| Read Time: 11 minutes |
Attorney Portrait

In this episode, attorneys Jaeson Homola and Mark Nonni explain the steps of a personal injury case settlement as they debunk the misconception that every case requires a lawsuit.

From sending a demand package to receiving an initial offer, hear a discussion on the importance of negotiations to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. Above all, the Nonni Homola team emphasizes the importance of receiving proper medical treatment and fully understanding the extent of your injuries before settling.

Oftentimes, insurance companies will contact you directly to settle for an amount far below what you are entitled to. But once you settle, there’s no going back for more. Learn how to avoid these traps and more in this episode of It’s No Accident from the Nonni Homola Law Firm.

Welcome to “It’s No Accident”, a podcast about the challenges of personal injury and wrongful death law in Florida, one of the nation’s most complex legal environments. 

You’ll hear compelling stories about real cases from our law firm in Tallahassee, that will help you better understand your rights and protect yourself from the negligence of others.

I’m Mark Nonni.

And I’m Jaeson Homola.

And this is “It’s No Accident.”

One of the questions that I get a lot, certainly from clients and even just from friends and family that I’m talking to outside of the office, is when you have an injury case and you have an attorney, when it comes time to settle and talk settlement with the insurance company, what does that look like? How does that work?

You know, so how do you usually explain that to people?

Right. And I think the best way to answer it is just to start from the beginning.

You know, in these cases, a lot of people have this misconception that when you move forward with an injury case, that you have to file a lawsuit, that there’s a lawsuit filed. And that’s not the case in a lot of these cases that we handle. What we try to do when we sign up the case is try to negotiate with the insurance company so we don’t have to file a lawsuit because a lawsuit costs money, it takes time, and a lot of our clients would much rather get their case over with sooner rather than later and not spend a lot of money in the process going through the case.

So, we get the case in, our client goes through the treatment, they determine what the extent of their injuries are. We get the medical bills, we get the medical records. We put together a demand package, send it to the insurance company, and then they have about 30 days to get back to us is typically the time frame.

We get an offer on the case and that kicks off the settlement process. And then do you want to handle what that settlement process looks like?

Sure. Yeah. Like you said, get an initial offer back from the insurance company, and then at that point, it’s a matter of number one, evaluating the case and looking at what that offer is and you and I come up with our opinion of what would be a fair amount for this case.

Right? And then having a conversation with the client. Right? And talking to the client about it, obviously informing them of the offer and coming up with the counteroffer. And, you know, at that point, I tell clients all the time, it kind of turns into just like negotiating anything else in life, so to speak. You know, the insurance companies are going to start really low. We’re going to come up with a number that’s high, a lot higher than what we’re expecting to get, just because it’s negotiation.

We start high, they start low and we kind of start doing the dance back and forth. Right? And they’ll go up a little bit and we’ll come down a little bit and do that back and forth.

And usually, the insurance company going to stop, you know, they’ll start low. They’ll go up a little bit, a little bit more, a little bit more, and they’ll keep moving for a little while. But eventually, they’re going to stop and they’re going to say, “Look, this is it”. And usually, it’s an adjuster telling us “This is the most of my supervisor will let me pay to settle this case.”

Unless you can get me more documentation. Right?

The thing to remember about these insurance companies is these adjusters are kind of like robots, and they’ve got stacks of files and they’re going through them and they’re putting information into their system based on what we’ve provided them. That system is spitting out a number. They go to their supervisor. The supervisor gives them an amount of money that they can’t go over in terms of settling the case. And then it’s the adjuster’s job to try to get the case resolved at or below the amount their supervisor has given them.

Exactly. You know, and that becomes an issue sometimes because, I know you’ve been through this too before, where if the insurance company initially doesn’t put the correct information in there and the initial what they call the reserve. The initial reserve gets set too low because they didn’t put the right information in there. It can be very difficult for them to get the insurance company to go back and basically redo the evaluation to reset a new number.  

And a lot of it at that point almost comes down to the adjuster being concerned that he or she is going to get in trouble with their boss, because like why did you screw up? Why didn’t you put the right information in initially? The adjusters sometimes become resistant because to go back and do the reevaluation, basically it’s kind of like them admitting they didn’t do their job right.

Right. And, you know, they’ve got a job to do and they’re being evaluated constantly by their supervisors and they want to look good. They want to get these cases settled at or below the amount that’s been set by their supervisor. And not only that, they want to show their supervisors that they did the right thing on the front end to get the correct amount.

And, you know, if they keep going back to the supervisor and having to get these reserves reset, it doesn’t look good for them. So you’re right. I mean, a lot of times these cases where the reserve gets set incorrectly on the front end, end up with a lawsuit being filed because we just reach a stalemate with the adjuster. And the amount that they’re offering is so inadequate that there’s no way that we can we can in good conscience, tell our client, “Hey, this is a good amount for you to resolve your case”, so we’ll end up filing a lawsuit. And wouldn’t you know, as soon as we get the lawsuit filed, a new higher-level adjuster gets on the case.

They take a look at it. They look at all of the documentation. They’re like, “Wow, you know, this reserve was set pretty low. We can actually offer you this amount of money on the case and we get it resolved.”

So, you know, that can happen sometimes in the negotiation process. That happens maybe, you know, five times out of 100. I mean, it doesn’t happen that often. What is the typical route that we see in terms of resolving the case without filing a lawsuit?

Yeah, I don’t have like specific hard numbers where I’ve done the math. But just from, noticing things over the years, it seems to me that maybe about, two-thirds out of the cases they’re able to get it settled without ever filing a lawsuit.

We send the demand letter, we negotiated with the insurance adjuster. And, you know, we settle the case and/or file a lawsuit. And then maybe about a third of the time, we end up filing a lawsuit.

The vast majority of them settle without filing a lawsuit. And then even in the ones we do file lawsuits, still the vast majority of those end up settling and not actually going to trial.

But going back to what we were saying, when we were negotiating with the insurance company before filing a lawsuit, basically it’s just a matter of they have some top number that they’ve set for this case.

It’s a matter of during the negotiations, the way I look at it is, that my goal or my job is to, number one, try to get that top number set as high as possible. And number two, figure out what the top number is basically to offer and put it on the table and then we can look and talk to the client about it and compare.

I’ll usually have a range in my mind of what I think would be fair for this case. And then if that top numbers is in that range, I’m telling them “Hey, you know, this is pretty fair, it’d be reasonable to settle for this amount.” Or if that top number is a lot lower than that range, I’m telling the client, “Hey, you know, this is unreasonably low, I think we should file a lawsuit, keep fighting it out to try to get what you deserve.” And then at that point, the client has a decision.

And I know we’ve both had clients before where we’re telling them, “Hey, this is less than what you deserve.” And sometimes, you know, when we’re saying to them, you know, “I would recommend filing a lawsuit”, but sometimes people don’t want to file a lawsuit. They don’t want to go through all that. Go through the whole process.

And so they’ll settle, just to basically get it over with and not have to go through it all, which is fine. I get it. I’m never twisting people’s arms about a lawsuit. We’re just giving them the information they need to make an educated decision. I’ll tell them what I think they should do. But ultimately, they’re going to do what they want to do. It’s their decision, not ours. 

Yeah, it’s their case. I end up telling this to my clients all the time. “It’s your case.” I can tell you what I think you should do, but at the end of the day, if you want to go in a completely opposite direction, and sometimes clients do. They have the right to do that. It’s their case.

We’re not making the decisions before we can settle a case. We have a duty to our client, to present them with all the information, present them with all the offers, and we have a duty to get them to sign off on anything that we tell the adjuster. So, we can’t just go to the adjuster and say, “Yeah, we’ll take it.”

We have to talk to the client. The client has to tell us that’s what they want to do. And if they don’t want to do what we want them to do, then sometimes that results in a situation where we part ways with our client, and sometimes, our clients are right.

Sometimes, we’re not always right. Sometimes they’re right. And we’ll move forward in the litigation. We’ll do what the client wants to do, and they end up with a good amount sometimes. Sometimes they don’t. 

For sure. I think this isn’t exactly about the settlement process, but it kind of ties into that. When I’m talking to clients about settlement, one of the things I’m always stressing and one of the things I’m always worried about and making sure of, is the importance of making sure the client gets all the medical treatment he or she needs.

And we know the full extent of the injuries before you settle. And that’s something that comes up a lot because once you settle, you’re done, right? Once you accept the money and you sign the dotted line, there’s no going back for more. So the worst thing would be that the client settles and then the next day you realize you need a surgery or you need another month of therapy or something.

You can’t go back and get anything else at that point. So it’s a matter of just…you don’t want to say “Slow it down.” You’re always trying to push cases as fast as we can, but you don’t want to go too fast and settle too quickly and then end up shortchanging yourself.

You do your client a disservice if you do that and the client does themself a disservice if they settle the case too early. And there is a particular insurance company and it’s one of the big insurance companies, everybody would know who it is. It seems like every time we get a phone call and somebody says, “Hey, I think I might have messed up, I settled my case. Can I get out of that settlement?” And it always seems to be the same insurance company they will literally call. It’ll be a bad wreck. There’s going to be some pretty bad damages. There’s emergency room treatment and some follow-up treatment and this particular insurance company, literally within one or two days, is calling the injured party saying, “Hey”, and sometimes they misrepresent what the person is owed based on what our clients are telling us.

And they’ll say, “Hey, we’ll give you, $2,500 to get this case resolved. You don’t need to get an attorney. The attorney is going to take a third of the settlement.” $2,500 looks really good, or $5,000 looks really good. Well, they don’t tell them that there’s $100,000 available or there’s $50,000 available.

They just say, “Hey, you’re not going to get much anyway if you get an attorney. We think there’s some comparative negligence here”, even though it’s a clear liability rear-end collision.

And it’s this one insurance company that seems to do it all the time and sometimes the clients will do it and they’ll sign off and they’ll call and say, “I think I messed up.”

And it’s really difficult for us to undo that.

Yeah, near impossible. Yes, it is possible. And it’s not, but it’s super difficult and it’s not often I can think of, count on one hand over the years, how many times I’ve had a situation like that where I was able to get the client out of the settlement they had agreed to and continue proceeding with the case.

And it’s kind of what I was saying earlier, like what you said, the insurance company is coming at you quickly before you realize how bad your injuries are and try to get you to settle quick before you realize how bad it is. We’re kind of doing the opposite, pumping the brakes a little bit. Let’s slow it down and make sure we know what your injuries are before we settle.

It’s kind of two sides of that coin, so to speak.

So then, when we do get a settlement, there’s an offer on the table. The client decides to accept it. What’s that look like? What’s the timeline look like? What has to be done at that point in order to push the case across the finish line, so to speak?

I tell people that once we agree on a settlement with the other side, it’s usually about 30 days before it’s all said and done. And then the case is over and the client has their money. And really during that time, it’s a matter of, aside from just getting the check from the insurance company and getting the release paperwork that the client’s going to have to sign, we’ll turn around and basically look at what medical bills the client has to pay back out of the settlement.

Basically, how much money is owed that’s going to have to get paid on the settlement and turn around, trying to negotiate those down for the client. Talking to the different doctors or hospitals or whatever, and seeing if they’ll accept something a little less than the full price that they’re owed. Just because every dollar that we get knocked off the medical bills is another dollar in the client’s pocket.

So it’s kind of like, we on one hand focus on trying to get as much money as we can from the insurance company. That’s some amount that’s fair for the client. And then once we’ve done that, we turn around trying to negotiate some of these bills down to put more money in the client’s pocket.

And sometimes the medical providers do it, sometimes they don’t. Just kind of depends on the case. The facts, how much the case resolved for. All of that goes into whether or not we can get reductions on the medical bills and then there’ll be a release sent by the insurance company. A client has to sign that.

And then there also is what’s called a settlement statement. And before any money can be moved from, because what’ll happen is the insurance check will come to our office. We’ll put it into our trust account and then we will disperse the money to the medical providers, any lien holders on the case, any costs that are involved in the case, and then the settlement check to the client.

And what’ll happen is we’ll get that check in and we’ll put together what’s called a settlement statement. It’ll literally run through where all of the money is going. And before any money can be dispersed out of our trust account, we have to have the client sign off on that settlement statement so they know exactly where the money’s going.

They know exactly what reductions we’ve gotten. They know exactly what our fee is, what our costs are, everything. So it’s full disclosure. And we can’t do anything without them signing that. So once they sign that, we have a check ready for them, we have all the checks ready for the medical providers, and medical providers get paid.

Our fee comes out of that, the costs come out of that, and then the client gets their settlement check.  And then I always tell my clients, “Hopefully you never have to call me again.”

But that’s pretty much how it works.

Author Photo

Jaeson continued his studies at Florida State University College of Law, graduating with a Juris Doctorate in 2011. Throughout his law school career, Jaeson regularly volunteered his time at Florida Legal Services, where he assisted with several projects aimed at advancing the rights of low-income families in Florida. Jaeson has recovered millions of dollars from individuals for his clients. For his efforts, Jaeson was inducted in 2016 into the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. At the time of his induction, he was one of the youngest attorneys in the State of Florida to be inducted.

Rate this Post
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars