Settlement amounts after an auto accident can be confusing for anyone who has never gone through the process before. The insurance company will send adjusters to examine the scene of the accident as well as your vehicle and determine what you should receive in damages. This is often done before the injury to yourself or other occupants of the vehicle has been properly addressed.
It might seem that this response is meant to help the accident victim even before a formal claim has been filed and often before treatment has been finalized. That is not necessarily the case. The insurer may even make an offer to settle the case. Since accident victims are worried, they may unwittingly accept a low ball amount, ending any claim to the actual compensation they deserve.
Why Do Cases Settle?
Since so many cases settle before trial, it is important to understand why this happens. Both insurers and plaintiff’s attorneys know approximately what a just settlement amount will be. However, it is not always possible for both sides to arrive at that number. The reason cases do settle is that both the plaintiff and the defendant worry about what might occur at trial.
For some plaintiffs, going to trial might mean that the jury decides in the defendant’s favor and awards low damages. Alternatively, the defendant might worry that the outcome will be much higher than a settlement might have been. In the end, these concerns push both sides to arrive at an adequate compensation amount.
How Does the Settlement Process Work?
Settlement can occur before a claim is filed. In this case, both parties agree to a settlement amount, which is documented in a release form that the plaintiff signs, after which a settlement check is rendered. Out of this, all medical expenses, lost wages and other costs are paid. In other cases, the matter has already entered litigation. The plaintiff’s and defendant’s attorneys will negotiate to reach what both sides agree is a fair amount.
Generally, there are some back and forth offers before a consensus is reached. As with pre-litigation settlements, a letter of agreement is drafted and executed before the payout is rendered. Once the plaintiff signs the settlement papers, he or she can make no further claims against the defendant in this matter. Even if additional expenses arise for medical treatment, they cannot be compensated.
Negotiating a Settlement in an Auto Accident Case
Although both sides in a settlement know what the settlement amount should be, there is usually a good deal of arbitration to reach the award both sides are willing to receive or pay. Essentially, the negotiation process is the way attorneys for the defendant and the plaintiff test the limits the other has imposed on itself. In the initial statement of damages your attorney sends to the insurance company or defendant, the amount will be higher than any offer the other side has made.
The defendant’s lawyer or their insurer will more than likely disallow some of the claims or argue about their client’s liability and offer a counter offer. The plaintiff’s attorney will respond to this offer and might even slightly lower their original demand. In turn, the defendant will increase their offer or stand pat. If no agreement can be reached, the case may proceed to trial.
Is There Any Recourse for the Plaintiff If Additional Costs Arise?
No. As explained above, the settlement agreement is final. Usually, it will include a waiver of California Civil Code 1542, which allows for concealed damages. This code says that a general release does not extend to claims for damages that were unknown to the parties prior to signing the release. By instituting a waiver to this code in the settlement agreement, no further claims can be made. It is important to have an attorney thoroughly read the settlement papers before signing them. Once approved, the paperwork stands.
What Can an Auto Accident Attorney Do For You?
Insurers try to use the plaintiff’s pain and worry against them when trying to offer an initial settlement that is far too low. Since accident victims are worried about their medical debt and the inability to work that takes its toll on the family, many times, even an inadequate offer seems advantageous.
An experienced auto accident lawyer can review the proposal, make adjustments based on need and negotiate a higher amount. If the company is reticent to do this, the attorney can take the case to trial. Even the hint that a plaintiff is willing to take the matter before a jury, mainly if the case is strong, puts pressure on the insurance company to provide the compensation they know the plaintiff deserves.