The attorneys at Casey & Devoti recently published a Step-By-Step Guide to Making a Personal Injury Claim. This is the eighth of ten posts in the series, which will highlight the various steps throughout the personal injury claim process. We hope you find the level of detail informative. If you would like a copy of the complete step-by-step guide, email us at email@example.com.
Step #8 – The Settlement
The reality is that the vast majority of personal injury claims settle. Settlement occurs when the parties agree to resolve their dispute short of a judgment. Most injury cases may be tried to either a judge or jury. When a case settles, the parties end the claim and avoid the time, energy, stress and cost associated with trying a case to conclusion.
Settlement amounts to a compromise. One party agrees to accept an amount of money usually less than the maximum value of her claim while the other pays an amount of money more than its best case scenario. In essence, both parties are choosing to resolve the claim for less than their optimal result.
Claims settle for a variety of reasons. Most often, claims resolve because the parties recognize the risks and benefits of incurring additional expense litigating the dispute and trying the case to conclusion. Trials are expensive. Defense counsel and expert witnesses must be paid. Clients must be present throughout the trial, forcing them to miss work and make alternative arrangements for their outside obligations. Juries are also unpredictable. Once submitted to the jury, the case is entirely in its hands and outside the control of the parties, their counsel and even the trial judge. Juries are extremely powerful. Missouri courts very rarely set aside verdicts made by juries following their deliberation.
Claims also resolve via settlement when insurance proceeds are limited and little dispute exists that the value of plaintiff’s claim exceeds the amount of those funds. In this case, the insurer limits the personal liability of its insured by paying the limits of its policy to the injured party.
Claims also settle at various times. Usually, claims settle when both parties to the dispute believe that they have enough information to adequately evaluate the claim’s value. Sometimes, this occurs very early, especially when fault is clear, the victim has suffered significant harm, and the availability of insurance is limited. Other times, serious settlement discussions don’t occur until discovery is complete and the parties are awaiting trial. From time to time, cases settle during trial as the parties have had an opportunity to actually observe the evidence and the jury’s reaction to it and the witnesses.
The settlement of your claim amounts to a final resolution of your dispute with the party that caused your harms and losses. This is an essential point for all plaintiffs to realize. You will receive money. In return, the defendant receives a waiver from further liability. In fact, the defendant will require you to sign a document called a release. The release provides that, in exchange for the payment of a certain sum, the injured party is relinquishing her right to further litigate any claims she may have against the defendant and his insurer and have a jury decide issues of liability and damage.
Typically, you will receive your funds four to six weeks following the execution of all necessary paperwork. The check issued by the defendant or its insurance company will be made payable to you and your attorneys. You will then need to work with your lawyer on the mechanics of paying the agreed-upon attorneys’ fee and reimbursing counsel on expenses incurred in the prosecution of your claim.
In most cases, you are responsible for satisfying all liens and paying any balances remaining on your accounts with those health care providers that treated you. A lien is a claim made by a health care provider pursuant to statute; under Missouri law, your counsel must make sure that all liens are paid from any funds that cross through his hands before he pays funds to you.
The plaintiff’s lawyer must not concern himself with medical balances when the provider has not filed a statutory lien. However, it is the injured person’s responsibility to make sure that the balances are negotiated or otherwise paid or otherwise risk the filing of a collection case. As a courtesy, many plaintiff’s lawyers will help you negotiate these account balances or, at the least, directly make payment to your providers out of the settlement funds if you ask counsel to do so.