Personal Injury Settlements in California
Accidents happen all the time, especially in the most populous state in the country. California residents who are injured due to someone else’s negligence are entitled to compensation for their injuries by state laws.
After filing a personal injury claim, the claimant has two options to try and resolve their case: settlement or trial. Trials can be long, stressful, and unpredictable, which is why the majority of cases end in a settlement.
Settlement cases allow both parties to have a say in how the claim proceeds. Unless there are serious complications with large sums of money at stake, the plaintiff and defendant may both prefer to settle.
What Is a Personal Injury Settlement?
Personal injury settlements occur when the defendant—or their insurance adjuster—makes you an offer to stop a case from going to trial. It can happen at any point throughout the claim process.
The settlement offer can be made after a claim arises but before the personal injury lawsuit has even been filed. It can be made after a trial has already begun as long as there is no final verdict. Depending on how the courtroom proceedings went, sometimes a settlement offer is even made after a trial while the jury is in deliberation.
When a plaintiff agrees to a settlement, they forfeit all their power to pursue all future damages or claims related to the accident. This means that a victim cannot return years later and demand additional compensation. By signing a full liability release, the plaintiff and defendant come to an agreement that the case has been settled.
Why Do Personal Injury Cases Settle?
The majority of personal injury claims result in out-of-court settlements. Below are some of the popular reasons cases settle in California.
- Control: A settlement gives the defendant a way to control potential risks and avoid additional legal expenses. The defendant may know that they are at fault for an accident or see that the plaintiff has significant evidence against them. To avoid being tried in front of a jury that could award the victim with a larger sum of money, the defendant may offer to settle quickly and for a fair amount.
- Privacy: If the defendant does not want to make the details of a case public, they may attempt to settle before a trial. High-profile companies may not want a large number of people to see what’s happening and choose to settle a case in private. If a defective product only hurts a small group of individuals, a company may offer them a settlement with a confidentiality agreement to prevent word from spreading about the issue.
- Convenience: From the plaintiff’s perspective, a settlement is much easier, faster, and still plenty beneficial. Trials take significantly longer than settlements. When faced with the expenses of a personal injury accident, an individual may not want to wait that long to start paying off costs. Not to mention the amount of effort and additional fees that must be put forth when taking a case to trial.
- Security: A settlement provides the plaintiff with a guaranteed win. If a case goes to trial, there is always the chance that the jury will decide the claim is not legitimate. This could result in no reward for the defendant and a lot of wasted resources.
The personal injury lawyers at Chain | Cohn | Clark have seen many cases play out in court and in out-of-court settlements. We can help you make informed decisions on whether or not you should settle your case depending on evidence and potential benefits.
Personal Injury Claim Settlement Process
Settling a case means that two parties reach an agreement in which the defendant will pay the plaintiff in return for the plaintiff signing away their rights to pursue more money. Since this can happen at any time throughout the claim process, it’s hard to predict exactly how the case will go. However, each settlement follows a few common steps.
It begins with one party sending an offer. The plaintiff can send a demand letter because they want to close the lawsuit quickly without a trial. The defendant can send a settlement offer to avoid being tried in front of a jury or if they know they are guilty. Once the first party sends an offer, the receiving party will usually send a counteroffer. Plaintiffs will ask for more in a counteroffer and defendants will suggest less. The two will negotiate back and forth, presenting evidence and documents until an agreement is reached that satisfies both parties.
Once a settlement is reached, the plaintiff will need to sign a complete liability release that forfeits their right to pursue further litigation pertaining to the accident. If another accident occurs in the future, the plaintiff is allowed to take action. But if the injuries from the initial accident worsen or resurface, the plaintiff will not be able to recover additional compensation.
The plaintiff will then receive a settlement check that is not valid until it has been approved. In a settlement, there is a guarantee that the plaintiff will receive benefits.
Negotiating With an Adjuster
Insurance adjusters will use various tactics to avoid paying you the maximum amount of compensation you deserve. During negotiations, they will ask certain questions to try and draw out information that would reduce your benefits. Here are some of the topics they may ask questions about.
Depending on the involved parties, the insurance policies that dictate the settlement will be different. One of the first discussions that must occur should address whether or not those policies actually cover the accident in question. The type of accident, the injuries sustained, and how it happened can all affect how insurance will cover the victim.
Adjusters will put a lot of focus on the extent of your injuries. It’s important to determine how severe they are, and how long they are going to cause a problem. Even if an injury causes a lot of pain, a plaintiff may not be able to recover as much compensation if it isn’t disabling. Being able to work and earn an income is a big part of injury lawsuits. Whether the injuries are long-term or short-term will also have a significant impact on the awarded settlement.
Another important aspect of any injuries is the medical treatment that was required to treat them. Adjusters will attempt to figure out if any therapy or procedures were truly necessary. They will look for pre-existing health issues that may have contributed to the victim’s injuries or increased the value of their claimed losses.
California is an at-fault state that follows a pure comparative negligence standard. This means that all parties involved will be assigned a percentage of the total fault. An adjuster will ask a variety of questions to determine whether or not the victim was partially responsible for the accident, as this will reduce the amount that needs to be paid.
If you are speaking with an insurance adjuster, you should answer reasonable questions honestly. Unfortunately, there are times when an adjuster might make arguments or ask questions that could be considered unfair settlement tactics. This occurs when an adjuster takes advantage of your inexperience to get you to settle a case for less than it’s worth. You can prevent this by hiring an experienced California personal injury lawyer.
Tips for Successful Injury Negotiations
Your behaviors throughout the settlement process can help or hurt your personal injury case. The following are some rules that may be able to help you communicate with insurance adjusters in a way that makes your life easier.
- Stay organized: Take notes on things that are said when speaking to adjusters or other parties. If somebody says they will not do something or sets a specific deadline, confirm that piece of information by recording it. Keep a copy of everything you send to the adjuster and provide requested documents as soon as possible.
- Remain patient: Lawsuits take time. Even if you have already been waiting a decent amount of time for your records, do not rush the proceedings. Claims adjusters may lowball your settlement offer if they believe you will not wait it out. If you have the ability to deny the first offer, the amount will likely increase after some deliberation. Eventually, the adjuster will want to settle the claim and you can recover the full value you deserve.
- Do not give up: Being patient does not mean that you should be uninvolved. Do not let the adjuster forget about your claim or stall it on purpose. Hold the adjuster to the timelines that they set. Make sure to send those dates in a confirming letter and then call politely when that deadline arrives. If you request information, also request a reasonable time you would like to have it by. There is no need to annoy the adjuster or guilty party, just make it clear that you are present and will be paying attention to their actions.
- Don’t beat around the bush: While insurance adjusters may not have your best interest at heart, they are still just people performing their jobs. They are often overworked, underpaid, and talk to many frustrated people each day. There is no need to abuse or threaten an adjuster—even if they are rude. Show the adjuster that you understand the settlement process by being honest and straightforward with them. Avoid intense emotions and prove that you are making a good-faith claim which you believe in wholeheartedly.
Remember that everything you say to an adjuster matters––so be careful with your words. If you are unsure of whether or not to say something, consult your legal team first.
Chain | Cohn | Clark Can Help You Settle Your Case
In any personal injury case, the most effective approach is to hire a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. The attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark can walk you through the steps of a personal injury lawsuit or suggest alternatives to litigation.
If you believe you may have grounds for pursuing damages from a liable party, call us at (661) 616-9829 or fill out our online contact form for a free case evaluation.