After a serious injury, the insurance company might offer you a settlement and discourage you from contacting a personal injury lawyer. You might understandably feel tempted to take this offer and just put the whole thing behind you so you can focus on recovering.
Even though it may seem like the simpler and easier option right now, however, hastily accepting a settlement offer might not put things behind you at all. In fact, it can create serious financial problems for you that could lead to a lot of stress, hardship, and regret before long.
Before you make any decision about a settlement offer, you need to understand your options and know about the factors that can affect the value of your case. Read on to learn more about how you can evaluate a settlement offer from the insurance company and decide whether it’s fair.
What’s My Personal Injury Case Worth?
Your claim’s value isn’t simply based on numbers. You’ll also have to weigh factors that might impact your chance of success at trial — which is also what the insurance company is doing on the other side when they decide how much to offer you.
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When insurance companies review personal injury claims, they consider several things:
- The total monetary value of your damages (medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.)
- The costs associated with defending the claim (including legal and expert witness fees)
- Whether there are weaknesses in your claim, such as a pre-existing medical condition or the potential for a defense based on contributory negligence
- Whether you’ve hired an experienced personal injury lawyer who’s willing to take your case to trial and fight aggressively on your behalf
Before you respond to a settlement offer, you should consider all these factors. It’s impossible to get into the specifics of how you should weigh each factor without knowing the facts of your case, but you can always contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to get advice based on your unique circumstances.
Calculating Your Economic Damages
You should never settle your personal injury claim before you calculate your economic damages. Economic damages are the financial losses associated with your personal injury claim. They can include:
- Medical expenses, including the cost of surgeries, medications, hospitalizations, ambulance rides, and other therapies
- Lost wages and income
- The cost of repairing or replacing your property
- Attendant care (household services you have to pay for after the accident)
- Funeral and burial expenses (if you have a wrongful death case)
The first step towards calculating your economic damages is compiling all your existing medical bills, receipts, check stubs, and other financial information.
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Your economic losses also might extend into the future, especially if you won’t be able to work again or if doctors believe your injuries will require additional medical treatment later. In addition to organizing your medical bills and the other expenses you’ve incurred so far, you’ll need to figure out the value of your future medical bills and lost wages. This usually requires help from an expert, which an attorney can arrange for you.
Valuing Your Pain and Suffering and Your Other Non-Economic Damages
When you file a personal injury claim in North Carolina, you can demand compensation for your non-economic losses, including:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Your inability to participate in hobbies and other activities (sometimes called “loss of enjoyment of life”)
- Negative consequences for your relationship with a spouse, parent, or child (also called “loss of consortium”)
Compared to economic damages, calculating your non-economic damages is more of an art than a science. There isn’t a simple formula that judges and lawyers use to compute these losses, and two different courts might value the same person’s pain and suffering very differently. This can make it very difficult for you to try and estimate your pain and suffering damages without help from a lawyer.
Understanding the Strengths and Weaknesses of Your Case
Damages aren’t the only factor insurance companies use to decide how much to offer a victim. Even if you have millions of dollars in medical expenses and lost wages, the insurance company might offer you only a modest settlement if there are serious problems with your case.
For example, if your actions contributed to your injuries in any way, North Carolina’s strict contributory negligence laws might bar you from receiving any compensation, even if the other person’s negligence was the main cause of the accident.
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Additionally, the insurance company will consider how much it might spend on attorney’s fees, expert witnesses, and litigation expenses if your case went to trial. If your case would be expensive to defend and hard to win, the insurance company might be more willing to offer you fair compensation for your injuries.
On the other hand, if the insurance company doesn’t think there’s any risk of your case going to trial, then they won’t see much incentive to make you a fair settlement offer, even if the damages in your case are extensive. This is one reason why it’s important to get an attorney involved in your claim as soon as possible. Hiring an attorney doesn’t mean your case has to go to trial; in fact, it makes it more likely your case will end in a successful settlement, because it calls the insurance company’s bluff and forces them to get serious about their settlement offer if they want to avoid a costly trial.
Should I Use an Online Settlement Calculator?
You might find tools that claim to be “settlement calculators” on the Internet, but they’re typically worthless. Assessing the value of your personal injury claim involves more than simply punching some numbers into a calculator. We’ve tested out some of these online calculators, and we frequently encountered the following problems:
- They can’t account for all the relevant factors.
Sometimes, we’ll meet with a potential client who has a lot of medical bills and lost income, but there are serious legal problems with their claim. An online calculator can’t factor in important details about your case, such as whether you had pre-existing conditions or whether the defense might be able to argue that your own actions contributed to your injuries.
- State laws vary dramatically.
A case that a lawyer in one state would consider high-value might be worth a lot less in another state (and vice versa). Online calculators don’t factor in how differences in state law might impact your claim, and the impact of these differences can be enormous.
- You probably don’t have all the information the calculator needs.
The calculator will ask you to input the costs of your future medical expenses and the value of your future lost wages, but as we discussed earlier, accurately estimating these figures requires help from an expert.
How to Negotiate with the Insurance Company
The process of settling a case is very much a negotiation, and as in most negotiations, the first offer is rarely the “real” offer. Typically, an insurance adjuster will offer you much less than the true value of your case when they give you an initial settlement offer, especially if you don’t have a personal injury lawyer. Most likely, the adjuster is just “fishing” to find out whether they can easily make your case go away by offering you a relatively small amount of money.
And although hiring a lawyer can improve your chances of successfully negotiating a fair settlement, sometimes the insurance company flat-out refuses to make the victim a reasonable offer. When this happens, there’s no other way to get fair compensation for your injuries than to file a lawsuit and take your case to trial.
Fortunately, hiring an experienced lawyer and approaching your personal injury claim with a trial mentality from the beginning actually makes it more likely you can avoid going to court. That’s because it will let the insurance company know you’re serious about your claim and tell them they need to make a serious settlement offer if they want to avoid litigation. And if a trial does become necessary, you’ll be ready for it, because you and your attorney will have been preparing every step of the way.
Myers Law Firm: Fighting to Protect Injured Victims in and Around Charlotte, North Carolina
At Myers Law Firm, we understand the stress, anger, and confusion that often accompany a senseless injury. If you or a loved one has been injured due to someone else’s negligence, we’re here to help. When you choose us to represent you, we’ll act as your advocate and use our years of personal injury experience and our extensive knowledge of the local courts to fight relentlessly on your behalf.
Call our offices today at 888-376-2889 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free initial consultation with an experienced North Carolina injury attorney. We’ll use this time to get to know you, learn about your case, and inform you about your legal options so you can go forward with confidence.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.