Posted by Jeremy Swanson
On May 14, 2024

How Injury Settlements Work

So You’ve Been Injured

After the devastation of an injury, most people are left picking up the pieces. Damaged property, medical bills, and lost income can wreak havoc on a person’s life. While TV shows have often depicted injury plaintiffs as greedy opportunists looking for a large payout, the fact is that most of these people simply want some semblance of normality back in their lives. Unfortunately, the process many insurance companies require you to go through is intentionally frustrating and difficult to navigate. Many people who deserve compensation often give up before they ever file a claim.

We always recommend hiring an attorney to take you through that process, but we’re also happy to provide you with information to help you make the most informed decisions you can. We’ll take you step-by-step through some of the most common injury settlement processes, and give you a preview of what challenges you might face and what outcomes you can expect.

Step 1: Getting injured.

While being injured may seem like an obvious predicate, we need to clarify what is involved in an injury. Legally, a personal injury refers to some sort of physical, mental, or emotional harm that was caused to you due to the action, or failure to act, of another person. The harm does not have to be intentional, but it does typically have to be more than a completely unforeseeable accident. Some examples of common injuries are:

– Broken bones
– Lacerations
– Muscle or cartilage strain or injury
– Anxiety or depression
– Poisoning (Acute or chronic)
– Cancer and other environmentally caused diseases
– Wrongful death

Causes of these injuries can be myriad, but some of the more common examples are:

– Motor vehicle accidents
– Animal bites
– Medical Malpractice
– Exposure to toxic agents or carcinogens
– Physical or sexual assault or intimidation
– Injury on unsafe premises
– Threats and stalking

Second, the injury damages need to be recoverable. That is to say that there must be a monetary cost assigned to the injury. You do not have to have receipts showing specific medical costs, (although these are helpful if you do have them) but you do have to be able to quantify your damages to some degree. You cannot simply make up a number. For information on calculating damages, read our article here

Step 2: Contacting Insurance

We strongly recommend waiting to speak with a lawyer before you contact either your own or the offending party’s insurance company. Insurance companies are not in the business of losing money, and they will ask questions and ask for signed statements that may seem innocuous to you, but which they can use to lessen or outright deny your claim. A skilled lawyer can help to navigate these traps for you without compromising the integrity of your case.

When you do contact an insurance company, they will ask you to file a claim where they will ask you about all the details of your injuries. They will frequently ask for things including medical records and documentation. They will also ask you questions about what you were doing at the time that the injury occurred. Remember, these questions are for their benefit, not yours. They are looking for any reason you can give them to deny your claim.

Some insurance companies have even been caught denying claims regardless of the evidence and hoping that you do not have the knowledge or patience to go through the process of fighting them on it. If you are unable to get the insurance company to cover your claim, or the coverage they are offering is insufficient for your damages, you will need to go to court.

Step 3: Filing a Lawsuit.

Filing a lawsuit against both the injuring party and their insurance is the next step in the chain. And if you thought that insurance companies were picky about their paperwork, the court system is another beast altogether. Again, we recommend strongly that you hire a competent attorney who knows how to navigate all of the paperwork for your claim. Even a single incorrect box on a form can cost you the whole case, or at least force you to refile, a time-consuming process that is going to take even more money and effort.

However, if you cannot or do not wish to hire an attorney, most courthouses are capable of directing you to legal assistance centers. These centers cannot offer legal advice, nor tell you how to fill out forms. However, they can inform you about what forms you need, and they are often capable of directing you to a number of free community resources. If you decide to represent yourself, these resources can be incredibly valuable in educating and preparing yourself for trial.

You will have to file your suit with the court and arrange to have the other parties served the paperwork. Once you have filed your suit, you will receive a court date and a service date. The service date indicates the deadline to serve the papers to the other party.

You may not serve these papers yourself. It must be someone unconnected to the case. While this can be anybody, there are professional legal service companies that are skilled at getting this paperwork acknowledged by the other party and are familiar with properly documenting when a party is attempting to avoid service. If you hire a lawyer, almost all of the time they have a legal paper server that they work with who is very skilled at getting these papers served and documented correctly.

After the party has received the papers, you will have to file the proof of service form with the court prior to your hearing date. It is always best to be as prompt as possible when filing your legal paperwork. That way, if a mistake is made, the court can often alert you while you still have time to correct it. After you have served the other party, you will have to be ready to appear.

Step 4: Getting a Settlement Offer.

After the lawsuit has been filed, there are two typical possibilities. Either you (or preferably, your attorney) may contact the insurance company and ask for a settlement, or they may contact you with an offer. Here you would negotiate directly with the company’s lawyers in order to come to terms that you can both agree on. If you both are capable of agreeing, the settlement will be presented before the court. The court can either choose to accept or reject the settlement, although settlement rejection is not very common.

After a settlement has been accepted by a judge, the settlement is usually governed by the structure set up in the settlement agreement. Some settlements are lump-sum payments in which you will be issued a single check. Other settlements, called structured settlements, may involve regular payments over a period of time. Under California law, insurance companies are usually required to pay out settlements within 30 days of being accepted by the court.

Even after the settlement has been accepted, the court still has authority over the case. If a settlement offer is not being followed, the judge is capable of issuing orders to enforce, and you can sue for breach of contract of the settlement agreement, including additional damages for the failure to pay on time.

How We Can Help

As you can see, the deck of the entire process is stacked heavily against the plaintiff. If you want the best chance at getting a satisfactory settlement for your case and avoiding the traps that can hurt your final claim, you need a skilled and savvy advocate on your side. With decades of experience, we have the knowledge to confront the predatory practices of insurance companies and help safeguard your peace of mind as you work on getting your life back to normal. If you’re looking for an attorney to help guide you through this process, schedule a free consultation with us today.