I want something you have, and you don’t want to give it to me. I believe the law entitles me to it, but you are not so certain. Neither one of us wants to go to court over the issue, at least not right now. So what do we do?
We negotiate, meaning we discuss the matter and try to find a resolution that we can both live with. Typically, the solution involves a compromise. This is negotiation.
Negotiation is an art that requires considerable skill. Whether you ‘win’ or ‘lose’ often depends on how prepared you already were when you first sat down at the bargaining table. Following is a rundown of the entire process from start to finish.
The Initial Consultation With Your Lawyer
To start the process, schedule a free initial case consultation with a personal injury lawyer. If you end up deciding that you want the lawyer to represent you, they will decide whether to take your case based on a number of factors.
The most important factor, of course, will be whether they think they can win it. Another critical factor will be whether they think your case will be worth winning, given its probable value.
Personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means that if they win, they get a certain percentage of whatever amount they manage to win for you. If they lose—they work for free, because you won’t owe them anything in attorney’s fees. For this reason, if the lawyer agrees to take your case, you can be sure that they believe they can win it.
Determine a Preliminary Value for Your Claim
The first step in the resolution of your claim is to perform an initial investigation. This entails interviewing witnesses, getting a copy of the police report, obtaining your medical records and bills, and more. Your claim should be composed of two or three types of damages: economic damages, non-economic damages, and (perhaps) punitive damages.
In particular, make sure not to underestimate the value of pain and suffering and, if you suffer long-term disability, estimated future medical expenses and diminished earning capacity. Any of these three items could easily add up to more than half the total value of your claim.
The Demand Letter and the Reservation of Rights Letter
Typically, negotiations begin once you send a demand letter to the insurance company. The demand letter should state your claim, justify it with facts about your case, demand compensation, and include supporting documents (such as copies of medical bills).
The insurance company will probably send a reservation of rights letter reserving their right to reject your claim if it holds no merit.
The Offer/Counteroffer Phase
You can expect a ‘lowball’ offer from the insurance company, which you should reject. After that, it will be a game of offer/counteroffer, offer/counteroffer that might remind you of a game of ping-pong.
This will probably go on for weeks or even months. You might reach a settlement, or you might throw up your hands in exasperation. Nevertheless, you haven’t reached the end of the road.
Filing a Lawsuit
Now it’s time to play hardball. Not all negotiations reach this point, but filing a lawsuit is always an option unless the statute of limitations deadline has expired. Filing a lawsuit doesn’t mean you’ll go to trial.
After all, you can always withdraw your lawsuit in exchange for an acceptable settlement. The main reasons for filing a lawsuit are (i) it complies with the statute of limitations and (ii) it gets you access to the pretrial discovery process.
Pretrial discovery, available only to lawsuit litigants, is a powerful way to obtain evidence from the defendant. Below is a list of legal weapons you can use against the defendant, and the defendant can use against you:
- Depositions: you can elicit sworn testimony from the defendant’s witnesses.
- Interrogatories: you can submit written questions that the defendant must answer in writing.
- Demands for production: You can demand to inspect physical evidence, and you can demand copies of documentation.
If the defendant refuses to cooperate, you can ask the court to intervene with punitive sanctions.
Drafting a Settlement Agreement
Have your lawyer draft a settlement agreement for you and determine the appropriate wording. Once both parties have signed the agreement, your personal injury claim becomes a contractual right.
The Earlier You Involve an Experienced Tampa Personal Injury Lawyer, the Better
The earlier you involve a Tampa personal injury lawyer with your case, the more familiar they will be with your case when it matters most. Furthermore, they can offer you advice that can prevent you from damaging or even destroying your claim. Contact us by calling (813) 223-6200 to set up a free consultation with an attorney from Winters & Yonker Personal Injury Lawyers today to learn about your legal options.