Understanding Your Injury Settlement Options
Learn about what happens during a personal injury settlement negotiation. Find out how to press charges to get a personal injury settlement.
If you were injured in an accident that was no fault of your own, you can hire a personal injury lawyer to represent your case. A personal injury lawyer represents you in court and helps you prove you were wrongfully damaged in your accident. As part of this process, your attorney gathers evidence on your behalf and also helps you come up with fair compensation for your damages. This commonly includes medical costs, including diagnoses and treatment, lost wages due to being unable to work, damage to your reputation and miscellaneous fees for pain and suffering.
While you are not required to hire a personal injury lawyer, it is hard to get a fair deal without one. If you want to get paid for your personal injury, you either need to settle with the other party, or take them to court. If the other party has a lawyer and you do not, they can attempt to stonewall your attempts to get a settlement, or even prove you were at fault for the accident.
Preparing for a Settlement
In order to collect a settlement, you must first present a list of charges to the other party. Your charges must be reasonable and fair. The other party is not required to accept the settlement offer, and if they consider it unfair, they could turn the case around and accuse you of fraud or extortion. It becomes much harder to argue exaggerated charges in court, since a jury is more likely to think you are making up details about the accident to try and get more money.
Some damages are easier to list than others. After an accident, the first step is to seek medical treatment. Any medical expense relating to the accident counts as damages. For example, if you paid for an X-ray, you can include this in the costs, even if nothing was broken. You can also charge for the cost of the ambulance and time spent in the hospital. Any follow-up appointments also count as accident-related damages. For proof of these damages, all you need is a copy of your medical bills.
Other types of damages do not have direct bills you can reference. Instead, your personal injury lawyer will look at previous accident claims to come up with charges. These charges are typically the ones the opposition argues against. To further back up the charges, your attorney can gather expert witnesses to support the claims.
Once you come up with a list of charges, the next step is to submit the claim to either the opposing party, or their insurance agency. In some situations, the settlement is immediately accepted. This rarely happens unless there are extenuating circumstances, such as the other party already admitting fault. Some individuals also accept smaller settlements, since it would likely cost more in the long run to try and fight the costs.
Settlement negotiation is not the same as a courtroom dispute. While the negotiating is commonly handled by lawyers, there is no judge or jury present. How long you remain in negotiation is entirely up to you. The only deadline is if you want to take the case before a judge. There is a legal limit for how long you can wait before pressing charges, which your lawyer can keep track of.
Some individuals purposefully drag out the negotiations for as long as possible, hoping to tire you out so you take a lesser deal. In these situations, your lawyer can take a more aggressive stance during the negotiations, or even file the case with the court.
Filing a Lawsuit
The majority of personal injury cases do not go to court. If the other side is unwilling to meet your terms during negotiations, your lawyer will file legal paperwork to formally charge the other party. When you initiate legal proceedings, you have another opportunity to list your damages. Most cases default to the original damages. Both you and the opposing party give a deposition. During the deposition, both sides testify under oath and tell what happened during the accident.
After testifying, the next step is to plead your case before a judge and jury. During this period, both parties have the opportunity to present evidence and argue their case. At the end of the trial, the jury decides how much compensation, if any, you are awarded.
Collecting your Settlement
Whether you settle in or out of court, collecting your claims follows the same process. Once the other party agrees to your demands, you will sign a waiver stating you will not file a lawsuit or press any additional charges regrading the accident. After signing the waiver, the other party sends a check to your attorney. If you asked for the responsible party to pay for damages on your behalf, such as covering a hospital expense, they may instead make that portion of the payment to the necessary group or individual.
Finding a Personal Injury Attorney
One of the best ways to find an attorney is word of mouth. Ask your friends or family members if they either previously worked with or know any personal injury attorneys. If nobody can make any recommendations, look for law firms in your state. You can find a list of accredited lawyers through the bar association, which has an online directory. The federal government also has legal resources for lower income individuals who need a pro bono attorney.