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How COVID-19 Affects Your Decision to Settle

Should You Settle Your Personal Injury Case Early?

In July 2020, some Pennsylvania courts began to resume in-person trials with juries. However, for a lot of civil lawsuit plaintiffs, it may still be quite some time until they are able to have their own personal injury trials with juries present. As a result, many individuals are questioning whether they should settle their claims early because getting their money could take years otherwise.

The Court Backlog Will Last for a Long Time

Courts will continue to be backed up for the foreseeable future. There is months’ worth of cases that have had their trials postponed because in-person jury trials were off-limits. Even when the threat from COVID-19 recedes, it will be some time before courts work their way through the backlog of cases, and courts have higher priorities than personal injury cases. You can expect that the justice system will be backed up for several years as a result of the pandemic. It still is possible to have a trial for your personal injury case, but it will be a while until it occurs.

Personal Injury Plaintiffs Cannot Hold Out Forever

With that in mind, some people are questioning whether it makes more sense to settle the case earlier to receive the money that they need. People often get the impression that personal injury plaintiffs can hold out forever until they get the best possible deal. However, this overlooks the fact that most personal injury plaintiffs are average people who are missing time from work due to their injuries. They are also facing large medical bills that must be paid. In the meantime, they are advancing copays and other payments out of their own pockets. Personal injury plaintiffs are hurting physically and financially, and that may force them to do things that they would not otherwise want to do. As a result, getting a settlement early in a case will make all the difference in the world when it comes to a plaintiff's ability to move on with his or her life. Receiving the check for his or her injuries can help improve a person’s life and ease his or her financial burdens. There is no question about the value of receiving the settlement check.

Defendants Can Play Hardball in Negotiations

However, to receive a settlement check, you must reach an actual settlement agreement. This is where you will experience some difficulty. Plaintiffs cannot will settlement agreements into existence. Instead, an agreement is the product of negotiation between the plaintiff and the defendant or their insurance companies. This is where there the proceedings can become complex. The interests of the two parties are not at all aligned here. While you may want to settle your case quickly, the other side has every incentive in the world to wait you out and delay settling the claim. Personal injury settlement negotiations are all about leverage. They are the same as every other type of negotiation. Each side wants to be negotiating from a position of strength and find the other side's pressure points. If a person can gain some leverage, it will improve his or her negotiating position.

Defendants Have No Incentive to Settle Quickly

Defendants usually have no incentive to settle their cases quickly. They may try to use your situation against you to save themselves some money. Complicating the equation is the presence of the insurance company, which has its own business motivations. A defendant may sense an opportunity to take advantage of what he or she perceives to be the plaintiff's weakness or desperation to settle the case. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon for personal injury defendants because it gives them additional time. This both works in their favor and against the plaintiff. The defendant may try to take advantage of the situation by making a lowball offer in an attempt to settle the case early. The insurance company has years of experience in using this as a standard business practice. It will make a settlement offer below what your case is actually worth to test you to see what you may accept. The initial offer is aimed at giving plaintiffs a way to obtain money early in case they are in dire straits.

Defendants Would Settle Early to Save Money

However, an insurance company or defendant would not be trying to give you money early to benefit you. Instead, they are settling for below what the claim is worth. That is the only reason why a defendant would settle early. An individual may also think that he or she is at risk of a large jury verdict and is trying to take chance out of the equation. Either way, this person is not making his or her best settlement offer right off the bat. An insurance company can wait out the plaintiff. It is not the insurance company that worries about keeping a roof over its head or putting food on the table. Accordingly, if you do opt for an early settlement of your personal injury case, know that you are likely leaving some money on the table. In most cases, the amount that you sacrifice can be considerable. Getting your money quickly will come at a substantial cost.

Your Decision Should Be Based on Your Personal Circumstances

Your Allentown personal injury lawyer does not decide for you. He or she can only advise you whether accepting an early settlement offer is in your best interests. The experience that we provide consists of knowing what your claim is worth and letting you know whether the settlement offer is in the ballpark of what you are owed. In general, we advocate that our clients work hard to obtain the best possible settlement agreement. This is something that we can help with when negotiating with the defendant. However, we are not in your shoes and facing the financial pressure that you are. We also recognize that the pandemic will add more delays to the settlement process. Many defendants do not feel an urgency to settle until the trial is at hand. Since trial dates are pushed out due to coronavirus, there may be even less of an impetus to settle.

Do Not Settle Early for Pennies on the Dollar

Accordingly, the decision of whether to settle a claim early depends on a combination of what you have been offered and your personal financial situation. There is no one right or wrong answer. However, we would caution you against settling your personal injury lawsuit for pennies on the dollar just to have something in your pocket. If you can find a way to stretch your resources to wait for a better offer, you should use every means at your disposal to do so. However, you should also recognize that the threat of a looming trial hanging over the defendant's head is also pushed further into the future right now. Nonetheless, those who can wait for better offers should because early settlement offers may get even worse. Contact an Allentown personal injury lawyer at the firm of Metzger & Kleiner to learn more about how your personal injury case may be affected by the pandemic. You can reach us today at (610) 435-7400 if you're in the Lehigh Valley to set up your free initial consultation.

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