Negotiation is the process by which two parties with opposing interests resolve their differences through discussion and compromise.
In a personal injury claim, the two parties are typically an injured victim and an insurance company. Sometimes, however, the victim will negotiate directly with the defendant whose misconduct caused the accident.
Negotiation is an art, and the skill with which you negotiate largely determines the amount of compensation you receive. It is for this reason, among others, that you should hire a lawyer to represent you for a sizable personal injury claim.
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Determining the Value of Your Claim
You need to know the value of your personal injury claim before you demand compensation for it. The larger your claim is, and the more long-term your injury is, the more difficult it will be to calculate the total value of your claim.
You might need expert witnesses to determine the amount of your future medical bills and the amount of lost income you will suffer as a result of occupational disability. You will also need to determine a realistic value for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. A personal injury lawyer can help you with this.
Sending a Demand Letter
A demand letter starts the settlement negotiation process. In the demand letter, you provide the opposing party with a brief description of the accident and your injuries. You issue a demand for a specific amount of money, broken down by category ($90,000 for medical bills, $40,000 for lost wages, $180,000 for pain and suffering, etc.) You should also suggest that you will take legal action if the opposing party fails to respond.
Since the precise wording of a demand letter is important, have your attorney draft it for you. The amount of your settlement demand should be no less than the estimated value of your claim. If you underestimate the value of your claim in your demand letter, it will be difficult to increase it later.
The Negotiation Process
It is unlikely that the opposing party will simply accept the amount you demand in your initial letter. Your demand letter starts a back-and-forth process that will probably last a few weeks to a few months. It is best to let your lawyer handle negotiations for you. This is especially beneficial if the opposing party is an insurance company because insurance company adjusters are professional negotiators.
The Benefits of Filing a Lawsuit Complaint Even If You Plan to Settle
Most personal injury victims prefer to settle their claims outside of court. Settling is quicker, easier, and cheaper than fighting it out in court. Filing a formal lawsuit complaint might be the right move to make, however, if negotiations stall. Filing a complaint offers you at least two distinct advantages:
- The court will set a trial date, and that puts pressure on the other side to settle before trial.
- It allows you to use the court-enforced discovery process. The discovery process allows you to demand evidence (including testimony) that is in the possession of the defendant or even a third party.
You can always settle your claim and withdraw your lawsuit before the trial date. In fact, that is how parties resolve most personal injury lawsuit complaints.
Games Insurance Companies Play
The insurance company adjuster will come to the negotiating table with a bag of tricks, especially if you have not hired a lawyer to represent you. Remember, insurance companies exist to make a profit, not to pay claims. That is what makes the insurance adjuster your adversary. Their goal is to either deny your claim entirely or to minimize its value. Following are a few of the tricks that an insurance adjuster might use against you:
- Convincing you not to hire a lawyer. You might find it strange that the larger your claim is, the nicer and more “cooperative” the insurance adjuster may seem. Convincing you not to hire a lawyer is the reason why.
- Secretly monitoring your social media accounts for evidence they can use against you. Stay off social media until you resolve your claim.
- Presenting you with a “lowball” settlement offer on a “take it or leave it” basis and an artificial deadline. Your only real deadline is the state statute of limitations deadline.
- Interviewing you on camera and then peppering you with trick questions.
- Convincing you to sign over complete access to your healthcare records, so they can go on a “fishing expedition” to attribute your injuries to some other cause (an old back injury, for example).
If the insurance adjuster refuses to pay more than the limits of the policy that it sold the insured, this is not a game. Instead, it is a practical limitation on the value of your claim. In some cases, you might find a third-party defendant who can share the burden of your claim (a bar that sold alcohol to a drunk driver who injured you, for example).
Let Your Lawyer Do the Negotiating For You
After a car crash or a truck accident, an experienced personal injury lawyer can prevent you from being bullied at the negotiating table because they are just as skilled at negotiating as insurance adjusters are. Let your lawyer do the talking for you. Remember, your lawyer has no legal right to settle your claim for you without your express permission.