ANSWER: They are settled through negotiation with either the insurance company adjustor or its defense counsel, both of whom deal with personal injury matters day in and day out, as do we. But before negotiations begin, both sides must be aware of the facts of the specific case, including liability or fault, injuries and damages, as well as the ability to collect a judgment either from the responsible parties or their insurance companies. Consequently, the first thing we will do in an effort to settle a case is to fully investigate it, beginning with:
- Collecting all relevant medical records and bills with an appropriate affidavit so that they are admissible at trial, if necessary;
- Requesting employment records for any lost wage claim and evaluating income tax records for the same reason;
- Investigating the accident scene, including photographs, videotapes, measurements, etc.;
- Interviewing eye-witnesses to the accident as well as other people that have knowledge regarding the occurrence or the injuries and damages suffered;
- Legal research regarding potential causes of action and how to prove them;
- Discussing the cause of injuries as well as the need for future treatment with medical professionals;
- Researching jury verdicts to see what compensation has been awarded in similar cases;
- Investigating the responsible parties, their insurance company and the amount of coverage they have for a specific claim;
- Checking for other similar accidents which show the responsible party had knowledge of a particular danger;
- Retaining experts who help in evaluating, preparing and presenting different aspects of the case.
In essence, we need to know as much about the case as possible before evaluating it for purposes of settlement and making recommendations to our clients regarding the amount of compensation to demand. You, as our client have approval of each step in the process. An attorney cannot settle your case or even submit a specific monetary demand without your authorization. Our job is to give you advice, sometimes quite pointedly about the settlement process and the risk of trial. Your job is to decide what to do. While you control the result you should pay attention to what your attorney tells you as he or she has the experience to properly evaluate claims. Ultimately, what the parties are trying to do in settling any case is to predict what a jury might do in rendering its verdict after trial. Since no one can predict the future, past experience is the only way to evaluate a case for settlement.