Why Personal Injury Cases Take So Long

Part V: Settlement or Trial

A. Settlements

Very rarely will a case will be settled at its earliest stages, before many of the procedures in this article have been instituted. That usually only occurs when the fault of an accident is clear, the injuries determined and an agreement as to value is reachable. An agreement to settle can be quickly reached if, for example, there is a limited insurance policy and that policy limit is less than the agreed upon value of the case.

Very frequently, however, an attempt to “SETTLE” a case will begin before the time of trial. Most often it begins when most, if not all, of the discovery in a case is completed. A settlement is reached after negotiations either between the Plaintiff’s attorney and the Defendant’s attorney, or as is very often the case, between the attorney for the Plaintiff and the adjuster assigned to the case by the insurance company.

The adjuster is almost always NOT a lawyer.

Settlement discussions usually begin with a “Demand” made by the Plaintiff’s attorney, followed by an “Offer” by the defendant’s attorney, or by the insurance company adjuster. If both sides are “within the same ballpark”, so to speak, they will continue the negotiations. Settlement negotiations then involve the presentation by each side of the strengths of their side’s case and the weaknesses of the opponent’s case.

It involves first, in establishing the “COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE” of each of the parties. What that simply means is that an effort is made to assess to what extent (usually expressed in simple percent terms) each party is at fault. Then the negotiators will try to assess the “DAMAGES”–that is they will try to place a “value” upon the injury sustained by the Plaintiff. Then, applying the determination regarding “COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE” to the value of the “DAMAGES”, a SETTLEMENT amount can be determined. (If, for example, a Plaintiff and Defendant are each deemed fifty percent at fault, and the injury is valued at $100,000, the Plaintiff is entitled to 50% of $100,000, or $50,000).

Settlement discussions can take place as late as the trial itself. In fact, very many cases are settled during the selection of a jury, since both parties probably realize at that time that the other party is “serious” regarding the stand they have taken with respect to settlement. Additionally, the presence of an assigned judge at the time of trial, who is actively involved in the attempt to settle the case, will very often produce a settlement that was not attainable till now. Defendant’s representatives are very familiar with the reputations of law firms representing Plaintiffs. They know full well those that are prepared to proceed to trial and those that habitually prefer to settle before trial. The potential client will hopefully have researched this factor BEFORE having made the choice of an attorney.
Failing all else, the trial commences..

Contact our New York City Attorneys at The Orlow Firm for more information.