Consulting an attorney after being wrongfully injured by another person can often raise many questions: How much is my case worth? Why does the attorney need all these documents? Should I settle with the insurance company or go to trial? This last question in particular is important because it has the potential to greatly change the amount of damages you recover in your case. Your attorney can negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf, but you have the final word on the decision to settle your case or proceed with a trial. With that in mind, here are a few guidelines that will help you to determine whether or not settling out of court is a good idea. Settling is a good idea when:
- The potential damages are insubstantial– Having several thousand dollars in medical bills and property damage may seem like an insurmountable obstacle to you, but many attorneys will not take cases like these. It costs almost $500 just to file a lawsuit in Kern County, and that figure represents only one aspect of the total cost of litigating a case. The discovery process that is routine to any lawsuit will quickly swell the costs of your case, and soon your case will end up costing more to litigate than you can ever hope to recover in damages. Even if an attorney will not take your case due to limited damages, it is still worthwhile to consult an attorney to learn the best way to proceed. Many personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations to prospective clients, and are willing to point you in the right direction whether they take your case or not.
- The insurance company offers you a fair amount for your claim– Most experienced personal injury attorneys who have actually argued cases in court know that going to trial is very expensive. Everything from jury fees to paying the court reporter to paying to use the court chamber itself costs money, and that money is going to come out of the damages that you are awarded. That’s why it’s not always worth it to go to trial. It is worth considering a settlement if the insurance company offers what your lawyer thinks is a fair amount for your claim, because it is likely that a court case will lower the amount that you actually recover in damages. Even if you think your claim is worth more than the insurance company offered you, the jury may not agree. And it is the jury’s opinion on how much your claim is worth that matters at trial.
- The other driver is under-insured – It is critical to remember that having a good automobile policy is not just to protect yourself in case you hurt someone else. Having good insurance coverage is important to protecting yourself from underinsured and uninsured drivers that hurt you. There are times that a person has to settle because the other driver does not have adequate coverage and an injured person can be stuck with only enough coverage from the other driver to cover the medical bills. This is why people should consult with their insurance agent to make sure that they have adequate uninsured and underinsured coverage to make sure that they are protected against a bad driver who had no insurance or just obtained a minimum policy just to get the car on the road. Sometimes, no matter how unfortunate it is, when a person does not have their own uninsured and underinsured coverage and is injured by an irresponsible driver with minimal coverage, a person is forced to settle for those amounts because, simply put, that is all there is.
The only reason to pursue a personal injury suit is to get yourself as close as possible to the way you were before you were injured. The only remedy that the law can provide is money, and the job of any personal injury attorney is to help you recover for all of the harms and losses you have suffered from someone else’s carelessness. Pushing your case all the way to trial is expensive, and can cut into the eventual damages that are awarded.
If you hire an experienced lawyer, they will know what the approximate value of your case is and can guide you to making the right decision. It is unfortunate that many cases end up in trial because of an insurance company treating an injured person unfairly. In those kinds of cases, it is critical to hire a lawyer to protect your right to recover for the harms and losses you have suffered. Just remember these guidelines, trust your attorney, and you will be able to recover for all of the harms and losses, whether your case goes to trial or not.