A personal injury settlement is an agreement between the person who is injured and the person who caused the injury. The agreement is for an amount of money to be paid to the injured person in return for no longer pursuing the person who caused the harm in court. It is considered a contract under the law, and ends the ability for a lawsuit related to the injury.
When can a settlement occur?
A settlement can occur prior to a lawsuit being filed, or after a lawsuit is filed. If it is filed before the lawsuit, it will be called a pre-litigation settlement.
If the settlement occurs after the lawsuit, it generally will just be called a settlement, but includes some additional steps. The additional steps are a settlement agreement, a dismissal of the lawsuit and a release that the person who caused the harm will not be able to be sued in the future related to the injury.
The determination of the settlement is when both sides agree to the value of the case. The side that caused the injury (the defendant in the lawsuit) will want the number to be as low as possible. The side who was harmed (the plaintiff in the lawsuit) will want the number to be as high as possible to pay for their harms. During the negotiation, the injured side wants to demonstrate how the injury is serious and life-altering, while the side causing the injury will want to show how minor the injuries are, and how life will not change much.
Pre-litigation determination: Before a lawsuit has been filed
If the settlement occurs prior to filing a lawsuit, the agreement will be between you (and your lawyer, if you have one) and the insurance adjuster for the person who caused the harm. REMEMBER: The insurance adjuster is a specialist at trying to pay out the smallest amount of money possible. The have a job where they get rated when they pay more money than they should, and so their goal is to make you feel like your case is not valuable, and try to get you to agree to a small number. Insurance companies do not want to help you, regardless of what they may claim. Their job and their bureaucracy is set up to pay you the smallest settlement possible.
Litigation determination: After a lawsuit has been filed
If the settlement occurs after a lawsuit has been filed, it can occur at any time, even after there is a trial. The agreement will be between you and your attorney and the defense attorney. The defense attorney works with the adjuster for the person who caused harm. These personal injury settlements will almost always be higher and more valuable than if you settle the case pre-litigation. However, it is a longer process.