Settlements in Personal Injury Cases


If you’ve been hurt in an accident that someone else caused, what will it take to get compensated for your personal injury? Will you have to go to trial, or can you expect to receive a settlement from the insurance company? We asked our readers across the United States about the outcomes of their personal injury claims, and this is what we learned.

Settlements: The Most Common Outcome in Personal Injury Claims

Very few personal injury cases actually make it to trial. Only 4% of our readers reported that their case reached that stage, while more than two-thirds (67%) received a settlement from the insurance company. There are many good reasons for this. Taking a case from a lawsuit all the way to trial (a process known as “litigation”) can be time-consuming and very expensive for both sides. (See our article on the cost of taking your personal injury case to court.) A trial is also risky, because juries (and the verdicts they hand down) can be unpredictable. You may get a larger award than what the insurance company was prepared to offer, but then again, you may end up with nothing. All of this explains why your lawyer and the insurance company will usually be very motivated to reach a settlement.

Negotiations: A Critical Step Toward Settlement

More than seven in ten readers told us they (or their lawyers) negotiated a personal injury settlement with the insurance company. Although the negotiations took some time, these readers ended up with nearly $31,000 more, on average, than those who simply took the first offer. (For more information, see our articles on how different aspects of a claim affected readers' personal injury settlements and how the negotiation process works in personal injury cases).

Negotiating Strategy: Filing or Threatening a Lawsuit

As their personal injury claims progressed, nearly half of our readers (or their lawyers) either filed a lawsuit or notified the other side that they were ready to do so. Those actions paid off: More than eight in ten of these readers reported a “payout” in the form of a settlement or court award after trial, with the vast majority (92%) receiving settlements. In contrast, only about two-thirds (68%) of readers who didn’t file or threaten a lawsuit got settlements. Also, readers who took one of these steps ended up with payouts that were almost twice as high, on average, as those who didn’t. Clearly, insurance companies are more likely to take your claim seriously and make a fair settlement offer—or raise an initial offer—if you show that you’re serious about taking your case to court.

Mediation: An Alternative Route to Settlement

Mediation is a process where both sides involved in a dispute sit down with a neutral third party (the mediator) who is trained to help people reach a mutually satisfactory agreement. Only a small minority of our readers (12%) participated in mediation of their personal injury claims, but they tended to see better results—receiving an average payout of $94,300, which was 78% higher than the overall average of $52,900.

Mediation is entirely voluntary before you’ve filed a lawsuit. If you file a suit, however, courts often require this step before the case actually goes to trial.

If you’ve reached an impasse in settlement negotiations with the insurance company, you might try mediation as a way to move things along. (For more information, see our article on mediation of personal injury claims.)

Negotiating Success

If you want to achieve success negotiating your personal injury claim, there are some things you can do to make the process go more smoothly. If you’re dealing directly with the insurance adjuster, it helps to be organized, patient, persistent, and calm. (For more detailed tips, see our article on how personal injury negotiations work.) But you might consider talking to a personal injury lawyer who has the knowledge and skills to handle negotiations on your behalf and get you the best possible settlement.

About This Report

The data referenced above is from Martindale-Nolo Research's 2017 personal injury study, which analyzed survey responses from readers who had personal injury claims and had researched hiring a lawyer. The names of any quoted readers have been changed to protect their privacy.

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