If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Oklahoma, such as a car crash, slip and fall, or dog bite, you may be entitled to financial compensation. However, securing a fair settlement often requires skillful negotiation between your attorney and the insurance companies. This process can seem complex and intimidating. The first step is evaluating what the case is worth, what the plaintiff wants after everything is paid off, and what an insurance company will likely assess the claim at. If this math doesn’t work, it’s safe to assume the case is destined for trial.
- Evaluate the case.
- Summarize and prepare a demand packet with a dollar amount.
- File a lawsuit if the insurance company won’t offer a fair settlement.
- Continue building the case until trial.
Gather Crucial Evidence and Documents
The first step is compiling evidence to support your claim. Your attorney will obtain police reports, medical records, expert testimonies, and other vital documents. This establishes proof of the at-fault party’s liability. Starting with a dollar amount without reviewing the evidence is “putting the cart before the horse.”
Thorough documentation also helps accurately calculate both economic and non-economic damages resulting from the incident. Medical bills, lost income, and the cost of future treatments are considered economic damages. Pain and suffering fall under non-economic damages.
Contingency Fee Agreements
Personal injury lawyers typically work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they only get paid if they successfully recover your compensation. The fee is a percentage of the final settlement amount. This arrangement means you pay nothing upfront for legal services.
If Needed, Secure Input From Expert Witnesses
Experts like medical professionals and accident reconstructionists provide invaluable insights. A doctor can speak to the severity of injuries, treatment options, and prognosis. Economists can quantify income loss and reduced earning capacity. Identifying all current and future costs is essential for settlement negotiations.
Prove Liability and Negligence
Pinpointing fault through an independent investigation is critical. Police reports, video footage, and eyewitness accounts help establish negligence.
If partial blame lies with the victim, understanding Oklahoma’s comparative negligence laws allows victims to recover damages at a reduced rate based on their percentage of fault.
Myth vs. Fact
- Myth: An insurance company’s first offer indicates where the adjuster evaluates the claim.
- Fact: Their opening offer is usually deliberately low, and usually has no bearing on what the case is worth.
Refute Lowball Offers with Clear Demands
Insurers often make unreasonably low initial settlement offers, hoping to shortchange victims. Do not get discouraged if the adjuster’s first offer doesn’t even pay for all of your medical bills. It’s simply a tactic to delay paying a fair settlement.
Take Non-Compliant Insurers to Court
If negotiations reach an impasse, attorneys are ready to take the case to trial. This legal process requires extensive preparation but allows victims to hold negligent parties (and their insurance companies) accountable.
It’s common for adjusters to wait to evaluate until court deadlines are set fully.
What Goes into Negotiations
Personal injury negotiations are similar to any negotiation. For example, negotiating to purchase a used car at a dealership. Anyone can look at Kelly Blue Book to see what a fair deal is for the vehicle. Usually, the dealership has an advertised price for the vehicle. The buyer will then make an offer and go back and forth until they reach an agreement – or they don’t, and no deal is met.
What is the problem with negotiating a personal injury settlement? There isn’t a Kelly Blue Book for a “fair market value” for personal injury cases. There isn’t a guidebook for a “market value” for pain and suffering.
We can review Jury Verdict Reports, but cases can look almost identical yet have entirely different verdicts. Here are some recent sample verdicts I pulled from an Oklahoma Jury Summary Report:
|Medical Bills||Type of Injury||Verdict|
Notice anything? Yeah, it’s tough to accurately estimate a jury verdict based on medical bills and the type of injury.
Assuming both parties have all of the information to make a fully informed decision on what the case is worth, the goal of negotiating a settlement is to reach a mutually acceptable resolution without needing a court trial.
Both parties evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their case, the potential costs of a trial, and the uncertainty of a jury verdict to determine a fair settlement amount.
The plaintiff will make a settlement demand of at least 3x what they are willing to accept. The defense will make an offer many times less than what they are willing to pay.
The settlement numbers go back and forth, or a mediation is scheduled in an attempt to get the case settled.
What Jury Verdict Reports Miss
Only looking at prior verdicts in evaluating a case does not accurately represent what a case is worth. Jury Verdict Reports ignore settled cases. Over 95% of personal injury cases are settled.
Most personal injury cases that go to trial have a reason the case got that far. Usually, it’s something like low property damage, pre-existing medical conditions, excessive medical billing, or zero proof of lost income. Insurance companies generally settle the “clear-cut” personal injury cases. Jury verdict summaries tend to undervalue cases because the better settlements are not included.
Insurance companies keep track of what their cases settle for. Organized and experienced personal injury lawyers should also track this information. Before negotiations start, it’s nice to know what the same insurance company paid out on a similar case.
Why some personal injury cases go to trial
Personal injury cases that go to trial have one thing in common: One (or both) of the parties misjudge what the case is worth.
If both sides evaluate the claim to a similar dollar amount, there’s a good chance the case will get settled. Cases that don’t settle usually have one or more of the following:
Initial Claim Evaluation Had Missing Information
Sometimes, the settlement offers stop based on a poor initial evaluation of the claim. When the new adjuster on the case fairly evaluates the claim, the trial is already set, and both parties have dug their heels in.
Adjusters are focused on “what are the specials for this claim?” and ignore what the plaintiff had to endure. Medical bills don’t accurately show what someone went through, as medical bills can vary tremendously for the same type of treatment. Sometimes, the adjuster doesn’t have all of the information for the claim or inadvertently fails to input the lost income. Insurance companies also don’t appear to accurately factor in what their driver did to cause a wreck.
A jury will assign fault under Oklahoma’s comparative fault statute if the plaintiff is partially at fault for the wreck. This percentage reduces the amount of the verdict by that percentage.
As an example, Bob tears his rotator cuff in a car accident. Even though Bob had never complained of shoulder problems before, the insurance company doctor will claim that his shoulder was predisposed to tearing and, therefore, a pre-existing condition.
Gaps in Medical Treatment
Does anyone like going to the doctor? If there are any gaps in medical treatment, the insurance company will claim that anything after the gap isn’t related to the wreck.
Delays in Medical Treatment
Waiting to go to the doctor? Expect the insurance company to claim you weren’t initially hurt.
Issues with a Proper Diagnosis
This is one of the more frustrating issues. A lot of symptoms can mean more than one thing. Take hip pain, for example. This could be a problem with the hip or back. In general, doctors will initially prescribe conservative treatment. Sometimes, the “real” diagnosis isn’t until 6+ months after the car accident.
Defense Law Firm “over-defends” the case early on.
This is happening less and less because almost all car insurance companies have moved to an “in-house” lawyer model. The attorneys defending their cases are paid employees of the insurance company. The insurance company doesn’t care if their lawyers are working on 2o or 50 cases, as it doesn’t cost them more. Before, insurance companies would hire a defense law firm to defend the case. Some cases could have been settled early on, but the defense law firm “got too deep” (billed the insurance company too much) to fairly settle the case.
Sometimes, the plaintiff thinks their case is worth many times what a jury would award because of legal TV shows. I’m sure you’ve seen some TV shows like “Suits” with a case start at the show’s beginning, go through discovery (the same day!), and have the trial later that week. Yeah, our justice system doesn’t move near that fast.
Unrealistic Expectations: I’ve met with over a dozen people who first met with an attorney from a large “TV advertising” law firm. They all said something along the lines of: “The attorney said I have a great case, but they just don’t have enough time to take my case on right now.” News flash: This is just an excuse for the attorney to decline to take the case. If it was a million-dollar case, the TV advertising law firm would have wanted the case.