If you file a lawsuit to recover a monetary award for damages and injuries that you have suffered in a car accident, at some point early in the litigation you may well receive a settlement offer from the liable party’s insurance company. You will inevitably be tempted to accept the offer, particularly if the prospect of a quick payout will handle your near-term need for quick cash. At this point, your car accident lawyer should advise you to consider the settlement very carefully. Once you sign the settlement agreement, which will inevitably include a provision that releases the other party from all liability associated with the car accident, you will have virtually no chance of re-opening the case if, for example, you later discover that some damages were not included in the settlement dollar offer. This is true even if those damages were not apparent when you signed the settlement agreement.
The mistaken belief that a settlement can be opened is sometimes driven by rare commercial litigation cases in which a settlement agreement is procured via a party’s fraud or duress. A party that misrepresents facts or that strong-arms an opposing party into signing a settlement agreement might see that agreement successfully challenged when the fraud or duress later comes to light. In car accident cases, an insurance company that stands in for the party that caused the accident will often couch the settlement in terms that make it look like the best deal that will be offered. In itself, this is not sufficient to rise to the level of duress that would later justify opening the settlement.
An injured party can also make a mistake by assuming that his lawyer has settled a car accident case when an insurer presents a settlement agreement. Your lawyer will be a zealous advocate for you. He will negotiate any settlement offer and advise you on the likelihood of procuring a higher or lower damages award if you take your case to trial. The final decision to settle or try a case and to accept or reject a settlement offer is always made by an injured party and not by his lawyer. Some lawyers will accept a larger volume of cases than they could ever take to trial on a premise that they will settle a substantial majority of them. Before you retain a lawyer to represent you in your car accident case, you should interview that lawyer to understand his or her philosophy on settling or trying cases. A lawyer that takes a case with an expectation that it will be quickly settled may not be getting the best deal for his client.
What factors, then should you consider when you are deciding whether to accept a settlement offer? First, consider all of your costs for current and future medical care for injuries that you received in the accident. Some injuries can require months or years of therapy. If a settlement offer only accounts for the medical costs that you have incurred through the date of the settlement, the offer is likely too low.
Next, think about all corollary costs and expenses that you have suffered. Are you losing wages due to an inability to work? Have you missed any events or activities as a result of your injuries? Your lawyer will help you to understand the full range of compensable costs that should be included in your damages.
Finally, include all property damage that the accident may have caused. If your own car was damaged, make sure that you are comfortable with the repairs. A car that has been damaged in an accident will typically have a lower resale or trade-in value. That value reduction should be part of your damages.
This is not to say that every settlement offer you receive following a car accident should be rejected. You will need to consider a myriad of factors and issues before you accept a settlement, and this short summary barely scrapes the surface of those issues. Moreover, this summary is not legal advice, and is only an overview of one of what you will encounter after you have suffered damages in a car accident. If you have suffered car accident damages in Phoenix or anywhere else in the greater Mesa, Arizona metropolitan area, please contact the attorneys at Shenk & Podolsky for a consultation on your case.