Pam: So when it’s time to discuss a settlement with the insurance company, how does the worker go about starting that conversation?
Barry Doyle: Well, it’s a time when I would really recommend to anybody this is a good time to get legal help. Unless you really understand the legal framework of how workers’ compensation works, you’re kind of flying blind. If you have an offer that’s been made already in writing, it’s a great time to take it to a lawyer because lawyers under the Workers’ Compensation Act aren’t permitted to charge a fee on an offer that the worker got on their own. So, if you have an offer, the only thing you’d be paying a lawyer a fee for is what they get above and beyond. So, if you take an offer to a lawyer and it’s a fair offer they’re going to tell you that, because they’re not going to make anything on a case where you’ve come in with an offer that’s fair and reasonable already. So, it’s a good time to get good advice from somebody who really knows what they’re talking about.
When it comes to the topic of settlement, trying to negotiate a settlement without understanding the full legal framework of how these settlements are calculated can really lead you down a path where you really short change yourself. Assume for a minute that fair, reasonable settlement value for your case is $15,000, alright? Now, unless you know what the legal framework is you may have no idea that $15,000 is the fair, reasonable number for settling your case. Let’s assume that you think, “I’d like to settle the case for $10,000.” There may be a reason that $10,000 sounds like the right number to you. It’s what a friend of yours got for a similar kind of injury, it may be what you need to pay a bunch of bills that have piled up while you were off work, whatever your reason is for selecting $10,000 as the right number.
One of two things is going to happen. The least likely is that the insurance company is going to say, “Yes, $10,000 is the right number, we should settle for $10,000.” Because the odds are that instead of saying, “We’ll settle with you for $10,000,” they may come back and say “$8,000” or “$9,000,” and try and knock you down further off of what the real, true settlement value is. When you present that $10,000 without any real basis for understanding what that is, A. You’re sort of signaling to the insurance company that you don’t know how to evaluate the case and you don’t understand the framework, but you’ve already sold yourself short from what’s really fair and right by at least $5,000.
Let’s assume for a minute that you hit on the right number, it’s $15,000, a very reasonable settlement value, the insurance company isn’t going to volunteer to pay that to you. They may suggest to you 10 or 12, any which way they’re going to try and negotiate you downwards off of what that fair settlement value is, because any money that they’re not paying to you is profit to them. I was representing a gentleman in a car accident case a number of years ago, basically some kid had pulled out in front of him while he was driving down the street. Kid pulls out of a driveway, sideswipes the client, the client loses control of the car, smashes into a light pole. He calls me up and says, “I’ve got a statute of limitations coming up in about three months, I have pain in my neck running down into the fingers of my left hand.”
To me that sounds like he may have a problem with one of the discs in his neck, and he says to me, “I’m thinking I want to settle this case for $35,000. Do you think that that’s a fair settlement?” And I said, “Well I can’t possibly tell you without actually looking at your medical records and your bills and knowing more about your case. It may sound a little light to me, but I can’t tell you that for sure without really getting my arms around the case.” He says, “Well, tell you what, I’m going to tell them that I’ll settle the case for $35,000 and if they don’t pay that I’ll hire you” and I said, “Okay.” He goes ahead, presents the settlement to me and to the insurance company and they offer him $30,000, and he tells them, “No. No thank you.” He comes to me, I file the suit, I get a look at his medical records and I realize that he’s really understated the value of his claim by quite a bit. I end up working the case up for another two plus years, and we finally settle the case when it’s all said and done for $205,000.
Barry Doyle: Now there’s a lot of work that went into that case to get it to that point, and it’s certainly not typical of how things work, but one of the really important skills that a good personal injury lawyer brings to the table is a set of skills in knowing how to properly evaluate a case for settlement. These are resources that are available to people who have been hurt on the job, who’ve been involved in accidents. That kind of help is certainly available to you but you need to ask, or you need to decide that, “Yes, I want to hire a lawyer to help me with this.”
Pam: Thanks Barry, that was some fascinating stuff. You’ve been watching, “Fighting for What’s Right,” with Personal Injury Attorney, Barry Doyle. Feel free to visit us on the web at, “fightingforwhatsright.com,” or on Facebook at “Fighting for What’s Right.”