I just returned to the office from the District Court for Baltimore County. I had a car accident injury case set for trial today.
I love appearing in Baltimore County because I went to high school in the area; I know pretty much everyone in the legal community there, and mostly because I get to stick my head in and say hi to my Mom, whose office is across the street. I had time to say hi to Mom today because my case settled a few minutes before the trial was to begin.
The way this went down got me thinking about the way defense counsel and insurance carriers evaluate cases for settlement. This was a 2006 accident. The suit was filed in March 2008. The carrier was Liberty Mutual.
This client had medical specials of about $8,600.00 and missed four days from work, so there was a wage loss claim of roughly $1,000.00. The pre-suit offer was $14,300, made in December 2007.
The day before yesterday, defense counsel contacted me and made an offer to settle of $15,000.00. This was easy, since the client had already rejected the first offer, and this was only another $700.00, so she rejected the offer out of hand.
Yesterday at about 3:45 p.m., counsel called me back with another offer of $17,500.00. The problem with that is that by then, it was too late in the day for our settlement processing staff to verify the balances due to the treating medical providers, so I wasn’t able to give my client an exact figure on what she would net. The case settled this morning for $18,000.00, mostly because I didn’t like my odds on beating that by very much at trial.
This scenario makes me think that not very many of these defense attorneys or adjusters really understand what a competent personal injury lawyer needs to do to properly advise a client regarding a settlement proposal. The day before the trial is almost always too late to properly break down and evaluate an offer. This is particularly true where it has been nine months since the initial offer. All the medical balances and the attorney expenses need to be verified and computed in since there’s a very good chance those factors have changed since the offer was originally processed.
If this offer was made two weeks ago (or nine months ago when it should have been made), this case could have been resolved more efficiently and cheaply for all concerned.
My client could have avoided losing a day of work to go to court. The same goes for the Defendant driver who also lost a day of work because his insurance carrier couldn’t act in a timely fashion. I could have avoided the lost productivity of being out of the office all morning. The court could have had one less case docketed this morning, or could have added a case that really needed to be tried. Defense counsel still gets to bill the time, so I guess he wins either way, but Liberty Mutual could have avoided paying counsel to attend a completely needless court appearance.
Not only that, but these late settlement offers really rub injured plaintiffs the wrong way. I have had a lot of clients reject what I considered fair offers, just because they were made the day before or the day of trial. People resent being dragged through such a lengthy process, only to have an offer made late in the game that finally pays the value that should have been paid when the case was the adjusting phase. Nothing about this case changed since the original offer in December 2007. Why did it take Liberty Mutual until fifteen minutes before trial to put together an offer that paid fair value?
This is something for defense counsel to keep in mind. If you want to settle the case, do it. But don’t wait to the last minute, because it actually hurts the likelihood of a successful agreement to wait, especially when Plaintiff’s counsel is prepared to take the case to trial.