Settling a Personal Injury Case
The vast majority of all claims for personal injury settle before trial. Settlements from personal injury cases are obtained from insurance companies in order to help the victims repair or replace damaged vehicles, pay for medical expenses, and receive compensation for the damage to their lives resulting from the accident. A settlement is not the same thing as a jury award from a lawsuit. Settlements are agreements made outside of court, usually to avoid a lengthy and expensive legal process. Lawyers don't need to file a lawsuit in order to obtain a settlement from an auto accident; they have until the statute of limitations ends to negotiate a settlement to avoid filing a lawsuit. In Washington, the statute of limitations for auto accidents is generally three years. If a settlement isn't reached the statute runs and a lawsuit has to be filed, settlement can still be reached before a trial, although it can take anywhere from a couple of months to years to finally reach resolution when trial is pending.
People who have a personal injury claim usually want to know what kind of a settlement they can expect to get. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Each case is different, and there is no table of values or simple formula to find out what a claim is worth. Generally, in determing the value of a case, the insurance company and the attorney will independently try to predict what a jury would award if the case goes to trial. A lot of factors go into this kind of an analysis, including the facts of the case, comparative fault for the accident, the circumstances of the injury, the impact of the injury on the life of the victim, time loss from work, how sympathetic the victim would appear in court, and the credibility of other witnesses. These is balanced against the risks of trial and the offers already on the table. After haggling to the point of exhaustion, and with the input and agreement of the client, the attorney and the insurance company usually come to some kind of a settlement. There is no predicting the settlement amont until a full investigation is done; we have had cases that range from a few hundred dollars to many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Without an attorney, it is common for the insurance company to try and convince the accident victim that their claim is laughable and will often throw out a puny "take it or leave it" offer. If this happens to you, don't take it. A good personal injury attorney knows from experience how much a case is generally worth. Also, a good attorney will have negotiating skills and can threaten a lawsuit and follow through on that threat if a settlement is not reached. It is also in the lawyer's interest to fight for the highest amount, since they share in any settlement. It is common for the settlement reached by an attorney to be far higher than that reached by a victim without an attorney, even after deducting the attorney's contingent fee. So, if the insurance company offers you $750.00 for a rear-end collision, which sure would help in paying a couple of bills and in buying that new iphone you want - don't bite. Talk to an attorney. You may be walking away from a large settlement.
Another common mistake people make is settling too soon. You are not ready to settle until you are completely sure that you are fully recovered, or as good as you are going to get. Nothing is worse than being approached by a client who needs a back surgery from an accident that he settled on the cheap before he knew he was completely well because he didn't want to pick up the phone and call a lawyer.
Again, personal injury cases are handled by attorneys on a contingency-fee basis. If there is no settlement, the attorney doesn't get paid; generally, the attorney will receive a fee ranging anywhere from 30 to 45 percent of the total settlement. Since small cases often take just as much work to settle as large cases, it is usually difficult to get an attorney to take a small case since the work is the same and the payout is so small. However, don't make that judgment yourself - its worth a phone call to a lawyer to review the details of your case and see if counsel is needed.