Most injured victims resolve their personal injury claims through negotiation. Other alternatives exist, of course—such as a trial, mediation, and arbitration. Negotiation remains the most popular means of resolution because it is usually the most efficient way to achieve a private settlement. At least 95% of all pending lawsuits end in a private settlement.
Stage 1: Information Gathering
You can’t negotiate a claim until you understand it. When you begin your initial case consultation with a personal injury lawyer, the lawyer knows nothing about your case. The lawyer will want to know whether your claim will stand up to legal scrutiny and how much it is worth.
To this end, the lawyer will ask you questions and listen to your story. They may ask you to bring documents or photographs (of the accident scene, for example) to the consultation. Don’t worry about costs. Most personal injury lawyers will take their legal fee out of your settlement or judgment as a pre-agreed percentage of your compensation. You won’t need a dime upfront.
The Preliminary Investigation
Your lawyer will probably need to perform a preliminary investigation before they notify the at-fault party of your claim. This investigation might include:
- Visiting the scene of the accident and taking photos;
- Interviewing witnesses;
- Obtaining a copy of any police report;
- Obtaining copies of your medical records; and
- Contacting expert witnesses, especially for complex claims such as product liability and cases of catastrophic injury.
Some of the evidence you need might be in the hands of the at-fault party.
Placing a Value on Your Claim
It might be impossible to place a precise value on your claim early in the claim resolution process. Ideally, you should wait until you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI), as certified by your doctor, before placing a dollar value on your claim. MMI is the point where further medical treatment is unlikely to benefit you. This might mean you made a full recovery, or it might mean you are permanently disabled.
If you are permanently disabled, you must estimate your lifetime medical expenses. If you cannot return to your previous job, you will need to estimate your lifetime lost earnings. You might need an expert witness to help you prove these amounts.
Step 2: Bargaining
You will probably be bargaining with an insurance adjuster. Otherwise, you may be bargaining with a member of the corporate legal department.
Either way, you will probably be facing an expert negotiator. You will need an expert negotiator on your side too. In other words, a skilled personal injury lawyer. Once you hire a lawyer, have them send a letter to the opposing party to direct all further correspondence through your lawyer, not you.
The Demand Letter
Your lawyer should draft and send a demand letter to the party responsible for paying your claim. This usually doesn’t mean the at-fault party. It means your own PIP insurance company (for most car accidents) or another insurance company. Suppose you suffer a dog bite. You might file a claim against the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy.
The demand letter should provide the basic facts of the accident, explain why the other party was at fault, and demand the payment of compensation. Some lawyers prefer to insert a precise dollar amount in a demand letter, while others don’t.
The Reservation of Rights Letter
The insurance company will reply with a standard “reservation of rights” letter, where they reserve the right to deny your claim if their investigation finds it to be without merit. This letter is a formality that shouldn’t concern you.
Step 3: Hardball Tactics
If the opposing party is stubborn, you might have to resort to certain hardball tactics that often get results. Following are some of the most effective tactics.
File a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit will show the other party you mean business, beat the statute of limitations deadline, and get you access to the pretrial discovery evidence-gathering process.
File a Bad Faith Insurance Claim
If the insurance company uses unfair or dishonest negotiation tactics or tries to bully you, you can file a “bad faith insurance” claim against the insurance company. A bad faith insurance claim is an additional claim beyond the personal injury claim that led you to negotiate in the first place. A bad faith insurance claim can be good leverage in a personal injury claim.
Step 4: Drafting a Settlement Agreement
Once you hammer out a settlement, you need to put it into writing and have both parties sign it. The exact wording of the agreement is critical. Your lawyer should either draft the settlement agreement themselves or carefully review it before you sign it.
Don’t Try To Handle a Large Personal Injury Claim on Your Own
No lawyer can guarantee the results of the claim settlement process. It is a fact, however, that injury victims represented by lawyers usually walk away with far more compensation than unrepresented victims. Don’t settle for less than what you deserve to contact an experienced Fort Walton Beach personal injury lawyer.
At Brannon & Brannon Personal Injury Attorneys, our goal is to get you the most money possible for your personal injury case. Your initial consultation is free. Contact us at (850) 863-5297 to schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced Fort Walton Beach personal injury attorney.