It’s the moment that all lawyers dream of.You’ve got a client with a good personal injury case – slip and fall, car accident, anything – and there’s an insurance company ready to settle. This is it, everything is there, you even oversee the car getting repaired. The causation, damages, the insurer with deep pockets, it’s ready to go. You didn’t even have to file a lawsuit. Yup, the insurance company is willing to compensate your client, generously, and ne’er a whisper of litigation in sight. And right before you’re about to pull the trigger and tell your client to sign on the dotted line, you have an epiphany. Your client is still treating. Their injuries haven’t yet resolved themselves. In fact, the doctors don’t even really know for sure what’s causing their persistent pain, or if it will ever actually go away entirely.
Now, let’s think about that settlement for a moment. Let’s say this is an auto accident with clear cut liability. There’s no issue as to whether there’s a “serious physical injury” under the Insurance Law (a threshold requirement for maintaining a lawsuit in a car accident). And the insurance policy is for $100,000 per person per accident, and $300,000 per accident total if there are multiple injured parties. Your client is the only one hurt and the insurance company offers her $75,000, or 3/4 of the total she can obtain under the policy. Now that sounds like a pretty good deal, and it may turn out to be the best deal she gets. But there are some other considerations that should be taken into account. If you’re hurt in a car accident like this client but in Sacramento, check out Car Accident Injury Lawsuit Results from the Demas Law Group.
First, if you don’t know the extent of your client’s injuries, how can you advise her whether the $75,000 is actually a fair settlement? If it turns out that she is permanently injured, then she deserves a number closer to the policy limit, if not the entire policy or more (but to get more is a different story for a different day). Second, there’s time. Assuming your client came to you soon after the accident, you’ve got almost three full years to file a lawsuit before you’re barred by the infamous “statute of limitations.” I have cases now where we’ve spent a whole year trying to figure out the extent of my client’s injuries, and we still have almost two full years to go before our time to sue runs out. I usually like to file the lawsuit with a full year to go on the statute of limitations, however, because a wise (and famous in legal circles) professor once taught me to save time for trouble.
Which brings me to my third and final point. If the case is getting too close to the statue of limitations deadline for comfort (for me, two years in a typical negligence case), just file the lawsuit. It changes nothing. The liability is going to be the same. The only thing that might be different is that you discover your client’s injuries are more serious than originally thought, because you’ve taken more time to see it through. In fact, a good argument can be made to file the lawsuit immediately in a case that’s clear cut, but that’s a matter of perspective and strategy. Further, it would be illogical for the insurance company, or their counsel, to withdraw their offer after you file the lawsuit because under the doctrine of “bad faith”, they may be on the hook for damages exceeding the policy limit after a trial if they reject a reasonable offer within the policy limits before trial. So, at the end of the day, a little patience goes a long way. As in maybe tens of thousands of dollars more in a settlement. Sometimes it just pays to look a gift horse in the mouth, at least temporarily!
For help with personal injury claims in Missouri, you may want to reach out to Personal Injury Lawyer St. Louis like Sansone & Lauber.