Personal Injury

Personal Injury Settlement FAQ

Reviewed by David Goguen, J.D., University of San Francisco School of Law
If you've got questions about how personal injury settlements work, and what to expect in your case, chances are you'll find some answers here.

Q: Are medical bills included in a bodily injury claim?

  • A: Yes. The term "bodily injury claim" usually refers to a personal injury claim, and after an accident, compensation for all medical treatment made necessary because of your injuries is part of that claim against the at-fault party. Medical bills are a component of “economic damages” (sometimes also called “special damages”), which also include lost wages and other out-of-pocket losses stemming from the accident and your injuries.

Q: Can a health care insurer be repaid from a personal injury settlement?

  • A: Yes, it's quite common. Most health insurance policies now have language that allows the insurance company to be reimbursed for the amount paid out on medical bills if the insured person gets a personal injury settlement. This right of repayment is sometimes called a “personal injury lien.”

Q: Can I ask my lawyer for a copy of the settlement check?

  • A: Yes, and you should. As a client you have an absolute right to see a copy of the settlement check, and to review a copy of the settlement breakdown sheet before the check is deposited. Usually, the insurance company check has both your name and your attorney's name on it, so you would typically have to endorse the check before it could be placed in your lawyer's trust account. Ask your lawyer to provide you with a copy of the actual settlement check forwarded to him or her by the insurance company, as well as a copy of all checks written by the attorney to cover costs connected with your case. (More: Who pays "costs" in a personal injury case?)

Q: Can I break an annuity from an auto accident settlement?

  • A: Probably not. It's difficult to "break" an annuity. The purpose behind an annuity is to have the insurance company pay out the settlement funds over time, rather than in one lump sum payment. You could try to get a court to set aside the annuity, but that kind of request is rarely granted without a compelling reason. The only other alternative, which may not be a wise one, is to find a company that purchases structured settlements from personal injury victims. Usually these companies will pay you 20 to 50 cents on the dollar and purchase your right to future payments. You'll be giving up a substantial amount of money if you choose this option, however.

Q: Can I gain access to my child's settlement money?

  • A: A parent usually doesn't have access to a child's settlement funds. The reason for this is to protect children from parents who might use the money to benefit themselves, instead of the child. A court will generally place a child's settlement money in a "blocked" trust account until the child turns 18. A court will sometimes allow withdrawals from blocked accounts if the funds are needed for the child's care and well-being, and the court is satisfied the funds will be used to benefit the minor. You and your lawyer should discuss what expenses might be paid for with the settlement funds.

Q: Can my lawyer settle my case without my consent?

  • A: It's possible that the retainer agreement you signed with your lawyer allows him or her to settle the case without your consent, and that includes signing the release agreement on your behalf. If your attorney settled the case “in principle” without your permission, and no release agreement has been signed, you should tell your lawyer that you don't want to proceed with the settlement. If a release has already been signed, things get a lot more complicated, and your only recourse may be a malpractice action against your lawyer. Learn more about Your Contract With Your Personal Injury Lawyer.

Q: How do I collect my personal injury award?

  • A: If the person against whom you have the judgment has insurance, the easiest thing to do is simply notify the insurance company of your judgment (they're probably already aware of it, so you’re likely just reminding them). The insurance company will usually just write a check for the damages up to the limit of the insurance policy. If the person against whom you have the judgment is uninsured, collecting won't be as easy. You must have the judgment "entered" with the court and then seek to "enforce" the judgment. There are actually attorneys who specialize in collecting judgments, and it might be a good idea to consult with one.

Q: Is there a minimum personal injury settlement amount?

  • A: No, there is no minimum or maximum settlement amount in personal injury cases (although some state laws limit the amount of damages you can be awarded by a judge or jury in certain kinds of lawsuits). Every case depends on its own unique set of facts. The amount of a settlement in a personal injury case depends on many factors, including:
    • nature and extent of the injuries
    • amount of economic damages (such as lost wages and medical bills)
    • amount of time the injury is expected to last, and
    • clarity of liability (in other words, how obvious is it that the defendant caused the accident?).

Q: What is a proper contingency fee?

  • A: An attorney's fee is usually fixed, but it is sometimes open to negotiation, depending on the complexity of the case, the time at which it is resolved (before a lawsuit is filed, before trial, etc.), and the anticipated costs that may be invested. The only way to know if your attorney is willing to consider a lower fee is to ask. If there isn't much of a fault ("liability") issue, you may be able to find a less-expensive lawyer. The skill and reputation of your lawyer is very important, though. A 40% fee to a highly skilled, well-respected lawyer will in all probability yield a higher overall recovery for you than will a 33% fee with a less-experienced attorney. Learn more: What is a Contingency Fee?
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This article was verified by:
Kourosh Arami, Esq. | April 23, 2015
53 West Jackson Boulevard, Suite 1633

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