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Frequently Asked Questions About Settlements

If you file a personal injury lawsuit that is likely to win, chances are you'll get word of a settlement offer from the defendant. For plaintiffs eager to stay out of court or end the waiting game for money they need for medical bills, the settlement offer may seem like a good idea. However, it can be fraught with danger from a legal and financial standpoint, so you need to know more about the settlement in general to ensure you're making the right decision.

What Happens if I Accept a Settlement?

If you accept the settlement, the case does not go to court, and you have to agree to the terms of the settlement. These can include letting the defendant remain not guilty; in other words, the settlement offer is not to be taken as a legal admission of guilt. When you accept that money, that is the end of your accusation. The defendant may or may not have to remedy future situations like the one that led to your accident, depending on the terms of the settlement agreement.

Why Is It Bad to Take the First Settlement Offer?

A lot of times that first offer is going to be low. It might not seem low to you, but that's part of what the defendant is banking on. They hope that you'll be so eager for money and so unaware of how much you should really get that you'll grab the first offer. Don't -- chances are you can get a much more suitable amount that won't leave you struggling.

What if No One Offers a Settlement?

Then no one offers one, and the case goes on to court unless the defendant admits guilt and pays what you ask (which in itself is a kind of settlement, really). No one has to offer a settlement.

Do I Have to Accept a Settlement Eventually?

For the most part, no. Just because one was offered doesn't mean you have to accept it, and just because you started negotiating over one doesn't mean you have to go through with it and take an eventual offer. If you accept a settlement, sign off on everything, and accept the money, though, then you have to follow through. You can't back out of a legal agreement that you signed when you knew what you were getting into.

Always run settlement offers past a personal injury attorney. Any communication that the other party tries to have with you should be directed to your lawyer. By letting your legal representation run the settlement negotiation process, you'll have a better chance of ending up with an appropriate amount.