Being injured because of someone’s carelessness or negligence can wreak havoc with your life. There are medical and possibly hospital bills to be paid, you may not be able to work for a while, or maybe never again, leaving you without a source of income, and you may be dealing with much pain and discomfort. Often, you are entitled to damages for your medical expenses, loss of income, and your pain and suffering. Unfortunately, negotiating a personal injury settlement or car accident settlement can be quite stressful and time consuming.
Patience, persistence, and a calm demeanor are important traits to have right from the beginning. Here are a few settlement negotiation tips to help you understand the process.
Get Prompt Medical Care to Determine the Severity of Your Injuries
Before you can begin negotiating a personal injury settlement, you will have to determine what the monetary value of your injuries and damages are worth in real dollars. That can be quite difficult to do because every case is so different.
That is why you need to seek medical care and have a physician determine how severe your injuries are and document the type of injuries you have. Your medical records are critical when not only trying to prove your injuries to the other side, , but they will affect your decision on what settlement amount you would be willing to accept, based on the severity of your injuries.
You need to have a viable figure in mind before you or your attorney contacts the insurance adjuster, but initially you do not want to divulge your bottom line. Minimum acceptable personal injury settlements should always be revealed later after continued back-and-forth negotiations.
Calculate Your Out-Of-Pocket or “Special” Damages
Out-of-pocket damages are known by various names, such as economic or “special” damages. Money is the only way to make a person whole and to reimburse them for these types of damages. Some examples are as follows:
- Medical and hospital bills
- Loss of earning capacity
- Damage to property
- Lost income or wages
- Final expenses such as funeral and burial costs
Insurance companies are much more receptive to these economically provable damages than pain, anguish, and suffering claims because they are tangible tangible, proven figures that an insurance adjuster can justify when paying these claims. Make sure you have clear and sufficient records to support these claims for economic or “special” damages, so that you do not delay any possible settlement.
Attempt to Determine the Value of Any General Damages
General damages are also referred to as non-economic losses that you may suffer as a result of your injuries. These types of losses are usually much harder to calculate because money is not a true substitute for making you whole again. General non-economic damages may include:
- Actual physical pain and suffering
- Emotional and mental distress
- Anguish and shock
- Damage to your reputation and social status.
- Loss of consortium
- Embarrassment and humiliation
- Loss of companionship
As such, there is no average settlement for personal injury damages. The amount that is usually considered in determining your non-economic damages for a personal injury claim, are typically 1.5 to 5 times your economic damages (your provable and tangible medical bills and expenses), but the seriousness of your injuries will determine the ultimate amount of non-economic damages.
Factors that May Affect the Amount of Personal Injury Settlements
The calculated amount of damages that you determined based on the above information must then be adjusted up or down based on the following partial list of factors:
- Liability: If liability of a party is clear and not in dispute, the amount you will receive will likely be on the high end. If you shoulder some of the blame, you will likely have the settlement adjusted based on your percentage of fault.
- Severity of Injuries and Length of Treatment or Disability: Hard Injuries, such as broken bones or vertebrae, head injuries, and those visible on scans versus soft tissue injuries tend to result in larger settlements. Long term treatment plans or permanent disability also greatly raises the amount offered because the expenses are ongoing and possibly for an undetermined amount of time.
Yourself and the Defendant’s Profile and Characteristics: Yourself and the negligent party’s personal profile can radically change the value of your case. Your prior medical history, what you or the defendant does for a living, personality, how you present yourself, age, and so forth tend to affect settlement offers.
- Competing Witness Testimony: Stronger or more witness testimony on one side can raise or lower settlement offers.
- The City where the Case will go to Trial: Conservative, smaller town juries tend to award smaller damages than juries in larger, more urbanized cities. This will be in the adjuster’s mind while negotiating a personal injury settlement.
- Mitigation of Damages of the Injured Party: You must attempt to reduce, or mitigate your damages by seeking adequate medical treatment promptly after your injuries occur. If you delay or fail to do so, and your injuries become more serious and expensive to treat, your damages may be reduced for your failure to take reasonable care of yourself.
Prepare a Settlement Demand Letter
Prepare a professional demand letter complete with supporting documentation so that the insurance company will take it seriously. You will want to stress why their client is negligent and caused your injuries, what income you have lost because of your injuries, what your injuries are and the medical treatment you have had, and any other injuries and damages you have suffered.
Include your medical records and bills related to your injuries, and stress your losses in an emotional tone, spelling out your suffering, anguish, pain, embarrassment, inconvenience or disfigurement.
In the last section of the letter, make a demand for a specific amount that will compensate you for all your expenses, pain, and suffering. It is best to make the monetary demand at least 75 to 100 percent higher than your bottom line figure that was calculated so you have room to negotiate.
Don’t Accept the First Offer of Settlement
It is highly probable that the insurance adjuster will “low-ball” you initially by making a low settlement offer, or denying its client’s liability entirely. These are tactics usually used by an adjuster in negotiating a personal injury claim. The adjuster is trying to determine if you will settle quickly and for a lesser amount than you need or deserve.
So, how to respond to a first settlement offer depends on how much is offered. If the offer is lower than your bottom line, but still somewhat reasonable, try agreeing to a little less than your original settlement offer to show you will work with them. A little back and forth negotiation will probably occur, but often you will be able to come to an acceptable agreement.
How long do settlement negotiations take? If the offer was so low as to not be a reasonably offer at all, it could take a little longer. You should not counter-offer immediately, but ask them to justify their offer. Do not lower your demand until they respond with a more reasonable offer. Then, it still could be possible to work out a settlement deal because the adjuster now knows you are not desperate and you understand the value of your claim.
When you get to a settlement you can agree to, make sure it is put in writing legally and signed by all parties involved so that it will be enforceable in a court of law.
Hire an Attorney for More Difficult to Prove or Larger Claims
If your personal injury settlement negotiations are not going well, or if you feel uncomfortable with the personal injury negotiation tactics and process, you may want to consider hiring an attorney to handle the claim.
If any of the following holds true, you should retain an attorney to ensure your finances and future health are protected and you receive what you need and deserve to compensate you for your injuries. A lawyer will be experienced in how to negotiate a settlement out of court.
- You have severe injuries with compensation potential of over a few thousand dollars.
- There is some question about who is at fault or the percentage of fault.
- You are requesting long-term future damages for ongoing medical care or disability.
There are no “average” personal injury settlement amounts, but a good personal injury attorney is able to secure a fair, and in many cases, substantial settlement for your injury claim.