What factors should you consider when looking for a fair personal injury settlement?
There are a number of factors that are used to determine the value of your claim. When you have been injured in an accident it can be difficult for you to determine what is a fair settlement amount for your claim. Do not believe what your friends, relatives or others have said about what your case and claim is worth. An experienced Oregon personal injury attorney, especially one who has experience on both the plaintiff and defense side of litigation, is best suited to evaluate your claim.
Each case is unique and depends on a variety of factors. Insurance companies have adjusters whose sole job is to evaluate injury claims and minimize the amount that the insurance companies pay out to injured people. You need to be careful to protect your rights and make sure you are fairly compensated for your injuries.
I strongly recommend that you seek the assistance of an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases. Personal injury attorneys make their living by knowing the value of your claim. When I evaluate a personal injury claim I rely on my experience, I speak with other personal injury lawyers, and I research an online database of jury verdicts and settlement amounts for similar personal injury cases in Oregon. Insurance companies are more likely to fully compensate you for your injuries if they know you have a personal injury attorney who is willing to file a lawsuit and take your case to a jury. In my experience, insurance companies often substantially increase their settlement offers once a lawsuit has been filed. In some instances I have had insurance companies settle cases quickly for twice their original offer once I filed a lawsuit. Without the threat of a lawsuit, legal costs, and large jury verdict, insurance companies have little incentive to fully compensate you for your injuries.
Factors In Evaluating Your Claim
The first and most important factor is liability. In order for you to recover for your personal injuries, you have to be able to prove that the injuries were due to the fault of the party who you are trying to recover from. This can be simple in cases where the fault is obvious (drunk driver, defective products, etc.). It can be very difficult in cases where the other party does not believe they are at fault or has a different account of the accident than you do. In some cases there may be some comparative fault on your part. Your recovery can be diminished by the percentage you are found to be at fault or may be barred entirely if you are found to be more than 50% at fault for the accident. The other party may be negligent per se, if they violated a law that was meant to protect you. What this means is that if you can prove that the other party violated a law (traffic laws, safety requirements, etc.) that was meant to protect people in your situation, the other party can be held liable for your injuries. This can be difficult to prove without the assistance of a personal injury lawyer, as many people are not familiar with the many laws enacted to protect people from harm.
Once liability has been established, the next step is determining the nature and extent of your injuries. The most important factors are the severity and permanency of your injuries. A relatively minor injury that is permanent can be worth more than a more severe injury that heals quickly.
Another factor to be taken into consideration is your medical treatment and medical expenses. Insurance companies are reluctant to pay for injuries that are not documented in your medical records. The at fault party is only responsible to pay for your reasonable and necessary medical expenses. Oftentimes insurance companies will try and deny repayment of your medical expenses as they do not see them as reasonable and necessary, and you may be forced to file a lawsuit in order to recover these expenses.
Some people believe that your settlement amount is directly tied to the amount of your medical expenses. For example, some people believe that your recovery for your pain and suffering should be somewhere between 1 to 3 times your medical expenses. This is a somewhat misleading rule of thumb. It is possible to have a large personal injury claim with relatively low medical expenses (broken arm, herniated disc, lost limb, etc.) so this is not an accurate way to truly determine the value of your case. That being said, I rarely, if ever, advise a client to accept less than equivalent of their medical expenses for their pain and suffering compensation.
Another important factor is your economic damages. Economic damages are things like lost wages, medical expenses, property damage, and future lost wages. Any settlement should fully compensate you for all of you present economic losses. Depending on the seriousness of your injuries, you may be unable to continue your previous employment and may need retraining or be forced to take a lower paying job. You should be compensated for these future lost wages, but it can be difficult to prove and may require the services of an economist or other expert witness.
Another factor that can motivate insurance companies to offer your full compensation is attorney fees. In some types of cases the at fault party is liable for my fees if I file a lawsuit on your behalf and prevail. Oregon law provides for attorney fees for personal injury claims of $5,500 or less. If I send a demand letter asking for $5,500, the insurance company has 10 days to respond with an offer. If they do not give me an offer, or give me an offer that I later beat after filing a lawsuit, they are liable for my attorney fees and filing fees. They do not want to have to pay these expenses, so they will often settle these cases within 10 days by offering fair settlement amounts.
Above are just some of the factors involved in evaluating your personal injury claim. If you would like my assistance in handling your Oregon personal injury claim, please contact me. I do not charge for an initial consultation. I will not charge you a fee unless I am successful in recovering money for you.