Settling a personal injury case can be a long, drawn-out process. If another person negligently injured you, you want to ensure that you have control over your injury claim and have the final say in accepting or rejecting a settlement offer. Can a lawyer settle your case without your consent? Does a lawyer have to ask you before they agree to an offer?
Ethically, a lawyer should not settle on a client’s behalf without consent. However, legally, a lawyer is the client’s representative and may make legal decisions about their case. If you have a personal injury claim, you may choose to empower your lawyer to accept a settlement offer that reaches a certain threshold.
An ethical, trustworthy personal injury lawyer will prioritize communication with their client so they understand every step of the settlement process. That way, the client can make decisions based on the compensation they expect and deserve for their injuries.
Your Rights as a Client in a Personal Injury Claim
When you hire a lawyer, they must comply with local ethical rules governing how they represent you. Your lawyer owes you a fiduciary duty to act in a way that will benefit you rather than their law firm.
You may choose who will represent you.
If another person injured you and you need to file a personal injury claim, you have the right to choose who will represent you in court. Whether you suffered broken bones in a motorcycle accident or a traumatic brain injury in a construction accident, you can choose whether you want a lawyer to represent you and, assuming that the lawyer will take your case, which lawyer you want to hire.
You may also have the right to represent yourself in a personal injury claim. However, representing yourself could negatively affect the outcome of your case since personal injury claims are complex. You may also have to fight harder to get the compensation you deserve. For example, the insurance company may not take you as seriously as they would if you had a lawyer representing your interests.
You have the right to understand what your legal representation will cost.
When you talk to a lawyer, they should explain how much legal representation will cost throughout your injury claim. Many personal injury lawyers bill on a contingency fee basis. You may pay for those legal services using a percentage of your settlement or court award rather than paying upfront for legal services. Before signing a contract with a lawyer, you should know what percentage of the funds you win will go to your lawyer and ask about any additional fees you may face as you move through the process.
You have the right to decide when a settlement fits your needs.
As the victim of a serious injury, you can decide whether a settlement offer fits your needs or if you want to continue to pursue additional compensation. Your lawyer cannot decide this for you. If you receive a settlement offer that does not reflect your needs, you may continue negotiating with the insurance company or take your claim to court.
Your lawyer cannot stop you from taking a claim to court if that is your choice. However, a lawyer can decide that the firm no longer wants to work with you as a client if your decisions do not match with the advice given by your lawyer.
You have the right to understand any settlement offer and what it means for you financially.
Settlement offers in personal injury claims can be incredibly complicated. While you may receive a financial offer from the insurance company, that offer may not include any liens on the account, legal fees you will have to pay off, or other expenses that may come directly from the settlement amount.
A settlement that looks great on the surface may hurt you once you calculate the actual value you will take home after settling any medical expenses and legal fees, especially if you suffered permanently disabling injuries.
Notify the liable party that you do not accept the offer.
You may have the right, in some cases, to notify the other party that an offer does not fit your needs and that you do not accept that offer. In some cases, issuing that notification can allow you to continue negotiation or even move forward with taking your claim to court if that fits your needs and preferences.
Report the lawyer to your state bar association.
A lawyer who routinely fails to act in the best interests of their clients may face consequences from the state bar association. You may prevent others from having similar negative experiences by reporting the lawyer.
Discuss your options with a lawyer you can trust.
Get in touch with a lawyer who will communicate with you and give you more information about your options. A lawyer may help you learn about your rights and how to protect them following a bad interaction with a previous attorney.
What Happens if You and Your Lawyer Disagree?
Most of the time, you and your lawyer should agree on how to proceed with a settlement or claim. Your lawyer should explain your legal options and help you make a decision that fits your needs, both for now and in the future. However, clients and lawyers sometimes disagree about when to accept a settlement offer.
What happens next?
Discuss the disagreement.
Let your lawyer know that you disagree with their decision and why. Every person has different needs and expectations. For example, some clients prefer to settle quickly, so they have immediate funds. Other clients may hold out for as much compensation as possible to put themselves in a better position to handle future expenses and needs. Make sure your lawyer knows your priorities and plans from the beginning.
Listen to your lawyer’s opinion.
Sometimes, your lawyer may argue that you must approach your claim differently than initially planned. They may uncover additional evidence that changes their opinion on the case’s outcome. Or, they may have more insights into the insurance company’s policies and how you can move forward with a settlement that will fit your needs.
Ask your lawyer why they want you to accept a settlement. Once you discuss the process with your lawyer, you may understand why your lawyer made the decision and feel more confident moving forward with your lawyer’s recommendation.
The Settlement Process
The negotiation process takes time. Before you file a personal injury claim, contact a lawyer who can help explain your rights and give you a better idea of how the settlement process will go. Choose a lawyer you can count on to provide an accurate explanation of your legal rights and next steps. In general, most personal injury claims follow this timeline:
During the initial investigation, the insurance company and your lawyer will study the available information about your claim. They may examine evidence from the scene, your medical reports and expenses, and other documents about your losses.
During this time, your lawyer will create a demand package that establishes your financial needs related to the accident and the compensation you expect for your injuries. Meanwhile, the insurance company will generate a settlement offer based on its policies and your damages.
After the initial investigation, your claim may go through a considerable negotiation process. In many cases, your lawyer will go through several rounds of negotiation with the insurance company. For example, when your lawyer sends the demand package, the insurance company may respond with an offer reflecting just a percentage of those damages. Your lawyer may reply with a number that more accurately reflects your losses.
At any point in the negotiation process, you or the insurance company can agree to the other side’s proposal, ending the negotiation and moving toward getting the settlement in your hands. Most personal injury cases do settle out of court.
As a client, you can ask your lawyer to notify you whenever an offer comes in. Alternatively, you can have your lawyer inform you of an offer only under specific circumstances. For example, you may want to receive a notification if the insurance company issues a settlement offer over a certain financial threshold or if the negotiations drag out for a certain length of time. You can empower your lawyer to accept a settlement offer on your behalf that reflects your needs.
Mediation and Court
If you cannot reach an agreement through negotiation, you will need to set a court date and, in many cases, go through mediation. During mediation, you, your lawyer, and the insurance company will work together with a mediator to determine whether you can reasonably agree in your case. If you cannot, the case will go to court.
Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer You Can Trust
Because your personal injury lawyer has the power to negotiate and accept settlements on your behalf, you must ensure that you have a lawyer you can trust on your side. Contact a lawyer with a reputation for excellence and success to learn how to proceed with your claim.