We’ve all heard the commercials for personal injury lawyers telling you they can win big, and some of them can, but often there are realistic limitations as to what can be awarded on a personal injury claim.
Personal injury lawsuit settlements are usually limited by the insurance policies of the defendant, and by acquiring that information early on in the process of filing a claim, your injury attorney will get a quick and accurate picture of what a realistic recovery for your losses would look like. Keep in mind that lawyers generally do not take cases that will cost more to litigate than the potential recovery amount.
During a consultation with your attorney or soon thereafter, the attorney will be able to give you an answer as to whether or not they want to move forward with your case.
The Process of Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
A lawsuit begins when the injured party seeking damages (the plaintiff), files a document known as a “complaint” (against the defendant). The complaint explains what happened, why the defendant is responsible, and what injuries and losses were sustained. At the end of the document is something called a “prayer for relief,” and in most states, it will seek either “less than” or “in excess of” a specific amount.
Regardless of how much money is being sought in a personal injury lawsuit, every legal battle comes down to whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty, whether that duty was breached, whether that breach caused injury to the plaintiff, and what those damages are. Those four elements must be present in order for a case to be viable.
Most personal injury awards are limited by the insurance limits for that particular defendant. You might go to trial on a case where the defendant had an insurance policy with upper limits of $100,000. If the jury thought you deserved $1 million, the insurer would still generally just pay $100,000 (the amount of its policy limits). Your lawyer will get the declarations page and policy limits from the defendant’s insurance company and base your claim on those numbers. But just because the policy limit is $100,000 does not mean you’re entitled to that much money. You may only be legally owed a small fraction of that number. Your lawyer will explain this to you during the consultation and in the early stages of your claim.
It should be noted, however, that in some cases there may be multiple defendants and each may have liability up to the limits of their insurance policy. In a rare case, you may also be able to recover an amount directly from the defendant even after the insurance policy has been exhausted.
Bad Faith Insurance Claims
In some cases, the insurance company fighting your claim may act in an unethical way to delay or deny a claim even after there is clear liability. In that situation, the insurer may be guilty of what’s legally referred to as “bad faith”. For example, if it is clear the defendant is responsible for the injury and the injury caused damages at or above the policy limits, the insurance company should pay the injured person the policy limits. If the insurance company fails to pay or delays paying the claim, you may have a separate claim against the insurance company for bad faith.
If the insurance company does not pay and the injured party sues, the law can make the insurance company liable for attorneys’ fees in addition to the entire amount of any verdict, especially if the verdict exceeds the policy limits. An insurer’s failure to defend a policyholder who is sued can also result in an “excess verdict,” which can mean financial ruin for the policyholder. If you tried to collect from an insurance company without the help of an attorney, and if your insurance company has refused to settle a claim, you should contact an experienced personal injury lawyer like Alison Heurich right away. There are statutes of limitations on all personal injury claims, and once that time has passed, there’s nothing anyone can do to help you.