When accidents happen and you are injured, you deserve the maximum recovery the law permits. For an injury of any severity, you could face mounting bills for hospitalization, doctor visits, therapy, assistive devices, and medications. You’ll lose money every day you can’t do your job. You may suffer PTSD or be unable to care for your family.
The financial burdens of injuries are considerable, and insurance companies know it. So when you are hurt and worried about paying your bills, you are especially vulnerable to their tactics. You may be tempted to settle your case by accepting their initial offer, even if it’s an unfair or unjust amount. The need to pay the mortgage or keep a roof over your head is immediate, and a settlement might seem like a good idea.
Don’t do it.
The first rule all victims should understand is they should never try to negotiate a settlement on their own. The insurance company will do everything possible to minimize your injuries and pay you as little as possible. Insurance companies care about profit, not people, and you may end up losing more than you think.
So today, let’s talk about the settlement process, and what you can do to increase your chances of a more just recovery.
What is a settlement?
A settlement means that you and the defendant agree that the defendant’s insurance company will pay you a specific sum of money. The sum is usually payable in a lump sum. Some settlements, called structured settlements, may provide for regular payments over time. Structured settlements may be used for victims who have catastrophic injuries to ensure the medical bills are paid while the victim’s treatments continue. Payouts over time can also be used for victims who are minors.
In return, you agree not to take the insurance company to court.
Why do you keep saying “insurance company”?
It was a driver who hit you, right? So wouldn’t your claim be against the driver?
No, not really. When you get hurt in a car accident, for example, your claim is against the driver’s insurance company, not the driver him/herself. This is really important to understand, because we’ve met a lot of people who “feel bad” suing a person – especially if that person is very young or very old or seems really sorry about what happened.
The driver who hit you, barring certain exceptions, is NOT who pays your bills. That driver’s car insurance company is the one that pays the bills. So you submit a claim to them, not the driver.
Should you always avoid settling a personal injury case?
Not necessarily. There are a lot of benefits to settling a personal injury case, and speed is one of them. Usually, when you settle your case, the insurance pays the settlement amount in a matter of weeks, and that’s a pretty big deal. Other benefits include:
- Jury trials are always risky. There’s no guarantee how the jury is going to decide your case and what damages they will award. With a settlement, you know exactly how much you will receive.
- Less stress. If you choose a trial, you will have to testify in court before a judge and a jury. The attorney for the defendant has the right to ask you questions. If you settle your case, you don’t have to worry about appearing in court.
- Jury trials are normally open to the public, including the press. Settlements are almost always confidential.
- Policy limit considerations. If your case is worth more the policy limits than the defendants carry and the defendants offer the policy limits, then there is rarely an advantage to going to trial. You may, in car accident cases, be able to claim your own UM/UIM insurance once the defendant’s policy limits are offered.
- The attorney fees are normally less. Clients enter into an initial contingency fee agreement in injury cases. In some cases, our lawyers agree to take a lower percentage if the case settles and a higher percentage if we have to try your case in court, because jury trials require a LOT more work and preparation.
If settlements are so great, whey did you say not to accept the offer?
Because the initial offer from an insurance company for your injuries is almost always low – too low – and accepting it means there will never be more money to help you get well.
For example, say you suffer a brain injury in a car accident. You put in your claim, and the insurance company comes back in a couple of weeks and offers XYZ amount of money. It’s enough to cover your medical bills and the wages you lost while you were out, plus maybe a couple grand extra, and it seems like a good idea. You sign the paperwork, get your check, and that’s that.
But a month or two later, you start getting blinding headaches. You can’t work. You can barely get out of bed. You see a doctor who tells you that there was damage to your brain that was hidden by the swelling, and you’re going to need surgery to fix it, but the “fix” only guarantees you’ll live – it doesn’t guarantee the pain will stop. Now you’re facing a lifetime of pain and medical treatment, and you can’t work to support your family.
If you took the initial offer, you can’t go back to the insurance company and say, “My injuries are 10 times worse than I thought.” That settlement agreement is final, and now you’re own your own.
The role of a Memphis injury lawyer in settlement negotiations
If you are in an accident and you get hurt, having a Memphis injury lawyer on your side can help. Legally, you don’t have to hire one, but there are benefits to doing so.
First, injury lawyers – like the ones at Bailey & Greer, PLLC – work on contingency. That means you don’t pay for anything upfront, and we take care of the costs of dealing with the insurance company. Once your case is settled, we take our pay from the final award. You never put your hand in your own pocket.
Second, we can determine the true value of your case. We know what a lowball offer looks like, so we won’t accept an amount that’s unfair. Not only have we helped thousands of injury victims over the years, we have an on-staff Registered Nurse who helps our attorneys review your medical records. Between our collective experience, we can determine the severity of your injury and accurately estimate the true costs of your care.
Third, we come prepared to settlement negotiations. We normally don’t begin any settlement discussions until we have the evidence ready to prove a car driver, trucking company, a manufacturer, or other defendant caused your injuries or the death of a loved one. This helps bolster your claim.
Finally, we can handle a trial if it comes to that. Sometimes, insurance companies simply refuse to play ball. When that happens, you may need to go to trial to get the best possible results. A review of our case results shows that we have obtained millions for our clients. While many of these results were settlements, some results were obtained by trying your case before a jury. Often, the reason insurance companies are willing to settle your case more fairly with our lawyers is that the adjusters know we are always ready to try your case before a jury if necessary.
Are jury trials always a better option for Memphis injury victims?
As with anything in life, there are risks associated with taking a case to trial.
- Juries are unpredictable. Just one juror can make a big difference. A jury might decide the defendant isn’t liable or that your injuries don’t deserve a large damage award. We work very hard during jury selection, but there is always a small risk because there a things a jury won’t be told that could affect how they hear your case.
- You have to wait. Your trial may not be heard for months, and the defendants might appeal even if you win.
- It can be stressful for injury victims. You may have to testify in court, and that can be a lot to handle. We prepare our clients for what that’s like, but it can still be an overwhelming experience.
- Litigation is expensive. Going to trial costs money. You need to hire expert witnesses, and the prep work is significant. Remember, though, that you don’t have to pay for litigation up front. Bailey & Greer, PLLC fronts the costs of a trial and takes a percentage of the award, so there are no costs to you.
Our Memphis injury lawyers guide our clients through each phase of the litigation process. Our guidance includes explaining when to start the negotiation process and when you should consider having a jury decide your case.
At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our Memphis personal injury lawyers have a strong track record of success. We explain how the settlement process works and when a jury trial is advisable. To discuss your accident claim with a caring experienced trial lawyer in Memphis or Jackson, call us at 901-475-7434 or fill out our contact form to make an appointment.
Since graduating magna cum laude in 2005 from the University of Memphis School of Law, Thomas has helped make a difference in the lives of victims of serious personal injury, wrongful death, and professional negligence. Thomas has extensive trial experience in both state and federal court. Among other victories in the courtroom, Thomas obtained several impressive jury verdicts and settlements
Read more about Thomas R. Greer