You've recently heard from the insurance adjuster for the wrongdoer, who wants to resolve the claim and has made you an offer to settle. Problem is, you (or your family member) are still receiving medical treatment, and you really don't know how this injury will play out. Do you settle the claim now, or do you wait? And what are the risks? Here are three things to keep in mind.
- The Release. The reason the insurance adjuster is calling you and offering you money is because the insurance company wants to buy a release from you. This is your signature on a document that says you release the wrongdoer from any future claims relating to this injury. Future. Claims. This means that you cannot later decide that you did not receive adequate compensation for your injuries, or that things were worse than you expected. So, if you're still receiving treatment for your injuries, and your physician is not certain what the future holds (more surgeries, scarring, development of future complications), you may want to think twice before accepting payment and signing a release.
If you sign a release, you cannot later decide that you did not
receive adequate compensation for your injuries.
- Time is on your side (or maybe it's not). When considering whether to settle a claim or wait for treatment to end you should think about how long you have to file a lawsuit if need be. Generally speaking the statute of limitations is 3 years for most accident cases, 2 ½ years for most medical negligence cases, and much shorter for cases against municipalities, school districts, and other public entities. So, depending upon the wrongdoer you may very well have some time to wait and see how things play out. Being aware of the statute of limitations, and keeping it in the forefront of your mind as you proceed, is critical, because blowing the statute of limitations is essentially the same thing as signing a release – you've effectively given up any claims in the future.
- Is the compensation adequate in light of the known (and unknown) facts? When we think about what constitutes “adequate compensation” following an injury, we look at two things: liability and damages.
Liability asks, “how strong is this case?” Is the law in your favor? Did the wrongdoer actually do something negligent, or in violation of a law that would allow you to recover from them at trial? This is not a black/white, yes/no issue. Liability can run the gamut from very strong to very weak, and it must be considered in evaluating whether you should resolve your claim at any given time. The strength of the legal case impacts its value significantly.
The problem with a pre-suit assessment of liability, however, is that there may be quite a bit that you don't know. Information that is solely within the possession of the wrongdoer, and which you are not entitled to receive outside of the context of a lawsuit. You must keep this in mind when considering settlement.
The other part of the equation is damages. This is where the issue of continuing treatment becomes most critical. Are you comfortable/content with resolving the case now, knowing that there are some unknowns about your medical condition and potential future needs? At a minimum, if you are considering settling a case while still treating you should ask your physician his or her opinion about your future needs, and take this into consideration in arriving at your “number.”
The above are just a small example of the things to consider when deciding whether to settle a claim for serious injuries while you're still receiving treatment. There are many others. If you have questions about a potential resolution, or feel that you're in a position to have an advocate, contact us today. We're happy to help.