Money, money, money. That is the focus of almost every lawsuit you see on T.V. (aside from criminal cases and some domestic cases). Why is the focus always on money? Unfortunately, that is almost the exclusive remedy available to injured victims in our civil justice system. The court system cannot heal a broken back or order that your loved one comes back to you.
The only remedy available for the injuries and damages personal injury victims sustain in personal injury accidents is money. It cannot put them back to the way they were the day before the accident, it cannot take away the pain, hurt or loss. That is why the focus is on a monetary settlement.
What is a settlement?
A settlement is essential an agreement between you and the opposing party (the person who caused you harm) and their insurance company (if they have one). It is a formal contract that sets forth the amount of compensation they agree to pay you in exchange for you to dismiss your lawsuit with prejudice and/or for you to release them from any further liability stemming from the accident that caused you harm. It acts as a final resolution between all of the parties associated with the case and who are included in the settlement agreement.
Keep in mind that a settlement is not the same thing as a jury award. A settlement is a mutual agreement between the parties involved in the litigation or case. A jury award is determined by the jury after a trial. It can be higher or lower than any prior offers or demands and the jury is not told during trial what offers or demands have been made prior to or during the trial.
If I have been severely injured in an accident, how can I receive a settlement?
If you have been injured by the negligence of another person or company, you will likely be forced to file a claim through that party’s liability insurance company. The liability insurance company will be the one who investigates, evaluates and eventually places a value on your case. The negligent person or company generally has no idea what your injuries are, how much you have incurred in medical expenses, your lost wages or what you have offered to settle the claim for. Likewise, they generally have no idea how much (or little) their own insurance company has offered you.
While there are numerous ways to obtain a settlement, the most common ways are either handling the case by yourself (pro se) or by retaining an attorney. If you retain a personal injury attorney, the attorney will work with you to set up a case plan and he or she will ensure that your case is properly documented. This will require obtaining documentation supporting every claim of damages in your case as well as obtaining documentation regarding expected arguments from the insurance carrier. Depending on the nature of your case, this process can take a few months to a few years. Once you are ready to settle your case, you will work closely with your attorney to ensure that he or she has all of the necessary documentation and then you will submit a formal demand to the insurance carrier.
How long does the insurance company have to respond to the demand?
In Ohio, most insurance companies will respond to your demand within 30 days. However, their response may simply be a letter asking for additional documentation, it can be a letter denying your claim in its entirety or it can be a monetary offer to settle the case. Once you and your attorney have received the initial offer on your case, the rest of the settlement negotiating process will generally go quickly and you will know whether or not you have to file a lawsuit or take the case to trial.
How long does it take to settle a case?
The time it takes to settle a case depends on numerous factors such as the length of your medical treatment; how long you continue to have pain and discomfort following the collision; how long it takes to obtain your medical records and medical bills; how long it takes to obtain expert reports etc . . . . There is no particular time frame. Each case is different but the key factor is how long it takes you to get better. Generally, the more aggressive and dedicated you are with treatment, the faster you will feel better. The faster you feel better, the sooner you can try to settle your case.
What if it takes me a long time to get better, is there a specific timeframe in which I must file a lawsuit?
Yes. In Ohio, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit or resolve your claim for negligence claims. Keep in mind that there are different statutes of limitations for other types of claims (e.g. medical malpractice claims is only 1 year from the date you knew or should have known of the malpractice; libel/slander/defamation is only 1 year, intentional tort claims are also only 1 year).
What is Included in a Settlement?
What is and what is not included in a settlement offer various greatly on the facts of each case. Generally, your attorney will seek economic damages which may include but are not limited to:
- Lost wages;
- Medical expenses;
- Rental Car expenses;
- Property damage expenses; and
- Other out-of-pocket expenses, etc . . .
The claim will also include a request for payment of general damages which may include but are not limited to:
Unfortunately, most personal injury settlements do not require the negligent party to pay for your legal expenses or costs associated with your case. If you settle your bodily injury claim, you must be sure that it includes all of the types of damages available to you, or you’ll likely lose your right to recover for those losses.
Can I sue them for Injuries after I Settled my Claim?
Generally, no. If you noted that you fractured your arm after you reached a settlement agreement and after you have received your money and signed the release agreement, you will probably be prohibited from pursuing a claim for that injury even if you did not know about it at the time of the settlement. Settlements are reached to terminate any and all claims the parties may have against one another.