Philadelphia Personal Injury Settlement Offer: What You Need to Know
Philadelphia Personal Injury Settlement Offer: What You Need to Know
The vast majority of personal injury cases in Pennsylvania settle before trial. Insurance companies defend most personal injury claims and make settlement decisions based on their financial interests. Because trials cost insurers vast sums of money, they typically conclude that settling out of court best serves their interests.
But to win a settlement, the plaintiff must obtain clear and convincing evidence of the defendant’s liability. Without this, the defense can motion the court for a pre-trial dismissal, ending the case with minimal expense. However, when the plaintiff has a solid case, the court requires the claim to go to trial if settlement negotiations fail.
Pennsylvania law permits personal injury plaintiffs to seek economic- and non-economic damages. Economic damages include the following:
- Medical bills
- Rehabilitation therapy
- Property damages
- Lost wages
- Lost business income
- Lost benefits
Non-economic damages often exceed economic ones. They include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
However, the court may award less than the plaintiff's full damages when comparative negligence applies.
How Comparative Negligence Impacts Settlements
Settlement figures have their basis in how a court is likely to rule. In Pennsylvania, courts must consider the question of comparative negligence. If injury victims have partial responsibility for causing the accident, then their compensation must be reduced accordingly.
For example, a car accident victim may bring a civil action against another driver who is at fault for the collision. However, the defense may argue the plaintiff contributed to the crash, sharing 20% of the blame. If the court agrees, it reduces the plaintiff's award by 20%.
Comparative negligence often becomes a contentious issue in settlement negotiations, especially when large sums are at stake. Personal injury lawyers must focus on gathering evidence that shows the defendant bears the blame fully.
How Long Do Personal Injury Settlement Offers Take?
Settlements typically take one to two years from the time the plaintiff files the suit, but this is a rough average. Often, a simple case with a low value settles faster. On the other hand, complex cases with heavy damages require extensive discovery and protracted litigation, lengthening the settlement negotiations.
Also, some cases settle on the eve of the trial. Because it takes many years to complete all the preliminary steps, cases that settle this late take far longer than average. Additionally, some cases settle after trial, during the appeals process. Claims that settle post-trial can take five or more years to reach a conclusion.
The parties can reach a settlement agreement at any time. The further into the process the case proceeds, the longer the time until the parties reach a settlement agreement. The stages where a settlement agreement may happen include the following:
- Pre Lawsuit
- Early in the discovery process
- Before or after depositions
- During a court-mandatory settlement conference
- Shortly before the trial date
- After trial
- During appeals
Pre Lawsuit Settlements
Some cases settle without the plaintiff needing to file a complaint. A complaint initiates the court process. The plaintiff or his attorneys author the complaint, which details what occurred, the legal basis for the lawsuit, and what damages are requested.
Most often, the defendant has an insurance policy that covers some or all of his potential liability. As a result, before filing a lawsuit, the plaintiff must initiate a claim against this insurance policy. For instance, most motorists have insurance, so the first step is for the injured party to make a claim with the defendant’s insurer.
Once the claim is filed, the insurance company must complete an investigation in approximately 30 days and render a claims decision. The decision may deny all liability, provide partial compensation, or fully compensate the victim.
Of course, if the claim fully compensates the victim, he can simply accept the settlement without the need for a negotiated settlement. However, insurance companies rarely offer full compensation upfront, especially when substantial money is on the line. They typically deny the claim or offer a fraction of what it’s worth in the hope the injured party will accept the decision.
Because insurance adjusters are known to deny valid claims or try to settle them for a low figure, we always advise consulting a personal injury lawyer before signing any agreement. Once you sign the agreement, you lose the right to take the case to court. This can be a devastating mistake.
For instance, after a car accident, a victim without legal representation may feel that the insurance company's offer is fair. However, he may fail to realize that he is entitled to pain and suffering and emotional distress damages that the insurer neglects to offer. Additionally, he may have future medical expenses or lost income not reflected in the settlement.
A personal injury lawyer will review the claims decision and advise whether the offer is worth taking. If not, he can appeal the decision and work to convince the insurer to pay full damages to avoid a court battle.
When the insurer agrees, the case settles without the need to file a lawsuit. Because the insurer knows the attorney is prepared to take the case to court, it becomes more amenable to a higher settlement.
Settlement Early In the Discovery Process
Once the court receives the complaint, it requires each side to furnish the other with its evidence. No surprises are allowed in court. Each side is entitled to a full understanding of the other side’s evidence.
As a result, the early part of the discovery process involves an exchange of documents between the parties. Also, attorneys may gather other forms of evidence, such as surveillance videos, witness statements, and accident reconstruction reports, which must be disclosed to the opposing counsel.
Once the evidence gathering is complete, each side prepares statements for the other’s witnesses, requiring them to affirm or deny their accuracy. Also, attorneys write interrogatories for opposing witnesses, which consist of questions that must be answered on paper under oath.
As these processes take place, settlement negotiations are often ongoing. Each new piece of evidence or the answers to interrogatories may alter either side’s view of the case. For example, a particularly strong piece of evidence may destroy any hope of the defense winning at trial, motivating them to make an attractive offer. Also, many injury victims suffer from ongoing medical problems that require extensive care. It initially is difficult to calculate the damages until more is discovered about the condition. As the discovery process progresses, additional information may clarify the damages, making negotiations more precise and increasing the chances of an agreement.
Settlement Before or After Depositions
The discovery process culminates with depositions. Depositions are face-to-face interviews of witnesses. Counsel for each side deposes the witnesses for the other party. For example, the defense counsel deposes the plaintiff, while the plaintiff’s counsel deposes the defendant. Depositions often prove pivotal because lawyers elicit information beneficial to their side of the case. On the other hand, a failure to draw out useful statements in depositions may convince the parties to settle.
Depositions are costly. They require many hours of preparation, and it may take days to question all of the witnesses. Also, the parties must pay for a court reporter. As a result, when the defense perceives it has little to gain from depositions, it may be more agreeable to a settlement.
The parties may also become more motivated to settle after depositions. Often, the defense hopes that the depositions will provide it with grounds for summary judgment. Summary judgment motions ask the judge to rule on the case without it going before a jury. For the defense to succeed, it must demonstrate that no material fact is in dispute for a jury to decide, and based on the uncontested facts, the plaintiff’s case must fail as a matter of law.
Personal injury lawyers work hard to build solid cases and prepare their clients for depositions. As a result, defense lawyers are usually disappointed in the results of the depositions because they provide no grounds for a summary judgment motion, giving them the motivation to settle.
Settlement During a Court Mandated Settlement Conference
Trials take up massive blocks of time on count’s calendars. Therefore, judges have an interest in facilitating settlements before trial. In many instances, the evidence provides clear indicators of the likely result, making a trial a needless exercise. The parties may have a good idea which way the case will go but have vastly divided ideas of the appropriate settlement figure.
A magistrate conducts settlement conferences in an attempt to work out a deal before the trial date. These conferences have a high rate of success because, by this time, the evidence and issues of the case are readily apparent, giving the magistrate a firm basis for a recommended settlement.
Settlement Shortly Before the Trial Date
Often, the case settles on the eve of the trial or even just before a jury is seated. Also, some cases settle during the trial. Though most cases settle prior to this time, sometimes contentious negotiations simply cannot be resolved out of court. However, parties may reconsider when trial is upon them or what happens in court alters their perception of the jury’s likely finding.
Settlements After Trial
The appeals process is long and expensive. Neither side may wish to continue fighting the case because of the time and expenses involved. As a result, they may agree to a settlement that saves them both the cost of appeals.
Settlement During Appeals
As with the process in the trial court, the parties may agree to a settlement at any point during the appeals process. One party may feel that their appeal appears to be failing and decide to offer a settlement.
The length of time for a case to settle depends on when during the process the parties reach an agreement. Most cases settle sometime during the discovery phase, often before or after depositions. These claims typically take one to two years to resolve.
Cases that settle around the trial date take longer. A few cases go to trial and then to appeals. These cases may take up to five years to resolve.
When negotiating settlements, attorneys base their positions on their calculations of reasonable damages and the evidence of comparative negligence. The law entitles plaintiffs to economic and non-economic damages, but the amount must be adjusted downward when the plaintiff is partially at fault. As a result, comparative negligence is often hotly contested in settlement negotiations.
Mattiacci Law specializes in personal injury law. Our skilled team builds powerful cases and negotiates aggressively for our clients. To find out more about how a personal injury settlement works in your situation, contact Mattiacci Law.
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