Thursday, November 19, 2015

Is There a Minimum Settlement Amount for Injury Claims?

There is no minimum settlement amount for injury claims. Parties to a lawsuit can agree to pretty much any terms they choose.

But the court will scrutinize any settlement for signs of unfairness or coercion, especially if the difference in power between the parties is significant. So while you can theoretically agree to anything, your attorney will realistically need to be prepared to explain the deal.

What Looks Weird to a Judge?

A judge may find that settlement terms seem unfair because not enough money was offered. If, for example, the settlement is supposed to cover injury for a whole class of plaintiffs and the amount does not appear sufficient for all of the class, even a very hefty settlement may be rejected.

That is what happened when rescue workers at the Ground Zero site accepted a settlement amount of $657 million in 2010. Although the bump up was substantial, a federal judge would not sign off on the settlement until defendants agreed to pay 8 percent more, or $712 million.

Similarly, when former football players sought to settle their class action lawsuit against the National Football League, a federal judge examined the terms with suspicion. The NFL eventually offered more money and many players accepted the offer. But some opted out of the deal and, of those who took it, some continue to challenge the deal terms.

Attorney's Fees

States do impose limits on attorney's fees in injury cases. These are statutory and vary from state to state, specifying a percentage of damages allotted to counsel. Settlements that attempt to disproportionately award attorneys at the expense of injured plaintiffs are not going to be accepted by a court

You can agree to any deal, but not one that breaks the law. So a deal that requires plaintiffs to shell out an illegal percentage of their damages to counsel, is no deal and will be rejected by a court.

When Should You Settle?

When to settle, and how much you should settle for, is a question to discuss with your attorney. Sometimes clients want to push to trial and get angry when an attorney advises settlement.

But sometimes that is great advice if you have a difficult case to prove. Another reason to settle is if you cannot afford to lose, meaning you absolutely need money to pay for expenses arising from your injuries.

Settlements mean less risk for all of the parties, which may mean taking less money than you'd get after a trial just so you don't run the risk of getting nothing at all. No one can advise you on settlement without an intimate understanding of your case. But rest assured that whatever the parties decide, the judge will be the final arbiter of the deal.

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