No. A lawyer cannot, under any circumstance, settle your case without your consent. Furthermore, it is actually considered an ethical violation to do so. According to the American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rule 1.8, “before any settlement offer or plea bargain is made or accepted on behalf of multiple clients, the lawyer must inform each of them about all the material terms of the settlement, including what the other clients will receive or pay if the settlement or plea offer is accepted.”
As a client, you have the final say about whether you want to settle your case or go to trial. It is your lawyer’s responsibility to present you with both options and provide clarity, legal interpretations, and recommendations to help you make an informed decision. However, your lawyer cannot make that decision for you.
The Legal Process for Settling Cases Can Be Complex
Many lawyers wait until the plaintiff has reached “maximum medical improvement” (MMI) before recovering damages—all within the statute of limitations, of course. This is because until the plaintiff reaches the MMI, it may be difficult to establish the total amount of a plaintiff’s damages.
Once the lawyer has a good idea of what the client’s total damages are, they will confer with the plaintiff, provide options, and make recommendations. If the plaintiff decides to move forward with the settlement, the following will take place:
After the Discovery Process
In smaller personal injury cases, your lawyer may skip filing the lawsuit and instead write a demand letter to speak directly to the defense lawyer. If the defense thinks the demand is appropriate, they may agree to settle. However, if they think it is too high, they may respond with a counteroffer and begin to negotiate or ignore your demand altogether. In the case that both parties do not agree on an amount, the case may move to mediation.
In the mediation process, a neutral third party—typically a private mediator or a judge who has not been assigned to the case—helps both parties resolve the case. To begin, the mediator meets both parties to establish ground rules and confirm what has happened with the case thus far. The mediator then meets with the parties and their attorneys separately. The goal here is to confer with each side and see if they can agree on an amount that works for both sides. Depending on the details of the case, mediation can last a few hours to days.
Settling the Case
Before the case can settle, the plaintiff must first accept the settlement amount. When this happens, their lawyer will let the defense know that their offer has been accepted. This can be done via email, phone, or letter. There is a rule about accepting settlements: Once the plaintiff tells the defense that they have accepted their offer, there is no going back—not even five minutes later. Therefore, lawyers make it a priority to explain the terms of a settlement before the plaintiff makes a decision. This includes describing the payment details, amount of money, release of liability, and confidentiality clauses.
Here Are Some Reasons Why Some Settlements Take So Long
Though many cases settle before trial, reaching a settlement is not always as easy as it sounds. Personal injury cases can take quite some time to resolve or settle. Some reasons why settlements may take longer than expected include:
- You have not reached the MMI for your injuries. Lawyers might prefer to wait until you have made a complete physical recovery before settling your case. This way, they can have a better sense of your damages, including past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and any present disabilities.
- The defense may be trying to stall your case. In an ideal world, the liable party and insurers would own up to their negligence and settle. However, that is not often the case. The defense party might use delay tactics and try to get out of paying any sort of compensation.
- The case has legal or factual issues. Your case may take longer to settle if certain details are contested, such as how the accident happened. If the court system has backlogs, this can also affect how quickly the case moves through the process.
If You Have a Question, Morris Bart, LLC, Can Help
We are a personal injury law firm that has helped thousands of plaintiffs recover damages for their injuries. If you have a case or need legal counsel, a member of our team at the Morris Bart law firm would be delighted to speak with you. Take advantage of our free consultation and 24/7 availability and call us now at (800) 537-8185.