Personal injury lawyers have several tactics at their disposal when negotiating for higher settlements. Ultimately, they can present compelling evidence of their clients’ accident-related losses to push for fair compensation.
Attorneys can present various pieces of evidence, such as expert testimony, accident reconstruction, and official documents, to negotiate for higher settlements. They may also gain leverage by threatening to take legal action on behalf of their clients. Since insurers usually want to avoid court fees and other related expenses, they may offer higher settlements to avoid going to trial.
Lawyers Negotiate for Higher Settlements by Assessing Damages Accurately
Nothing is more important for negotiations than accurately assessing a client’s damages. This step includes gathering information and documentation from expert witnesses, such as medical professionals and economists.
Lawyers should also ensure their accounting includes any future accident-related expenses their client will face. The last thing they want is to leave money on the table and have their client foot the bill if they incur additional expenses down the road.
Working With Expert Witnesses: Medical Professionals
Expert witnesses are professionals who can testify on behalf of the client and provide key information on the extent of their accident-related losses. For example, most personal injury cases involve medical professionals who can diagnose a client’s injuries and provide a prognosis for their future.
Only a physician can prescribe the necessary treatment plan for a client, and this is how lawyers account for present and future medical care expenses. A client’s medical documents speak volumes at the negotiating table.
For example, suppose a car accident victim’s injuries leave them with a permanent impairment. In this case, a personal injury lawyer may use medical documents to prove that their client will suffer future medical expenses related to their injuries, such as:
- Home modifications, such as wheelchair ramps
- In-home aid if a client can no longer perform daily tasks independently
- Ongoing physical therapy sessions
- Other rehabilitative therapy
Working With Expert Witnesses: Economists
If a client can no longer earn their pre-injury income or return to work at all, their lawyer may request compensation for reduced earning capacity. To prove this damage, they may compile their client’s wage statements and consult economists to calculate the difference between their pre-injury income and what they can now earn.
They can also use a client’s wage statements to calculate any wages they lost immediately after the accident. These documents may also help a personal injury attorney estimate missed bonuses, benefits, and paid time off their client would have received if they had not missed work.
Your clients’ families rely on the income they provide. You will want to ensure you accurately account for what they missed out on while healing from their injuries.
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Lawyers Negotiate for Higher Settlements by Proving Liability
Another factor that can affect an insurer’s settlement offers involves liability for the accident. Insurers may try to shift the blame–entirely or partly–onto a client in attempts to undervalue or deny their claim.
Part of establishing liability also involves evaluating any applicable comparative or contributory negligence laws to their client’s case. A lawyer can conduct an independent investigation of the accident to counter an insurance adjuster’s determination of fault. This way, they can ensure their client does not bear responsibility for a higher percentage of fault than they should.
Working With Expert Witnesses: Accident Reconstructionists
It may be necessary to work with accident reconstructionists to establish another party’s liability. For example, these experts can conduct an in-depth review of evidence from the scene of a car accident, such as tread marks, black-box data, and surveillance, to determine what caused or contributed to the wreck.
Accident reconstructionists may be able to determine if another party:
- Ran stop signs and red lights
- Failed to make a proper lane change
- Was speeding
- Lost control of their vehicle due to a defective auto part
- Was driving during dangerous road conditions
- Was driving during low visibility
This information can be invaluable when aiming to hold another party liable for your client’s injuries and losses.
Gathering Official Documentation
Depending on the type of accident your client experienced, official documents may serve as evidence of fault or negligence.
For example, suppose a client was injured on the job due to an equipment malfunction. In that case, their ability to obtain workers’ compensation benefits may depend on whether their lawyer can prove they used the equipment according to established safety standards. Helpful documentation may include safety training brochures or instruction manuals for the equipment.
In a car accident case, the official police report can be invaluable, as it often includes the responding officer’s assessment of fault for the crash. In the case of medical malpractice, you would rely on various medical records to show how a medical error occurred during your client’s treatment.
Whatever type of personal injury case you’re dealing with, your firm would do best to gather as much documentation about the accident as possible. The more evidence you bring to the negotiating table, the more leverage you will have in compelling an insurer to make a high settlement offer.
Reviewing an Insurance Policy
Another way lawyers can negotiate for higher settlements is by reviewing the liable party’s insurance policies. They should do this to ensure they seek compensation to the full policy limits when applicable.
Applying Comparative or Contributory Negligence Laws
Most U.S. states, including Georgia, use a comparative negligence system. This means personal injury victims can still recover damages even if they were partially at fault for their accident and injuries. However, the court will reduce each party’s damages proportionate to their degree of fault.
For example, suppose your client receives $100,000 in damages, but they shared 20% of the fault for the accident. In this case, their award would be reduced by 20%, and the maximum amount they could receive would be $80,000.
The two different versions of comparative negligence are
- Pure comparative negligence– Anyone who is 99% or less at fault for the accident can recover damages.
- Modified comparative negligence– Anyone who bears less than half of the fault for the accident can recover damages (some states say the victim must be less than 51% at fault, while others say they must be less than 50% at fault).
In a contributory negligence state, an accident victim cannot collect any damages if they share fault for the accident, even if their percentage of fault is only 1%. In these states, it is crucial to ensure your client does not bear any blame for the accident, or they may be barred from receiving compensation.
A lawyer can apply these laws to a client’s case and protect them from bad faith practices an insurance company may engage in. For example, an insurance adjuster may try to assign your client more fault for the accident than is reasonable. A lawyer can present evidence to dispute their findings.
Lawyers Negotiate for Higher Settlements by Proposing Legal Action
Personal injury lawyers always have the option to take legal action. In some cases, it may be best to begin with a lawsuit. It depends on the specific circumstances your individual client faces.
Even if a lawyer enters negotiations with an insurer, they always have the option of going to court in their back pocket, as long as the statute of limitations has not passed. Insurers generally wish to avoid a trial, so filing a lawsuit may push them to offer a fair settlement.
When proposing legal action to your client or a liable party, you should consider several things, such as the statute of limitations and your fee arrangement.
Insurers Usually Want to Avoid Paying Court Fees
In general, insurance companies want to avoid the costs of going to court, especially trial expenses. Each court sets its fee structure for these varied expenses. For instance, consider the following court filing fees imposed by the Southern District Court of Georgia:
- Civil filing fee
- Habeas Corpus Filing fee
- Appeal fee
Other miscellaneous expenses can include:
- Document filing/indexing fee
- Microfilm/Microfiche of Court records fee
- Search of records fee
- Certification fee
- Audio recording fee
- Record retrieval fee
- Returned check fee
- Exemplification of any document fee
- Attorney admission fee
- Certificate of good standing fee
- Pro hac vice fee
- Reproducing any paper record fee (per page)
Your firm and your client won’t want to deal with such fees, either. As you negotiate for fair compensation, you may persuade an insurer to make a higher settlement offer, so you can both avoid going to court.
Insurers May Wish to Settle Sooner Than Later
Everyone involved in a personal injury case would rather sort things out sooner than later. Even insurers want to close a claim or lawsuit as soon as possible. They, too, have other issues to attend to, such as other claims. They may make a higher settlement offer just to be done with your firm and your client.
Consider How the Statute of Limitations Affects Negotiations
As you negotiate for a higher settlement, consider how the statute of limitations affects your case. For example, Georgia’s statute of limitations generally gives injury victims two years to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Similarly, Georgia law also gives victims two years to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This can either be two years from the date of injury or from when the victim should have reasonably discovered their injury.
If you wait too long during negotiations, you could miss this filing deadline and cost your client their right to file a lawsuit. After this window closes, an insurer may deny a claim outright without any risk of litigation.
Consider How Your Fee Arrangement Affects Negotiations
Lastly, when negotiating for higher settlements, keep your law firm’s fee structure in mind. If you take personal injury cases on contingency, you may want to extend negotiations to avoid going to court and paying fees.
Still, if you feel a jury or judge would rule in your favor and award more compensation, taking legal action sooner rather than later may be worth it. Your client receiving a higher settlement means your firm will also make more of a profit.
If you work on a retainer or charge by the hour, you still want to consider how much time and resources you are willing to spend per case. Some cases will call for more negotiating and research than others. Your client will also want to settle the case as soon as possible, but only for fair compensation.
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Lawyers Negotiate for Higher Settlements to Seek Justice for Their Clients
All personal injury lawyers see first-hand the effects of negligence on individuals and their families. Some of your clients’ situations will be heartbreaking. Some accident victims are facing permanent impairment, and families are grieving the loss of loved ones.
When you negotiate for higher settlements, you are seeking more than just compensation for your client—you are pursuing justice for them. Though nothing can undo the harm they suffered or replace the family member they lost, going the extra mile for your clients may give them closure.
By negotiating for higher settlements, you can show your clients that they deserve justice. You can provide compassionate legal care by working to hold liable parties responsible.
Negotiating for Higher Settlements Is Possible
There’s no step-by-step process to follow when negotiating with insurers, and each case will require a tailored legal strategy. Still, there are several ways to negotiate for higher settlements and different factors to consider.
Personal injury lawyers must present compelling evidence of both their clients’ losses and liable parties’ negligence. They must adhere to important deadlines and weigh the pros and cons of entering litigation. Meanwhile, they have to temper their clients’ expectations and do everything in their power to further their clients’ best interests.
None of these tasks are easy, but negotiating for higher settlements can give their clients satisfaction in knowing that justice was served. It can also help them access the medical treatment they need to heal or cope with a permanent impairment. Negotiating is an art, and every individual case comes with unique challenges.