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To Settle or Not To Settle-That is the Question

When you have decided on an  experienced personal injury attorney to represent you, how do you know when to finally settle your case or go to court? There are several factors to take into account in making your decision to settle or go into litigation, i.e. go to court.

The first issue to consider is what you will gain now, versus waiting some 2 years to get your day in court.  What you gain now depends on the limits of the insurance policy of the person who caused you injury.  Most drivers in California carry the minimum insurance coverage.  This usually means they have policy limits of $15,000/$30,000 covering them in the event of an auto accident.  This means one person can only receive the maximum of $15,000.  All the occupants in the vehicle, regardless of how many, can only collect a total of $30,000 between them.

So the first factor in determining what you will get by settling the claim now is the amount of the insurance policy covering your damages.  You may very well have  a “million dollar case”, but the insurance policy is only $15,000. The person causing your damages, the insured party, might not have any assets like a home or trust fund. They may not even have a job. So you are limited to collecting the amount of the insurance policy. During the course of my practice, I have, more than once, had to tell a family that while the loss of a family member is heartbreaking and most surely has a devastating financial impact on the family, there is only a “minimum” policy. The insured has no property of value to go after, even if the injured family wins in court.

Even if the insured party causing your injury has assets, such as a home, stock or other funds, getting to those assets is a daunting task.  First, you must go through the entire trial and receive a judgment in your favor.  Then you must try to “execute” on those assets, in other words get those assets into your account. The entire process is costly and time consuming.

The next issue in considering to settle or go to court is how much your claim is worth now.  Do you want to take your chances and “roll the dice” in front of a jury, hoping they will award me more than the current offer that is on the table? It may be helpful to understand how your attorney determines what your case is worth.

First, all cases are unique.  There is no formula that a broken arm is worth X amount and a back injury is worth Y amount.  There are many factors that go into a decision as to the value of a particular case.  Such factors include the type of injury, fracture v. muscle or soft tissue strain, the length of time it takes to get well v. permanent injury. What is the economic hardship to the injured party and his or her family? Have they missed work and therefore incurred a loss of income? Is the loss of income provable, i.e. is the client self-employed or does he receive a provable salary?  What are the amount of the medical bills that must be paid to the doctors and hospital, or paid back to your insurance company? No, your health insurance that paid your bills isn’t free. They are entitled to be reimbursed for the amount they paid on your behalf in the event of a settlement or jury award, less any reduction they will accept.  All of the above factors must be considered when computing the value of a case.

Now let’s discuss, perhaps, the most important factor of all. The economics of settling now or going to court.  How much will it cost to have your day in court?  Most personal injury attorneys agree to advance the costs of bringing a case to court. Such costs include the court’s filing fees,  jury fees, court reporter fees (yes, you pay those now too) and the costs of bringing your doctors and other professionals such as accident reconstruction experts and accountants to testify on your behalf.  While the attorney will often advance these costs, even if you win, all of the above costs will be deducted from the jury’s award, including your attorney’s fees and doctor bills.  So while you may be awarded $150,000, by the time all the above fees and costs are deducted, you may have been a lot better off to take the $50,000 insurance policy offered by the insurance company before ever going to trial.

In the end, the choice to settle or get your day in court is always that of the client.  Choose wisely and never give up a chance to settle the case short of court. If you would like an opinion as to the value of your case, call the Law Offices of Vann H. Slatter today for a free consultation. (310) 444-3010 or toll-free at (888) 293-0404. Call now!