If you have never been injured in a car accident or dealt with a lawyer involved in a personal injury claim or law suit, you have likely never been involved in the steps necessary in negotiating personal injury settlement. There is a particular process to settlement of a personal injury claim and unless you have been through the process before or trained to handle the claims process, you probably don’t know much about how the settlement process works.
In negotiating injury settlements, there are many pitfalls. It is always recommended that you retain the services of a personal injury lawyer / accident lawyer to advise you on every step of a personal injury claim arising out of a car accident or any other type of accident such as a general negligence claim, a slip and fall or trip and fall.
There are basic rules and procedures to follow when advancing a claim for compensation arising out of an accident. The initial step is to meet with and hire an accident lawyer – injury lawyer who will write a “demand letter” or “notice letter” which places the person at fault for the accident on notice of a claim being advanced for compensation. In a way, that initial letter formally starts the negotiating process because the insurance company involved will determine based on the basic facts if the claim has any merit at first instance. The initial letter should provide sufficient information to allow the insurance adjuster to commence an investigation into the accident and set aside a reasonable reserve of money to allow for fair compensation to be paid, if liability is accepted and settlement is possible. The letter should provide a concise summary of the basics facts of the person injured and of the accident, list injuries sustained, identify the person at fault and notify the person that compensation is being sought on certain legal grounds, usually on the grounds of negligence.
The demand or notice letter is the starting point to a series of communications between the insurance adjuster and you or your accident lawyer. The initial letter is important and is likely to be referred to at various points in the claims process. In some jurisdictions, pre-judgment interest runs from the date of the initial demand letter. It is recommended that the amount of compensation claimed is never revealed in the initial demand or notice letter. Rather, notice that certain types of damages are sought is sufficient. It is unlikely in any event that the amount of compensation sought is known since at the early stages, injuries have not yet healed and it would be impossible to quantify the compensation. When the injuries and impact on the injured person are fully known, commencing negotiation on the amount of compensation is possible. Remember that an insurance adjuster will never offer a settlement that is more that you request, so it is important that the letter seeking specific amounts of compensation is tendered only when all the facts are fully known and injuries have reached maximum recovery or what is sometimes called “crystallization” (i.e. injury will never get better or worse – maximum recovery has occurred).
Generally, the insurance adjuster will provide a counter-offer which will be lower than your offer. A series of negotiating telephone conversations or letters between your accident lawyer and the insurance adjuster will follow. In response to a counter-offer, it is important to lay out the strengths of your case and the weaknesses of the opposing party’s case as well as address any problematic issues about your case.
In the end, the amount of compensation will depend on many factors such as the quality of your personal injury lawyer, quality of the evidence in support of your case, the types and extent of injuries sustained, quality of supporting documents for each head of damages claimed, quality of any experts retained and quality of their reports and degree of the past, present and future impact of the injuries on your life. Calculating what is fair and reasonable is not easy but a reputable and experienced personal injury lawyer can provide a fairly accurate range for settlement purposes, based on review of your entire file, experience and legal research. Your accident lawyer’s job, in part, is to obtain the highest possible settlement for you based on the facts of your case.
Regardless of the strengths and weaknesses of your case, if you were injured because of the negligence of another person, your case will very likely settle if the proper steps to negotiating a personal injury settlement are followed. The steps outlined in this brief article is by no means exhaustive. There are dozens of other steps which are needed and followed to maximize a personal injury case and ensure fair and reasonable compensation is obtained. An experienced personal injury and accident lawyer will follow all the necessary steps to reach settlement and each case is different – some involve more work and steps than others.