Florida personal injury laws are designed to compensate those who are injured as a result of someone else’s negligence. These extend to individuals involved in car accidents, slip-and-fall incidents and injury due to use of dangerous products.
Claims for damages (financial compensation) can be pursued either by filing a lawsuit or negotiating a settlement. As our South Florida injury lawyers can explain, most claims are resolved via settlement, as these tend to conclude faster, be less costly and outcomes are more certain than in litigation.
Civil injury attorneys will usually work to negotiate a settlement with defendant insurers before going the route of a lawsuit. While each case is different, it’s usually only if those settlement negotiations break down (when an insurer tries to settle a claim for less than it’s worth) that your attorney will recommend a lawsuit.
How are Florida Injury Claims Processed?
The exact process for settling an injury claim will depend on the type of injury as well as the individual circumstances of the case.
Many times though, pursuing justice starts with a written demand drafted by your attorney to the persons responsible (or their insurers). This is called a “demand letter,” and it will cite basic details of what occurred along with a request for compensation to cover expenses for things like medical bills, lost wages, therapy, property loss and pain and suffering.
From there, the negligent party’s insurer or defense lawyer will respond with either an agreement to pay or a rebuttal that takes issue either with the allegation of responsibility and/or the amount that is being demanded.
Many South Florida injury claims are resolved through this process. Quick settlements may take place where the question of liability (legal responsibility) is clear and damages aren’t disputed. The process could take longer if there is contention on any of these points. Insurers are rarely eager to hand over money, particularly large sums, without a fight. This is unfortunately true even when the demand made is perfectly reasonable.
It’s important to work closely with an injury lawyer who understands this process as well as how to accurately evaluate the viability and value of your claim. Those who try to settle claims with insurers on their own frequently end up receiving far less than they should. This is because insurers will press unrepresented claimants into accepting lowball offers. Insurers understand that many claimants settle fast and probably don’t have all the information necessary to accurately estimate how much the claim is actually worth.
The good news is that personal injury lawyers in Florida work on a contingency fee basis. This means you do not pay attorney’s fees upfront – or at all if your case is not successful. If you do win a settlement or lawsuit, the contingency fee agreement will stipulate your attorney will be paid a percentage of what you win (usually around 33 percent, though it may depend on a number of factors, including case complexity). In some situations, the defendant(s) may be ordered to pay your lawyer’s fees.
Elements to Consider When Deciding to Settle or Sue
The question of whether to settle or sue is more complex than it seems on first blush. Some things you may want to consider:
- Settlements are often less stressful. When you settle a claim, you avoid the time, stress and expense of a lawsuit. Litigation requires you to provide extensive evidence of the defendant’s legal liability as well as the full scope of your losses. This necessitates locating and deposing witnesses, questioning under oath and gathering reams of documentation. The process also takes longer because everyone involved must be coordinated for various depositions, hearings and trial dates. There are also stringent deadlines and legal formalities. Settlements tend to be less formal.
- Settlements usually result in faster payouts. When you settle a South Florida injury claim before filing a lawsuit, you receive your compensation much sooner. That gives you the ability to pay off those medical bills, vehicle repairs and other expenses more expediently. Lawsuits can take many months or years to resolve.
- Lawsuits may result in larger awards – but it’s a gamble. Part of the reason defendants are compelled to settle is because they know their chances to win at trial may be slim. However, there is never any guarantee of a certain outcome at trial. No one can say for sure how a jury will decide key issues.
- Settlements are less expensive. Filing fees alone in personal injury cases can be several hundred dollars. It may also be necessary in the course of a lawsuit to hire expert witnesses (doctors or other experts who testify to key elements of your case for a fee), process services and court reporters. None of that may be necessary if you settle before filing a lawsuit. Plus, you may pay a smaller percentage in legal fees if your case is settled rather than resolved at trial.
All this said, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit, particularly if the defendant or insurer has proven unwilling to settle the claim for a reasonable amount.
Our long-time South Florida injury lawyers can advise you on the best course of action and guide you through each step of the process.
Contact the South Florida personal injury attorneys at Halberg & Fogg PLLC by calling toll-free at 1-877-425-2374. Serving West Palm Beach, Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Fort Myers/ Naples. There is no fee unless you win.
Steps in a Trial, Sept. 9, 2019, American Bar Association