If another party injured you, you could be entitled to compensation for damages. Personal injury cases include car accidents, product liability claims, medical malpractice, premises liability claims, and other accidents and injuries.
Most personal injury claims are resolved through settlement negotiations. Settling a case through the negotiation process is generally less expensive and faster than going to trial. Also, juries are unpredictable, so there is no guarantee you will win.
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Completing Medical Treatment Before Settlement
Before settling an insurance claim, it is wise to seek legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney. Signing a settlement agreement will release all parties from all claims related to your accident. In other words, you cannot demand more money even if you discover additional injuries or damages after the settlement.
For that reason, you should also complete medical treatment before accepting a settlement offer. It is impossible to know the extent of your injuries until your doctor decides you have reached maximum medical improvement.
Maximum medical improvement means that no further treatment is likely to improve your condition. Some individuals make a full recovery. However, other individuals have permanent impairments or disabilities, which increase the value of a personal injury claim.
Reservation of Rights Letter
You may receive a reservation of rights letter from the insurance company for the at-fault party. The letter will inform you that an insurance company is investigating your claim.
A reservation of rights letter explains the insurance company only pays your claim if:
- The insurance policy covers the type of accident or incident
- The insured caused your injury
- The company is only liable for damages up to the policy limits
The goal of the letter is to protect the insurance company’s best interest. An insurance adjuster may contact you to request a written or recorded statement or medical records.
It is best not to provide statements or medical records to the insurance company without talking to a personal injury lawyer. The insurance company searches for ways to deny your injury claim or undervalue your damages.
Negotiating a Settlement Amount Begins with the Initial Offer
The insurance adjuster may make an initial offer to settle your claim. The initial offer is generally lower than the actual value of your damages. Their goal is to get you to sign a settlement agreement before discovering how much your injury claim is worth.
Most personal injury law firms begin settlement negotiations with a demand letter. A demand letter includes:
- A discussion of the facts of the case
- A discussion of the applicable laws that result in liability for the other party
- A description of the injuries you sustained because of the other party’s actions
- Damages caused by the accident and injury
- The amount you allege your damages are worth
Your attorney may also include copies of your medical records, proof of financial losses, and other documents to support your claim with the letter.
It could take an insurance company several weeks or a couple of months to respond to the demand letter. After that, the company may pay the amount you demand, deny the claim, or issue a counteroffer. In many cases, the insurance company makes a counteroffer, which begins the back-and-forth settlement negotiations.
If your attorney and the insurance company agree to a settlement amount, your lawyer prepares the settlement agreement for you to sign.
Factors That Impact Negotiations in a Personal Injury Case
Several factors affect settlement negotiations and the value of your claim. Factors include, but might not be limited to:
The Severity of Your Injuries
Catastrophic injuries result in higher financial losses, which increase the claim’s value. In addition, permanent impairments and damages also increase damages.
Therefore, the severity of your injuries has a significant impact on settlement negotiations. For severe injuries or disabilities, you may want to obtain an opinion from a medical expert to support your demand for settlement.
Also, you may want to work with an expert witness to estimate future damages caused by a permanent impairment.
The Availability of Insurance Coverage
Florida does not require drivers to purchase liability car insurance. Therefore, if the at-fault driver only has no-fault insurance, you would need to sue the driver for damages.
If the driver has bodily injury coverage, the insurance company is only liable for damages up to the policy limit. Minimum policy limits could be as low as $15,000.
You may have a claim against your car insurance company in some cases. If you have uninsured motorist insurance or underinsured motorist insurance, your insurance company may pay damages that the other driver’s insurance company does not cover.
Liability for the Cause of Your Injuries
You have the burden of proof in a personal injury case. Therefore, the strength of your evidence proving fault is another significant factor that affects personal injury settlements. The stronger the evidence against the other party, the more likely you can negotiate a fair settlement.
However, if you are partially to blame for the cause of the accident, the value of your claim may be lower. Florida’s contributory fault laws reduce the amount of your damages by the percentage of fault you have for the cause of your injury.
For example, if you are 20% responsible for the cause of a car crash, the value of your injury claim is 80% of your damages.
Florida Statute of Limitations
With a few limited exceptions, most personal injury cases in Florida have a four-year deadline. If you do not file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires, you lose your right to pursue your claim through the courts.