Among the Indiana cases filed across the state at all levels of the judicial system, the trend is that 99% or more will settle out of court. According to the Indiana Supreme Court, in 2019 only 0.09% of cases went to a jury trial. That was 1,142 cases out of a total of over 1.3 million. While personal injury cases only make up a portion of those, settlements in injury cases are very common.
Why are settlements so common across all areas of the law? Not only is the process of going to court expensive for both sides, the outcome of the jury’s verdict is never guaranteed. However, with an experienced Indiana personal injury attorney on their side, an injured person should never feel pressured to accept a settlement they don’t think is in their best interest. Here are some commonly asked questions about the process of an injury settlement and how an attorney can help clients get the compensation they need to get life back on track.
When Is the Right Time to Consider a Lawsuit Settlement?
There are many points during the process of a personal injury lawsuit when the opportunity to settle might come up. Settlements are most commonly offered during mediation, when all parties in the case get together with their attorneys present to discuss the facts and negotiate. Settlements might also be revisited after key witnesses are deposed, during the pre-trial proceedings, after jury selection, and even during the trial. Each case is different and unique facts that emerge during the process of the case can affect the amount of the settlement at each stage.
For the injured or harmed person, the key is not to settle too early. If the insurance company or defendant believes a plaintiff will be quick to settle, they may offer less compensation than is deserved to attempt to “win” the case without going to court. It’s also possible that the full financial impact of the harm may not be known if the case is settled early. Then, later doctor’s bills, lost wages, and other damages would not be fully covered by the amount of the settlement.
How Does Trial Preparation Affect the Settlement?
At Christie Farrell Lee & Bell we approach and plan each case as though it will go to trial. This doesn’t just protect our clients by exploring all the evidence and details of their experience, but also keeps the pressure on the insurance company or alleged negligent party to consider a settlement.
Trial preparation lets us evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the case to advise our clients of their best options for settlement under the law. As more evidence and storytelling of the case become available, personal injury attorneys will be able to make better analysis.
Can I Reject a Settlement Offer?
The short answer is, yes. If an injured person has filed a claim with an insurance company or a lawsuit against a negligent party, they absolutely have the right to reject a settlement offer and proceed with taking the claim to court. However, this decision should be made from a place of reason, not emotion, and the choice should always be discussed with an experienced personal injury attorney.
Typically, a settlement is not outright rejected, but instead we will respond with a counteroffer to continue the negotiation process. This is a chance to tell the other side of the story and present evidence of why the offered settlement is not adequate. Writing this letter and presenting the evidence adequately and fully is another area where an attorney provides an invaluable asset.
How Do I Accept a Personal Injury Settlement?
When an acceptable settlement to all parties in the lawsuit is reached, documents will be exchanged between the parties within 30-60 days of reaching the settlement agreement.
One main document in the settlement is the release of liability, which includes an agreement the injured person will not pursue additional damages for the injury. This language can vary widely, so it’s important that the injured person understands the full scope of how this affects them.
In many cases the settlement will include an agreement not to discuss or make public the details of the settlement. These agreements do protect the reputation of the person or company that was sued for negligence. But it’s important to remember these agreements also protect the injured person from having people find out how much money they received.
The injured person and their attorney will counter any elements of the settlement agreement and release of liability they do not agree with. This can lengthen this process but is an important step to protect the future of the harmed individual. Once the documents are signed, they are final and binding and cannot be changed in any way.
How Do I Collect a Personal Injury Settlement?
Once the documentation of the settlement is completed, the method of collection depends on the other party and their insurance company. Some loopholes like the insurance company not having to promise a timeframe for processing the settlement documents can allow them to delay the process of releasing the check. An experienced personal injury attorney will know about these possibilities and help the harmed person protect themselves and get their settlement check in a reasonable timeframe.
The settlement check is often sent to the attorney of record for the injured person to ensure any court fees, liens on the settlement like medical bills, and the attorney’s fee is paid before the remainder is released to the individual. Attorneys are required by the rules of ethics to give a written account of how all the money is distributed. Before this statement is provided, the attorney should already be fully transparent about how much these costs will total and what amount will actually be issued to the injured person.
These are just some of the questions that come up when an injury settlement is on the table. If you believe you have been offered an unfair settlement by an insurance company, or don’t know what to do next to have your side of the story told, contact Christie Farrell Lee & Bell for a free consultation about your options. From listening to your story to fighting for you in court, we’re your advocates.