The goal of every lawyer representing a client who has been injured through the negligence of another individual or entity should be to obtain a verdict or settlement that adequately compensates the client. Just as a personal injury lawyer must prepare a strategy for taking a case to trial, achieving maximum compensation through negotiations also requires that the attorney have a plan.
Knowing when to start negotiations and devising a strategy is not that difficult. Here are four steps an attorney can take to protect a client and achieve maximum results during settlement negotiations.
Prepare the case as though it is going to trial
Liability insurance companies keep track of which attorneys have a reputation for pushing personal injury cases toward a settlement in order to avoid having them go to trial. The only incentive an insurance company has for settling a claim is to avoid the risk of paying out more because of a jury verdict in a trial. Lawyers who conduct an investigation, make demands for discovery and make it clear they are prepared to go to trial on behalf of their clients will have the attention of insurance adjusters when settlement negotiations begin.
Know what the case is worth
Personal injury lawyers must evaluate the extent of the injuries suffered by their clients, including knowing whether the client will have a permanent disability from them, before they can begin settlement discussions. Negotiations should only begin after the attorney has decided on the amount a jury might award after a trial and the minimum amount that would be acceptable as fair compensation to the client.
Demanding more by way of a settlement than a jury might award at trial is a bad negotiating strategy because the attorney representing the opposing party or the liability insurance company has evaluated the case and has an idea of its maximum worth. On the other hand, not knowing the minimum amount a client should receive could lead to making a demand that falls short of what the claim is worth.
Be honest and stick to the facts
Misrepresenting the facts during negotiations about the extent of a client's injuries or about how the claim arose is certain to bring settlement discussions to an abrupt halt. Pretrial discovery rules in personal injury cases are designed to allow both sides to obtain information about the facts surrounding how an accident occurred and medical reports about the extent of the injuries suffered by the claimant.
It is not uncommon for the attorney or adjuster negotiating on behalf of the party who caused the injuries to the claimant to deny liability or try to place responsibility on the injured person. This might simply be a ploy to get the claimant's lawyer to reevaluate the value and strength of the client's case.
There is rarely a need to rush settlement negotiations or to impose a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum. If necessary, negotiations can be temporarily ended and resumed later as the case is moved toward trial.