If you’ve been injured in a car wreck, you can receive compensation via a settlement or by filing a lawsuit and winning, but what is the actual process for recovery? Do you need your car injury lawyer to sue first? There is no strict rule that says you must go to court first, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have to. Here are some things you should know if you’ve been injured in a car accident in Houston, TX.
Ask a Car Injury Lawyer: Do I Have to Go to Court to Get a Settlement in Houston, TX?
Car Injury Settlements in a Nutshell
A settlement is simply a payment offer made by a negligent defendant who is responsible for an injury (or more likely that person’s insurance company) in exchange for the plaintiff injured person giving up the right to sue for damages resulting from their injury. Settlements are typically privately negotiated between the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant’s insurance company. Once a settlement offer is made and accepted, the plaintiff can no longer sue the defendant in court for damages.
Basically, when you accept a settlement for your injuries, you are making a contract not to sue in exchange for the settlement payment. There is no specific point in time where a settlement is required to take place. A settlement could be made the same day the injury took place or right up until a jury verdict has been reached. So, as a matter of law, you can receive a settlement without ever filing your case in court.
When Are Settlements Made?
It’s hard to say when a settlement is made on average because the circumstances of every claim are different. Some settlements are made very soon after the incident that caused the injury, while others are made well after the trial has begun; however, the vast majority of personal injury cases are settled out of court, especially where insurance companies are involved. In the rare case where insurance is not involved, a settlement may be harder to reach.
Why is this? Well, insurance companies have more money a greater ability to pay out claims. Their entire business model revolves around accepting the risk that some of their insured drivers will cause personal injury in exchange for a regular premium payment. They anticipate that they will have to pay out some claims. They just make sure that their premium rates will be enough to cover all the costs of accidents for which they will have to pay.
Benefits of Settlements
Benefits for Defendants
Settlements are reached so often because they usually provide a good deal of benefits to both the plaintiff and the defendant. As for the defendant, if the evidence against a defendant is overwhelming that they were at fault and the plaintiff has sustained substantial, and expensive, injuries, the defendant will want to avoid allowing a jury to determine how much they should pay the plaintiff. A settlement allows the defendant to set an acceptable dollar amount for their liability.
Defendants will likely also want to avoid the time and expense involved in litigation. Second, reaching a settlement can help the defendant avoid the reputational damage inherent in the negative publicity of a public trial. Nondisclosure agreements are often included in personal injury settlements for this very reason. Depending on the circumstances, a defendant may not want the facts of a given case made public, especially if their behavior was egregious.
Benefits for Injured Plaintiffs
Injured plaintiffs can also benefit significantly from accepting a settlement offer rather than taking their claims to court. Trials are often long and expensive. They usually require a great deal of time from the plaintiff and may lead to expenses like court costs and attorney fees depending on their fee arrangement. An injured plaintiff likely already has large medical bills that they are paying and settling allows them to cover those medical costs sooner rather than later.
Accepting a settlement can also ensure that the plaintiff will receive at least some amount of compensation. Juries can be unpredictable, and there is always a chance that, if their case goes to trial, the plaintiff will end up with nothing. A settlement offer is a sure thing and guarantees that the plaintiff will walk away with some level of redress for the expenses of their injury.
How Long Does it Take to Reach a Settlement?
How Strong Are the Facts Supporting Your Claim?
As we’ve touched on, how long it will take for you to reach a settlement is relatively uncertain. This determination relies on a few different factors. First, how strong is the evidence that the defendant caused your injury? If the evidence is solid and leads to an easy conclusion that the defendant was at fault, the insurance company will be more likely to settle faster, fearing a sure jury verdict in your favor should the case go to trial.
How Extensive Are Your Injuries?
The second major factor involves the extent and expense of your injuries. If your injuries are severe and you’ve incurred significant medical bills, the insurance company is more likely to wait to see the strength of your case before presenting you with a settlement offer to avoid paying out too large a sum of money. Under these circumstances, the insurance company may wait until you have filed a complaint with the court to see how the facts play out.
Have You Fully Recovered From Your Injuries?
The previous two factors affecting the length of receiving a settlement both involve the defendant’s considerations. The third major factor is something for you to consider: if you haven’t completed your medical treatment for injuries resulting from the accident, you may want to consider waiting until you have achieved what’s called “maximum medical improvement.” Maximum medical improvement just means that you have recovered as much as you possibly can from your injuries.
If you accept a settlement offer prior to your fullest possible recovery, you may be shorting yourself and not receiving the full amount of compensation you are due. What if your settlement is made based on six months’ worth of medical expenses and lost wages, but you are never able to work again and undergo another three years of doctors’ visits and therapy? It’s important to know the full extent of your damages before signing off on a final settlement.
How Quickly Do You Need the Money?
The final major factor entails how able you are to manage your current costs stemming from the incident while waiting for the right settlement number. If you’re underwater on your bills, you may be willing to accept a smaller payout if it’s a quicker one. You are in the best place to know your own financial position, but you should always consult a car injury lawyer before you accept pennies on the dollar from an insurance company.
Car accident settlements are rarely straightforward and often involve deep analysis of the circumstances surrounding your injuries and the incident that led to them. There are many things to consider, but you shouldn’t consider them alone. Contact Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner and let us help you get every cent you deserve. We’ve been serving our friends and neighbors in Houston, TX for 70 years, and we want to serve you.