Suffering a severe injury is complex and puts a financial burden on your family. No two personal injury cases are identical. However, specific steps are required in every personal injury case to ensure you receive the offer of compensation you deserve. When you or a loved one suffers an injury caused by someone else’s negligent action or inaction, you need to know what you will face.
Compensation for an injury varies depending on:
- Nature and severity of the injury – The more serious the injury, the higher the settlement is likely. However, this may extend the time to get an offer because your attorney may wait until the impact of the injury on your life is determined.
- Responsible party actions – If the responsible party admits to their role in your injury, the settlement offer may come sooner. However, there will likely be a back and forth over who is at fault and how it was caused.
- Insurance company negotiations – When an insurer is concerned about the long-term care of an injured person, they may make an offer to settle quickly after an accident. Unfortunately, this is not always the best option for the victim.
When you have suffered an injury through no fault, you should speak with a personal injury attorney before you file any insurance claims. The nature and severity of your injury should dictate how long you should wait before filing an initial claim.
Personal Injury Claims and the Severity of Injury
When your injuries are relatively mild, you may file a claim as soon as you recover from the initial trauma or wait until you have a firm back-to-work date from your doctor. However, if you have traumatic brain injuries, which are more serious, you may need to wait several weeks or perhaps months before filing an initial claim.
Maximum medical improvement is used in personal injury law to determine the victim’s recovery. California worker’s compensation statutes state that maximum medical improvement occurs when a victim’s “condition is well stabilized, and unlikely to change substantially in the next year with or without medical treatment.”
It is also a term used in other areas of personal injury law.
In effect, when your injury is unlikely to show any improvement regardless of what treatment options are used. Therefore, whatever level of improvement you have experienced to date is probably as good as you will be. It is possible at this time that a victim is considered disabled.
This determination will allow your attorney to file a claim that includes your medical bills. It will also allow them to determine the full impact of your injury on your physical care, future medical needs, and earning capacity. This is when your attorney will likely contact experts in a particular injury to determine how much your injury will impact your life.
A statute of limitations sets a deadline for filing a personal injury claim. In California, this is two years after the injury. Failing to file a claim before this period could mean you lose the right to file a claim. Your lawyer will ensure you do not lose the right to file a claim.
Let’s assume your toaster blows up in your kitchen, causing severe burns to your hands, arms, and neck. In this case, the manufacturer of the toaster could be held liable for your injuries under defective product liability rules.
Make no mistake; the manufacturer will not likely admit they are responsible for your injuries outright. They will probably go to great lengths to prove that something you did or failed to do caused the toaster to explode. Their insurance company will talk to a team of lawyers before they ever consider making an offer against your injury claim. Chances are there will be a lengthy investigation which may include testing other similar models to recreate the incident that resulted in your injury.
This complicated lawsuit requires an attorney with a proven track record of success in complex personal injury cases. Do not attempt to represent your interests. Large companies have bigger law firms who protect them. You need a skilled lawyer to defend yourself.
How Insurance Company Negotiations Affect Offer Times
When someone is seriously injured, the insurance company involved in the claim will often make a fast offer of compensation. However, this may not be the best possible outcome for a victim.
Here are a few reasons why:
- Fast settlement offers are often low – Typically, if an insurance company makes a quick settlement offer, the offer may just cover the immediate losses you have suffered. When you accept an offer, you will be asked to sign a waiver that waives your right to file a new claim for the same injury.
- Insurance companies like to delay – While this may be surprising, often, in the immediate aftermath of a claim being filed, an insurer may go dark, and stop responding to your claim. Delay tactics may also be used after your attorney has issued a settlement demand. While they may come back with an offer, chances are it will be low, and they will avoid responding to your attorney’s counteroffer immediately.
Remember that no two claims are alike. Sometimes, an offer of compensation may come after your attorney has filed a demand. However, in most cases, what will occur is that there will be a period of negotiation. Your personal injury attorney will present you with any offer made on your behalf and advise you of the pros and cons of each offer to allow you to make an informed decision.
Once You Receive an Offer of Compensation
One of the most important things to be aware of when filing a personal injury claim is that most of these claims never go to trial. There is often a settlement offer made to the victim. Remember, trials cost money. There is likely little incentive for an insurer to go to court to settle your claim because court trials often do not have the best outcome for the insurer.
Therefore, there is a good chance that you will receive an offer of compensation in the weeks following your attorney’s submission to the insurer.
Once this occurs, you can expect:
- Insurer counteroffer – In most cases, the insurer’s counteroffer will be significantly less than what your attorney submitted the claim for. This is expected because the insurance company is attempting to minimize its losses.
- Offer has a deadline – Most of the time, the insurance company will include a deadline to respond to their offer. This will help determine how long you have to accept the settlement offer. If your attorney feels this will be the best offer, they will explain it to you. Remember, you always remain in control of whether an offer is acceptable to you.
- Your counteroffer – If you and your attorney agree the final settlement should be greater than the insurer’s counteroffer, another counteroffer will be made to the insurer. This will also have a deadline to respond.
Remember that the back and forth between your attorney and the insurer may go on for a few weeks until they reach a settlement that you feel satisfied with.
Once you decide the insurance company will not make a better offer, the waiting will begin. Several steps must be completed before a final settlement check is issued for your claim.
Typically the process includes:
- Release forms issued – An insurer will not issue a settlement check without the proper release forms. These forms advise you of your rights regarding the settlement offer. They also explain what rights you are giving up by accepting the offer, including the right to future compensation even if your losses are more than the settlement. Your attorney should review this form to ensure that it includes everything agreed to in the settlement.
- Check issued to your attorney – The insurance company will issue a check to your attorney for the agreed-upon settlement amount once they have received the waivers back with your signature. Your attorney will deposit these funds into an escrow account.
- Attorney deducts fees – When you hired your lawyer, you signed an agreement explaining all fees required to be paid to them to represent your interests during your personal injury case. These fees will be deducted from the amount received from the insurance company.
- Attorney issues check – Your attorney will issue you the remainder of the settlement received from the insurance company. Your claim will then be officially closed.
In the unusual event that a case does go to court, there are other things you should be aware of before making that decision.
Why Settling Is More Beneficial Than Court Hearing
Many victims feel the only way to get a fair settlement offer is to have their case taken to court. This assumption is seldom true unless an insurance company has refused to negotiate in good faith.
There are other complications with taking your accident injury case to court, including:
- Privacy protection – Keep in mind that your privacy is protected when you settle between your attorney and the insurance company. Court proceedings are public, and the settlements reached are also public.
- Expenses higher – It will cost you and the insurance company more money to litigate a case in court than settle out of court. Witnesses, filing fees, transcribers, and other court-related fees can add thousands of dollars in expenses.
- Judge rules final – While negotiations between a victim and the insurance company can be extended for any period, once a judge rules, the victim and insurer have little say. The decision may be appealed.
- Appeals are not foolproof – The victim may appeal if they feel the compensation awarded was insufficient if they have the basis for such a claim. Insurers can file an appeal if they think the victim was overcompensated. This process adds time and expenses for the insurer and the victim.
There is no hard and fast answer to how long it will take to receive an offer of compensation following an injury. It is essential to remember that first offers are not always the best, and they are seldom the final offer an insurance company will make.
Work With an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
You have rights when you have suffered an injury due to someone else’s negligence. To protect those rights and ensure you get sound legal advice, you should speak with an attorney with experience handling similar cases.
Make sure you discuss with your lawyer how long they anticipate it will take to receive an offer, how their preferred response process works, and how long you have to respond to offers made by the insurance company.