If you are trying to recover damages after a car accident for the first time, you may benefit from an overview of your legal options. What is the difference between a settlement and a court-ordered payout? When is it better to settle, and how can you receive the maximum amount of compensation? Our personal injury lawyers in San Antonio are here to help you familiarize yourself with the process.
Ask Your Personal Injury Lawyers: Is It Better to Settle Out of Court?
Q: What Is a Settlement Offer?
A: A settlement offer is a legal agreement that can resolve an issue between a plaintiff and a liable party without the need to go to court. Settlement offers can be used to avoid a lengthy trial in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car crashes, slip-and-fall accidents, medical malpractice, and employment law violations. The settlement essentially says that, upon accepting an agreed-upon sum of money, the plaintiff relinquishes his or her right to seek additional compensation.
Q: Who Is Liable for Providing the Settlement?
A: If your case involves a car accident that was not your fault, you are the plaintiff, and either the other driver or his/her insurance company is likely to be the liable party. In some cases, the car manufacturer or a third party may be liable for the damages.
When an accident involves more than two cars or has several potential causes, it may be possible to pursue multiple sources of compensation. For example, the other driver may be at fault for speeding, and the company that manufactured your car could be responsible for selling the vehicle with faulty wipers. Your lawyer can help you identify which party or parties you should seek to settle with based on the answers to the following questions:
- Did the other driver cause the accident?
- Does the other driver have insurance?
- Did a faulty part in either car contribute to the crash?
Q: What Happens If the Liable Party Refuses to Settle?
A: Technically, the liable party is free to choose whether or not they will offer you a settlement. However, in the event that no offer is forthcoming, you have the right to sue them over the damages you are owed. Alternatively, you may be able to submit a claim against your own insurance policy, depending on what kind of coverage you have.
Q: What Should I Do If the Offer I Receive Is Too Low?
A: You are not obligated to accept a settlement offer that you feel will not cover your damages. Once you receive an offer, you can choose to sign it or negotiate for more money. If you want to hold out for an increase and negotiations fall through despite your best arguments, you can go ahead and file your lawsuit.
Q: Can I Reopen the Case After I Have Accepted a Settlement?
A: Once you have officially accepted a settlement by signing the release form, you will not be able to reopen the case or demand an increase in your compensation. Some plaintiffs learn this fact the hard way when they realize that their medical expenses are higher than they initially anticipated.
You can avoid settling for an amount that is too low by making you understand the true cost of the accident. Your lawyer will help you list all of the claimable losses you experienced in connection with the crash. Once you know the amount of money you legally deserve, your lawyer can push the liable party to honor their legal obligation to cover your expenses.
Q: What Should a Settlement Offer Include?
A: In personal injury law, the damages you can claim are categorized according to the type of losses you experience. Some damages are economic, meaning that they caused you to experience a direct financial loss. Others are noneconomic, meaning that the loss was more subjective yet equally deserving of compensation. Here are some examples:
Medical expenses factor into your economic losses. You are entitled to claim both past and future costs, including:
- Ambulance ride costs
- Costs of other forms of transportation to the medical facilities
- Diagnostic measures
- Surgical and nonsurgical treatments
- Follow-up appointments
- At-home medical equipment
The term “lost wages” refers to the income you missed as a result of the accident. If you suffered a disability, your settlement should reflect your lost wages according to how they are projected to accumulate over your entire career.
Carefully examining this category for sources of income in addition to an hourly wage or a salary can increase the value of your settlement. For example, if you missed a promotion or did not collect your usual amount of tips while you were injured, you can demand compensation for these losses in addition to your current base pay.
Pain, Suffering, and Trauma
Most of the intangible losses you experience because of an accident fall under the category of “pain, suffering, and trauma.” These losses vary from person to person and could include the physical discomfort caused by your initial injury, a painful surgery, a lengthy recovery period, loss of enjoyment of life, disfigurement, etc.
Q: What Are the Benefits of Settling Outside of Court?
A: Settling outside of court can be the most effective way to recover your damages, as long as you carefully consider your offer before you agree to the amount of money being presented. If you settle, you stand to save a considerable amount of time and money by avoiding the trial.
Additionally, going to court does not guarantee that you will walk away with a payout in the same way that signing a settlement does. If the court sides against you, you may lose your chances of being compensated entirely.
Q: When Should I Go to Court?
A: Your legal right to file a lawsuit is what gives you negotiating power when you seek a settlement with the liable party. Following through on your threat to take them to court could be advisable if:
- The liable party has refused to offer a settlement
- The liable party’s final offer is not enough to cover your damages
- You have ample evidence to back your demands
Q: When Should I Start Working With an Attorney in San Antonio?
A: A personal injury attorney can step in and start working to maximize your compensation at any time up until the moment you officially accept a settlement. While we advise contacting us as soon as you can, we may be able to take on your case at a later stage, such as when you have received your first offer from the insurance company.
Speaking with a lawyer immediately after the accident will give you solid legal advice to consider as you document the scene of the crash, encounter representatives of the insurance company, and plan your recovery. After a complicated accident, we can help you work with a team of experts to conduct a thorough investigation and build your case.
Whether you negotiate for a settlement or take the liable party to court, getting the money you deserve requires strong arguments and convincing evidence. Our personal injury lawyers are committed to making sure you understand the laws which protect you and the most effective ways to exercise your rights. For a free consultation in San Antonio, contact Joe A. Gamez Law Firm, PLC.