When you have been injured in an accident, it is natural to want to reach a settlement (a formal resolution of your lawsuit) as soon as possible. As you are recovering from your injuries, you justifiably hope to expedite the legal proceedings so that you can return to your life and move past the incident. If you are like most people, the prospect of ending your ordeal with a quick settlement is an appealing option.
Sadly, this is the exact situation that insurance companies frequently exploit. In the immediate aftershock of an accident, as you are still learning the extent of your injuries, assessing damage, and weighing your legal options, an insurance company may contact you and present a settlement offer. Oftentimes, this offer does not take into account the full extent of your injuries, and is instead an attempt to end the matter swiftly and cheaply. Countless people have agreed verbally to these initial offers, not knowing what other options they have.
Before making a decision, you should have full and complete information about your case and possible courses of legal action. A Richmond personal injury lawyer from Golden Law Office can help explain your options so you can proceed in a way that best fits your needs. But what if you have already given your verbal agreement to an insufficient settlement offer? It is strongly recommended that you speak with your attorney as soon as possible if you realize you may have verbally agreed to an inadequate offer. Let’s take a closer look at what a verbal agreement entails, and further explore why it is critical to understand your rights when it comes to personal injury settlements.
What Is a Verbal Agreement and Is It Binding?
Verbal settlement agreement can be a difficult matter. Like a written agreement, a verbal agreement is considered legally binding in a personal injury case. However, it is much more complicated to prove and enforce verbal agreement than a signed contract. And when it can be shown that a verbal agreement was obtained through coercion, illegal methods, or a failure to follow the necessary protocols of personal injury legislation, it can become illegitimate.
For example, one situation which can undermine the legitimacy of a verbal settlement agreement is an unlawfully recorded phone conversation. In Kentucky, a one-party consent state, it is a felony to record a phone conversation without the consent of at least one party. Therefore, if an insurance company does not ask for your consent to record, your verbal agreement can be nullified. Your lawyer will be able to work with you to carefully assess the conditions under which your verbal agreement was obtained, and use this information to advise you on how best to move forward.
It is important to remember, you are not required to accept or reject an offer right away. It is perfectly within your rights to say that you would like to talk to your lawyer and that you need time to consider. The following information will help provide a better understanding of why you may be pressured to settle early, and what the risk is to you.
Reasons You May Be Pressured to Settle Early
For personal injury cases, each state has its own “statute of limitations,” the amount of time you have to either settle your claim or file a lawsuit, generally beginning the day you are injured. It is a good idea to learn your state’s statute of limitations so that you can meet required deadlines without rushing to a hasty decision.
Kentucky has a one-year statute of limitations for general injury claims. This is meant to provide enough time for you to resolve the issue and recover your losses, as complications can arise and slow the process. For example, the party at fault may be unwilling to negotiate a fair settlement, or you may learn that the party which caused an accident is uninsured. You could also discover several months after the accident that your injuries are more severe than was initially believed. For multiple reasons, it is prudent to be deliberate and unrushed in your legal actions, discussing all possibilities with your lawyer.
An insurance company, unlike your lawyer, is not focused on helping you attain maximum compensation for your injuries. Instead, their job is to settle with as little cost to the company as possible. Even if the company genuinely wants to help cover all your expenses, early offers are generally made at a point in the proceedings when there is simply not enough information available to fully calculate fair compensation. For the following reasons, insurance companies are largely eager to settle early:
- Award Amount. Settling your case will provide compensation, but the amount is usually much less than what you deserve and need. An insurance company can save thousands of dollars by convincing you that what they are offering is enough to recover your losses.
- Efficiency. From a business standpoint, settling early is good, efficient practice. An early settlement reduces the amount of time and effort the company needs to devote to investigating your case and understanding the details of your damage and how it has affected your life. It is probable that continuing investigations will bring to light greater costs to the company.
- Preventing Further Legal Action. Once you agree to a settlement, you may not be able to pursue any further legal action. Most settlements want to prevent you from accepting the award and then later taking the case to court. If an insurance company is able to convince you to accept an early offer, they can also prevent future repercussions when you learn the amount is unsatisfactory.
- Avoiding Publicity. If negotiations continue, your case may end up going to court. When this happens, the trial becomes public and subject to media coverage. Insurance companies protecting their clients, who may be large corporations or public names, typically want to settle quickly in order to avoid any possibility that unflattering news of negligence goes public.
Risks of Settling Too Early
The risks of settling too early can be substantial. The following consequences of hasty settlement can have a lasting impact on your life:
- Insufficient Compensation. Although you may think the offer sounds like a high number, insurance companies are notorious for first offers which barely scratch the surface of the expenses associated with the damages sustained. Similarly, the offer may, for instance, cover property damage, but neglect to take pain and suffering into account.
- Worsening Injuries. It is not uncommon to find that injuries sustained in an accident worsen over time or lead to more serious complications. It is impossible to know in the few days after the accident what may happen in regard to your physical injuries, and what cost to you will be incurred through their ongoing treatment and rehabilitation.
- Loss of Income and Future Income. You may not at first realize how long you will be out of work after your injury, or how any permanent damage may affect your ability to work in the future. Calculations of this kind require time and a comprehensive understanding of all case details, factors that are generally not considered in an early settlement offer.
Speak with an Experienced Lawyer
We have a long history of defending our clients in the Richmond area. Fighting for justice and helping you receive the compensation you need and deserve is important to us. If you have verbally agreed to a settlement offer and are unsure of what to do next, we want to help you. Our attorneys at Golden Law Office are prepared to review every aspect of your case in order to determine what course of action we should take together. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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