If you have been injured in an accident as a result of another person’s wrongful conduct, you may be entitled to compensation for your losses. Most claims settle before going to trial. So you should know the pitfalls to avoid when settling your personal injury claim
1. Settling too Soon: If you have been injured in an accident, you may soon hear from the insurance adjuster for the other party. The adjuster may suggest you settle right away. There is a good reason for settling early from the insurance company’s point of view. If you accept a settlement, the insurance company will have you sign a release that does not allow you to file any further claims even if you have more health problems as a result of the accident. If you are still receiving treatment for your injuries, or if you still unable to engage in all the activities you were able to do before the accident, you should definitely not settle yet. You should not settle until you have reached a medical end point and know the extent of your present and future losses. Remember, however, that in every claim there is a limited time within which you can file suit in court. It is important, then to know what that deadline is so you do not lose your right to claim compensation. Your lawyer will know what that deadline is. You should ask your lawyer for that information.
2. Settling without enough information: It is the cardinal rule in negotiations: The person who has the most information is the most successful negotiator. When settling a case, your lawyer should have the following information:
- Information about the accident, including all police and eyewitness reports, police photographs, photographs of the scene of the accident, and if necessary, accident reconstruction expert reports
- Medical reports concerning the injury caused by the accident, and any related previous injuries
- Summary of all medical and related health care expenses, whether or not paid for by your insurance or other third party provider
- Lost income information.
- Information about other expenses (mileage, nursing, housekeeping expenses)
- Expert reports on medical diagnosis and prognosis, lost earning capacity, vocational rehabilitation, permanent disability
- Information concerning loss of consortium claims by spouse and children
- Information inability or limited ability to do activities of daily living as a result of the accident
3. Exaggerating your injuries: This is a big mistake. It has been my experience in over 30 years of practice that truthfulness is always your best ally. Insurance companies and defense lawyers have resources which will find out about that previous injury you did not tell your lawyer about, and juries, in my experience, are excellent judges of character. They are especially sensitive to people who exaggerate injuries. The lawyer on the other side knows this, and will take you to trial rather than settling the case if he believes you are exaggerating or untruthful about your injuries.
4. Focusing on your lawsuit: You should be assisting in the preparation of your lawsuit, but your first priorities should be taking care of yourself, focusing on getting better, getting back into normal activities and work as much as you can. It is a mistake to think that by not getting better, you will receive a larger settlement. The opposite is often true: juries like people who struggle to overcome injury and disability, and they are less sympathetic to people who they think might not be trying as hard as they can to overcome their disabilities. Defense attorneys understand this, and will value your case lower than it deserves during settlement negotiations.
5. Investing too personally in your case: Your case is important to you. Only you can know how much you have suffered as a result of your injury. But it is also important for you to take a step back and look at your case as impartially as you can. Your lawyer should help you look at your case objectively. The rule of thumb you and your lawyer should always use in analyzing your case is to make an educated guess as to how a jury will decide the case if your case went to trial. This is how the defense determines a settlement value, and it should be the standard by which you and your lawyer should value your case
6. Unwillingness to go to trial: As I have said before, most cases settle. But your attorney should have the experience and confidence to take any case to trial. If the defense thinks that you or your attorney are hesitant to go to trial, they will likely not offer you the full compensation to which you are entitled. On the other hand, an attorney who is prepared to go to trial will obtain a better settlement for you.