MAXIMIZE THE VALUE OF YOUR CHARLESTON, SC AND SUMMERVILLE, SC PERSONAL INJURY CLAIM
So, knowing that my philosophy is to provide the highest level of service to each and every injury client, part of my responsibility is to educated the client about what to expect when I am hired to represent them in their claim. The education starts from the outset in knowing that my most important job is to maximize the value of your claim for your injuries and protect you from being taken advantage of by the insurance company.The indispensable truth in every successful personal injury claim is that it requires a fine mix of legal expertise, toughness, and patience by the client.
CLIENT EDUCATION - THE PROCESS
My first job in educating the client is to give them the blunt truth about the process. Every client that walks through the door ask me this question . . . How long will this take? The honest answer is . . . nobody knows. I implore upon every client that nothing ever happens fast in the legal world. Now can I look at a particular set of facts and pretty much guess where it should fall and how it should shake out sure. But, any personal injury lawyer who says they can guarantee a settlement of your claim within a specific period of time does not have your best interests in mind.
My primary goal is to, absent any direct instruction from the client to the contrary, maximize the amount of compensation you receive due to your injuries. It is as simple as that. With that said there are always two important points I make to my clients in the initial consultation:
- The client is always the final decision maker. I am ethically obligated to present each and every settlement offer from an insurance company to you, the client. I can give my opinion and counsel you, but the decision to accept or decline an offer is yours.
- With that being said, I also tell clients that if they are looking for a quick settlement and a "get cash fast" scenario, they may be better off going to one of the lawyers that do the silly ads on TV all day . . . quick cash and no fight, these guys and gals operate settlement mills . . . .that is the business those people are in (you know who they are).
It is not that I don't settle cases, in fact the vast majority of cases settle. The issue is that from the outset, the client needs to have the confidence in the attorney to know that I am going to do everything possible to earn every dime of compensation you are entitled to. The insurance company is already trying to short-change you, they don't need any extra help from your personal injury attorney.
MAXIMIZING VALUE THROUGH SETTLEMENT AND NEGOTIATION
In its simplest terms, every personal injury matter is resolved in one of two ways:
- Working with an insurance adjuster and negotiating a settlement award that is approved by the client, or
- Sue the insurance company and have a jury determine how much money your injuries are worth.
In my professional experience, especially since I've opened my own practice at The McMillian Law Firm, I often find that the end result is actually a combination of the two steps above. What does that exactly mean? I find that in order to maximize the value of the claim for the client, it usually involves negotiation directly with the insurance company and the filing of a lawsuit. How can a settlement involve both steps? Often, after a period of time where negotiations are ongoing, I become convinced that the insurance company is just stuck in trying to pay your claim on the cheap. Therefore, the filing of the lawsuit becomes a necessity to kick start negotiations and prove to the insurance company that you are willing to fight for a fair value. The filing of the lawsuit alone will usually bring them (through their attorney) back to the table, and the vast majority of the time, a settlement is then reached and always at a higher amount than was being offered pre-suit.
That is the plain truth, the lawsuit has to be available as a tool to increase your value. If the insurance company never believes that you will take that step, then they have no incentive to be fair with you (see the silly TV attorneys listed above).
TYPES OF CASES THAT DO NOT REQUIRE A LAWSUIT BEING FILED
It is important to note though there are specific instances where the settlement process will always bear fruit and a lawsuit will not be necessary. These instances usually include a circumstance where your damages meet or exceed the available amount of insurance:
- First, an insurance company may tender a maximized amount before a lawsuit is filed when the injuries are so severe that the insurance carrier knows it will offer the policy limits as a settlement. Policy limits means that the insurance company will pay the maximum amount that is required under its policy on behalf of the insured. Therefore, any damages that you may seek in excess of the policy limits would have to be paid directly by the insured party and the insurance company has no further exposure.
- Example #1: If the at fault party purchased minimum liability vehicle insurance in South Carolina, which is $25,000 dollars, and that driver then runs a red light and kills a doctor in the resulting car accident, the at fault driver's insurance company is going to take one look at the demand letter and pay the claimant $25,000 dollars right away. The insurance company will not waste the time, money, nor resources on contesting this demand knowing that any resulting wrongful death action will surely be worth more than $25,000.00. Any money the doctor's family may want to pursue for wrongful death that is more than the $25,000.00 paid by insurance company must be paid by the at fault party.
- Example #2: An at fault driver, who has $50,000.00 in liability coverage, is driving down King Street and rear ends another driver at a red light. The driver that was rear-ended has a broken arm that required surgery, a concussion and facial lacerations from broken glass. The injured driver also has to take 12 weeks off from work to recover from the arm surgery and the head injuries. The medical bills and lost wages can be shown to be $80,000 dollars in this example. The injured driver hires me to represent them in the personal injury action. I immediately call the insurance company for the at-fault driver and inform them that I have $80,000 in "specials" (this reference in the industry is to quantifiable damages such as medical bills, lost wages, and anything specifically quantifiable). I also ask the insurance company how much coverage is available? The insurance adjuster tells me there is $50,000 dollars, and that they will fax over a copy of the dec page to my office ("dec page" is the declarations page of an insurance policy that specifically states how much coverage is available). I review the dec page confirm that coverage is $50,000 dollars and I immediately demand that the insurance company tender the policy limits. In this example, there is a high probability that the insurance company will do so. It doesn't make sense for them to spend the time, money, or resources defending a lawsuit if you are going to lose and a loss will mean tendering the policy limits anyway.
- Second, another reason the insurance company may tender policy limits when liability is clear and verifiable recoverable damages exceed the policy limits by some margin: a bad faith claim. It is a topic for another article, but an insurance company can be subject to further penalties on top of a personal injury award if it negotiated in bad faith with the injured party. Safe to say that a failure to settle a claim when damages clearly exceed policy limits would be grounds for a bad faith claim.
HOW TO MAXIMIZE VALUE IN CASES THAT REQUIRE A REAL LAWYER
In most cases that come through my door, or any other attorney's door, damages are not going to exceed policy limits. The issue of liability may not be clear. The plaintiff may have contributed to the accident, or the plaintiff is a serial litigant. It might be that multiple parties are involved more than one of them could be considered at fault. There is an endless list of reasons why an insurance company may not want to tender its policy limits in a specific case. In some cases, the insurance company may very well feel that it should roll the dice and take a case to trial where they are convinced that the plaintiff may not be able to prove liability, damages, and causation.
However, when screening cases that I take on I usually make the evaluation on liability, damages, and causation and satisfy my own standards for a viable case. Therefore, If I take on your case, it usually becomes a process of reaching a settlement on behalf of my client that balances the needs of the client with what I know the value of the case to be. Sometimes this can be accomplished in negotiation, and some times a lawsuit is needed and justified to give the insurance company a swift kick in the rear.
Again I remind all clients and potential clients that if you want a quick check and simply are willing to walk away with nickles on the dollar, then I may not be the lawyer for you. You have seen the silly TV ad lawyers. These lawyers never litigate cases. They always settle with the insurance company and do so without ever filing a lawsuit at all. The insurance companies know this. The insurance companies also know that these lawyers are leaving most of the money on the table by doing it that way.
Settlements are nothing more than an exchange of incentives. The insurance company agrees to exchange a monetary award to you as an incentive to prevent you from taking a lawsuit to a jury. In return, you incentivize the insurance company by stating that if the monetary award is at the right amount, then you will make a legally binding promise to stop pursuing the lawsuit.
TRUST THE PROCESS WITH A COMPETENT PERSONAL INJURY ATTORNEY
The simple reasoning behind why I, as a personal injury attorney, nearly always file a suit in a personal injury case is simply that the rules of negotiation say that whoever wishes to settle the suit, by taking that position first, has already discounted the value of the underlying claim.This is not only in recognition of my philosophy that my most important job is to ethically maximize the value of your claim, but this posture also protects you financially and legally for the long run as well. The art of negotiation dictates that the party who offers to settle first is going to have to be willing to move their position enough so as to entice the other party to settle. That is how a maximized value is reached in settlement. Whoever offers to settle first is the party who blinks first.
My job when I accept a case from the client is to do my homework, get my hands dirty, and make sure that my client and the facts of the case allow us, as a team, to always be in a position of not having to blink.
Everything I do as a lawyer, and for every client that walks through the door, I am always preparing and working from the perspective that the case is going to trial. Even if I know that the vast majority of cases do not end up in a trial, that allows me to fulfill the two promises I make to every client:
- I will do everything in my power to maximize the value of your case; and
- I will offer you personalized, effective, and competent legal services that you will not come close to receiving at a settlement mill law firm
The McMillian Law Firm does its best to maximize the value of every case and that means preparing every case and treating every client with the personalized attention that trial work requires. If the insurance company wants to avoid a trial, they will have to pay off the claim.
When a lawyer says that he / she "will fight for you," this is what that is supposed to mean. If you want a lawyer who will truly fight, and is willing to go to the mat for your claim, contact me today!