have to pay your lawyer's fee unless you're successful at trial or there's a settlement in your favor.
  • How will the settlement payments affect your federal and state income taxes? Settlements have the potential (not guaranteed) to be taxable income that you must report on your tax returns. An attorney or tax professional can best answer this complicated issue.
  • What are you willing to give up to get the case settled? Usually, there must be some give and take by the plaintiff and defendant to negotiate a settlement that both sides will accept.
  • Is there a possibility of a partial settlement? Ask yourself whether you can settle the easy issues first while you continue negotiating the more difficult ones.

General Concerns About Car Accident Settlements

You should consider some other general concerns when settling a car accident case. These include:

  • The amount of personal information that could come to light at trial or through further discovery
  • Possible disclosure of business information
  • When the case is likely to go to trial, and the estimated length of the trial
  • The extent to which your opponent is likely to play "hardball" and be unwilling to negotiate

Considering Medical Records and Expenses in Settlement Negotiations

In a personal injury case, your medical records and expenses form the backbone of your case. These documents give evidence to support your claim and determine the value of your injury settlement.

Medical Records

Medical records substantiate your injury claims and help prove the severity of your condition. They detail:

  • The treatments you've undergone
  • The medications prescribed
  • Your medical professional's notes about your injuries and recovery

These records also provide a timeline of your medical care. This can be crucial in establishing that the accident directly resulted in your injuries.

Be open and comprehensive with your medical professional about any symptoms you're experiencing. Any omission or inaccuracies can weaken your case during settlement negotiations or, if necessary, at trial.

Medical Expenses

Medical expenses are a significant part of your economic damages — the costs directly related to your injuries. These expenses include bills for:

  • Doctor visits
  • Hospital stays
  • Medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Medical equipment
  • Any other necessary treatments
  • Future medical expenses

Your attorney can use these expenses to establish a foundation for your claimed damages. Your final settlement may include non-economic damages for pain, suffering, or emotional distress.

Demand Letters

demand letter is a formal communication from your attorney to the defendant or their insurance company. This letter outlines:

  • The facts of the case
  • The nature and severity of your injuries
  • The medical treatment you've undergone

A demand letter also itemizes your medical expenses and any other losses related to the accident, such as lost wages. The demand letter serves as the starting point for settlement negotiations. It states the amount you're seeking in compensation.

Severity of Your Injuries

The severity of your injuries significantly affects your claim's value. More severe injuries typically lead to:

  • Higher medical bills
  • Prolonged recovery times
  • Greater levels of pain and suffering

All the above factors can increase the potential settlement amount. Documenting the full extent of your injuries is crucial. It's essential to have thorough medical examinations and carefully track your treatment and progress.

Insurance Claims

Filing an insurance claim is often the first step after a car accident. This claim notifies the insurance company of the accident and begins seeking compensation.

Giving your insurance company a complete and accurate account of the incident is essential. If the other party is at fault, your attorney will likely negotiate with that party's insurance company to settle. The negotiation process can be complex and time-consuming. Experienced legal representation can prove invaluable.

Expert Witnesses

Expert witnesses can offer specialized knowledge and opinions that help clarify specific aspects of your case. These experts may include:

  • Medical professionals who can attest to the severity of your injuries
  • Accident reconstruction specialists who can show how the accident happened
  • Economic experts who can quantify your financial losses

Expert testimony can significantly influence settlement negotiations or the amount of compensation if your case goes to trial.

Did You Get a Settlement Offer After a Car Accident? Speak to a Car Accident Lawyer

As a party to a personal injury lawsuit, only you can decide whether to settle out of court. But remember that opposing counsel must get the best possible deal for their client. This means offering accident victims as little as possible. Is the offered settlement fair compensation for you? That's a complicated question best analyzed by a seasoned attorney.

Contact a local personal injury attorney today if you need legal advice about a car accident case. A car accident attorney can help you recover a fair settlement for your medical treatment, property damage, and pain and suffering after an auto accident. Many attorneys offer free case evaluations.

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