Should You Settle or Go to Court After a Car Accident in Massachusetts?
If you’ve been injured in a car accident in Massachusetts caused by another driver’s negligence, you may be eligible to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. With some exceptions, generally you need to have more than $2,000.00 in medical expenses to be eligible to file a personal injury claim or bodily injury claim. One of our Boston car accident lawyer should explain what their options are, the guarantee of the settlement, and what risks may be associated in going to trial.
Filing a personal injury claim is not the same thing as suing or filing a lawsuit. It simply means that you have notified the at-fault driver’s insurance company that you were injured because of their insured’s negligence and are claiming or seeking compensation for your damages.
There are a lot of different claims that a person may have as a result of a car accident. For example, you may have a collision claim, towing claim, Personal Injury Protection or PIP Claim, Med Pay claim, Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist Claim. It is not recommended that you try to handle the claims yourself. There are too many mistakes that you could make that will cost you money. Also, statistics show that a person receives more money in a personal injury settlement when they are represented by an attorney.
You should not hire just any attorney to handle your car accident personal injury claim. You should hire an attorney who specializes in car accident personal injury claims. The experienced Boston Car Accident Attorneys at the Law Office of John J. Sheehan can provide invaluable assistance and help ensure that you receive full compensation for your injuries.
Attorney John Sheehan recently made a video about the subject: Settling vs. Going to Court in MA
Factors To Consider Before Accepting A Car Accident Insurance Settlement in Massachusetts
Whether to settle a car accident personal injury claim or go to court really depends on a variety of factors. There is no one size fits all answer. Knowing when to settle and for how much money is one of the benefits of hiring an experienced car accident attorney to handle your personal injury claim. Should you settle or go to Court? Well, the real answer is: It depends.
How Much Insurance Coverage Does The Defendant Have?
One of the first things that an experienced car accident lawyer does at the beginning of the case is to confirm that the at-fault driver has auto insurance and the amount of insurance coverage. The amount of coverage is referred to as insurance limits or policy limits. For a car accident personal injury claim, the applicable coverage is called Bodily Injury Limits.
There are different amounts of Bodily Injury Limits. As of 2021, the compulsory or required Bodily Injury automobile coverage in Massachusetts is $20,000/$40,000. It’s often referred to simply as 20/40. For these bodily injury limits, the most money the at-fault driver’s insurance company would pay to settle a personal injury claim is $20,000. If there were multiple people injured in the car accident, under this example, the most money the at-fault driver’s insurance company would have to pay all personal injury claim is $40,000 total. How that money gets divided and paid to the injured parties depends on the extent of damages each person sustained in the car accident.
An at-fault driver may have higher insurance coverage above the 20/40 compulsory bodily injury limits. This higher insurance coverage is referred to as Optional Bodily Injury Limits and could be, for example, $50,000/$75,000, $100,000/$300,000 or $250,000/$500,000 for a personal auto policy in Massachusetts. There could be additional insurance coverage called Umbrella Coverage which could be a million dollars or more depending on the insurance policy. If the at-fault driver was operating a commercial vehicle or truck, then the commercial general liability insurance policy covering the commercial vehicle could be a million dollars or more.
An experienced Boston Car Accident Attorney will investigate to find out all the available insurance coverages in order to advise the client whether to settle the personal injury claim or go to court. If the other driver’s bodily injury limits are only $20,000/$40,000 and the insurance adjuster has made a settlement offer for the full policy limits, then settlement may be advisable especially if the defendant does not have other available insurance coverage or assets that would satisfy a court judgment.
What’s The Strength Of Your Personal Injury Claim?
Whether to settle or go to Court may depend on the strength of your personal injury claim.
There are two parts to a personal injury claim: Liability and Damages.
Liability is simply a technical legal term that, in the context of a car accident personal injury claim, means negligence or fault. When considering a settlement, you need to evaluate the strengths in your personal injury claim. This includes considering what evidence your car accident attorney has obtained to prove that the other driver was negligent or at fault.
There are two types of Damages in a car accident personal injury claim. Special Damages or Economic Damages and General or Non-Economic Damages.
Special Damages are things that are quantifiable and can be added up such as medical expenses and lost wages. General Damages are things that cannot be quantified but are very real just the same. These include:
- Pain and Suffering
- Scarring and Disfigurement
- Permanent Impairment or Permanent Loss of Function
- Loss of Enjoyment of Life
When considering an offer to settle your personal injury claim, you have to take consider the strength of your case, the amount of money being offered and how likely you will win in court and get more money than the insurance company is offering to settle out of court.
How Far Apart Are Your Car Accident Lawyer and Insurance Adjuster In Settlement Negotiations?
If the insurance adjuster is making a final offer that is pretty close to your car accident lawyer’s settlement demand, then it may be good to settle out of court. If, on the other hand, the adjuster and lawyer are too far apart in settlement negotiations, then your lawyer may have to file a lawsuit.
Just because your car accident lawyer files a lawsuit, does not mean that settlement negotiations stop. Frequently, the insurance company for the other drive will reassign your personal injury claim to a more experienced adjuster after your lawyer files a lawsuit. The new adjuster may offer more money to try and settle your personal injury claim.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
There are other ways of resolving a personal injury claim besides going to court. Alternative Dispute Resolution or ADR covers several ways to resolve legal disputes that are quicker and cheaper than filing a lawsuit and waiting for your day in court to have a jury trial.
Arbitration is like a trial except that it is conducted out of court at an office conference room and is conducted by an Arbitrator who is usually a senior lawyer with years of experience or a retired judge. The Arbitrator is sort of a judge and jury in the sense that the Arbitrator conducts the arbitration and decides the case.
Your car accident lawyer and the insurance adjuster may agree to submit your personal injury claim to Arbitration. Of course, your lawyer will explain the process to you and all parties have to agree to go to arbitration. Your lawyer and the insurance adjuster may agree to put limits on the arbitration award. This is commonly referred to as a High/Low Agreement and is not disclosed to the Arbitrator. The advantage of a High/Low Agreement is that both parties – you and the insurance company – have safeguards or limits on the outcome of the arbitration that, generally, you would not have if you took your case to court. You would be guaranteed a certain amount of money no matter what the arbitrator decided – even if you lost the arbitration. The insurance company would have a cap on how much they would have to pay as well – no matter what the arbitrator awarded.
Mediation is another type of Alternative Dispute Resolution. Unlike arbitration, a mediation is a settlement conference conducted by a Mediator selected by the parties. A Mediator may be a lawyer with years of experience handling car accident injury claims or a retired judge. A Mediator cannot force either party to settle. A Mediator talks to each party in private and tries to move the parties closer to settlement until they reach an amount of money the parties can accept.
Are There Problems With the Car Accident Personal Injury Claim?
Most personal injury claims have their own strengths and weaknesses. There are a variety a factors that could present a problem with the case and could be a reason to settle the claim.
For example, there could be causation complications or problems. In a personal injury claim, you must prove that your injuries were caused by the car accident. If the injured person had pre-existing medical conditions before the car accident, that could be a problem in the case. Maybe the injured person had a bad back before the car accident and is claiming that the car accident aggravated or worsened the back pain.
Another potential problem could be that the injured person bringing the personal injury claim had a history of prior accidents and injury claims. Some jurors may not be sympathetic or open to awarding damages if they see evidence that the injured person has a history of bring personal injury claims or filing lawsuits seeking money damages.
You Control the Outcome in a Personal Injury Settlement
One of the biggest advantages of settling out of court, is that you control the outcome of your personal injury claim. With a jury trial, it’s a gamble and unknow who is going to win and how much money, if any, a jury will award if the injured person wins at trial. There have been cases where a jury finds that the defendant driver was negligent but that the plaintiff did not sustain any damages or that the damages were not causally related to the car accident. Also, a jury may decide the case in favor of the injured person but award less money than what the insurance company had offered.
You Can Negotiate Liens
There may be liens on your personal injury claim such as health insurance liens, Mass Health liens, Medicare liens, workers comp liens, long term or short term disability liens and child support liens.
Your car accident lawyer can negotiate lien reductions when settling your personal injury claim. That means that you will receive more money out of the settlement. That’s another advantage of settling out of court.
Risk Of Losing At Trial
Nothing is guaranteed when going to trial. Both sides can win, and both sides can lose. In a personal injury claim, generally speaking, the insurance company is in a better financial position to take the chance of losing. Again, you control the outcome if your car accident lawyer can negotiate a reasonable settlement of your personal injury claim.
Increased Litigation Expenses
Filing a lawsuit and going through the discovery process of depositions and expert depositions is expensive. A simple two car accident with 2-3 witnesses could cost up to $1,500 or more just for the court costs and deposition costs. While your car accident lawyer may front that money, it will come out of any settlement or court judgment if you win your personal injury claim at trial. That could mean substantially less money for the injured person unless the court judgment is substantially more than the final settlement offer.
Litigation expenses are certainly a real consideration to keep in mind when deciding whether to settle or go to court.
Delays Getting Firm Trial Date
Normally it could take 1 ½ to 2 years to get a trial date for a car accident personal injury claim in Massachusetts. The reality is, however, that there could be a backlog of cases ahead of your case that could push back that trial date. That could mean continuances and delays before you ever get your day in court. At least with a settlement, arbitration or mediation, you will control when the case is settled and closed.
So, Should You Settle Or Go To Court?
As you can see, that can be a complicated question that really depends on each case. The honest answer is that it all depends. The good news is that an experienced Boston Car Accident Attorney with a proven track record of results and satisfied clients can offer you legal advice and guidance to help you make the BEST decision for you personal injury claim.
Reach out to our Boston Car Accident Attorney to see how we can help you with your car accident personal injury claim. Call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 396-7295 to get a personalized case review.