In this day and age of increasing litigation costs, more and more cases are settled long before trial begins. Plaintiffs frequently empower their attorneys to represent them in settlement negotiations, allowing lawyers to do much of the back and forth in reaching a settlement agreement. While it is important to have an attorney representing you in any settlement negotiations resulting from your auto accident or personal injury claim, plaintiffs must be careful to make sure that their attorney fully understands what they want and whether they are willing to compromise. Otherwise, as seen in a recent Tennessee Court of Appeals case, errors and miscommunication can ensue.
In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, J.G. was injured after his mail delivery truck was rear-ended by a car driven by B.M. J.G. sued B.M. for the injuries that he suffered, and B.M.’s auto insurer became involved in negotiations over the lawsuit. J.G. repeatedly offered to settle the case with B.M.’s insurer for $100,000, which he believed was the limits of B.M.’s insurance policy. After several rounds of negotiations, in which J.G. stood firm on his $100,000 demand, B.M.’s insurer agreed to pay the full $100,000 amount in writing. After they informed J.G. of this, several months passed without J.G.’s attorney letting the insurer know how payment would be received. Instead, the insurer eventually received a letter from J.G.’s attorney, stating that the medical expenses J.G. had incurred had risen, and, as a result, their demand had also risen to approximately $124,000. When B.M.’s insurers refused to pay the new amount, stating that they had already settled the claims for $100,000, J.G. added the insurer to his lawsuit against B.M. and proceeded with the lawsuit. The insurer moved to enforce the settlement agreement, and the trial court agreed. J.G. appealed.
On appeal, J.G. argued that the settlement was not final until B.M.’s insurer confirmed that $100,000 was the upper limit of B.M.’s insurance policy for automobile accidents. If the limit was higher, J.G. might have sought to recover more during settlement negotiations. In response, the insurer argued that J.G. had clearly offered to settle for $100,000, and they had accepted. B.M’s insurer also argued that J.G. had never required that the details of the policy be provided and that both parties knew, with certainty, that the limit was $100,000. In reviewing the correspondence between the two parties, the appeals court held that J.G. had clearly intended to settle with the insurer for $100,000, and it could not now back out of the deal. Nothing within the information provided by J.G.’s attorney suggested that the offer was conditional. Moreover, when the insurer accepted the offer, it clearly stated it was doing so with the understanding that J.G. would settle and release all claims he had against B.M. J.G.’s attorney never objected to this language in response. Accordingly, the appeals court agreed with the lower court that the terms of the settlement agreement should be enforced.
Settlement negotiations can be an important part of any plaintiff’s litigation strategy. When presented with a strong claim for liability, most defendants and their insurers will carefully consider settlement offers, with hopes of avoiding a large award at trial. While settlement can be a great way for plaintiffs to avoid the risk and stress of trial, it often means compromising for less money than they would like. Balancing these competing interests can be very complicated, and plaintiffs must always look for attorneys with experience in settlement negotiation strategy. If you have recently been involved in an accident after which settlement negotiations are ongoing, knowledgeable Tennessee car accident attorney Eric Beasley can help advise you of your rights and help you evaluate when to accept a settlement offer and when to hold tight. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.
Related Blog Posts:
Tennessee Court Denies Sudden Emergency Defense in Car Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog,
The Necessity of Proving Causation in Tennessee Automobile Accident Claims – Denton v. Taylor, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 18, 2016
Tennessee Accident Tips, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, March 16, 2016