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How To Decide Whether To Settle Your Personal Injury Case

Posted by attorney Andrew Myers

You should have a heart to heart talk with your lawyer. The specifics of any case are crucial in determining whether settlement is right. But, there are some basic concepts to consider before going to court. One study found that most plaintiffs who reject settlement offers and go to court instead end up getting less money than if they had settled. The research, by a firm named DecisionSet, claims that plaintiffs frequently do not take settlement offers seriously enough. Published in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, the study evaluated 2,054 cases that went to trial from 2002 to 2005. Injured plaintiffs ended up getting less than what had been offered 61 percent of the time. When the study first came out, members of the trial lawyers associations were outraged. Every case is different. Seasoned attorneys with a great deal of trial experience felt that categorizing all cases together was not fair. They said that experienced lawyers screen out questionable cases and then employ their years of experience to push their cases to the end, including trial if necessary. Another consideration is that juries are, in fact, made up of your peers in the community. Go to the grocery store or the mall and look around at the pool of folks who will decide your case. There are scientific and legalistic ways of screening jury members, including the expanded use of voir dire, or questioning potential jurors. New statutes and court rules in New Hampshire and Massachusetts in recent years allow for extended screening of jurors. But, jury selection is more abbreviated here than it is in other states where, in some high profile cases it takes weeks and months to pick jurors. Your attorney wants to select jurors who will do no harm to you. But, at the same time, insurance company attorneys work to protect their interests.

At one time, an inside "rule of thumb" on accident cases held that generally speaking the final settlement should be about three times your "special damages." Special damages are medical bills and lost wages added together. Multiply by three. This old rule is no longer a good guide especially where diagnostic tests come with a very high price tag, but are not actual treatment. Ask your attorney why a settlement is recommended. Do some soul searching on your own. In your heart of hearts do you think the people you see at the grocery store are going to give you the big bucks you want? Are you willing to sacrifice the offer you consider low to risk getting nothing? Personally, I like to try cases and I've tried all kinds of them. But, I do not want to try a case at the risk of a client's better interest. The best option is to ask any attorney before you hire them how much experience they have in cases like yours. Later, if and when settlement offers come in ask your lawyer what their experience has been taking similar cases to trial in the past.

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This answer is provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided in an office consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, with experience in the area of law in which your concern lies.

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