What Happens If You Refuse a Settlement Offer?

January 19, 2024 Verdicts & Settlements

Negotiating a settlement after an injury or wrongful death can be intimidating. Is their offer good enough? How do I decline a settlement offer? Will something bad happen if you say no?

While it is natural to feel ambivalent about turning down money for your injuries, negotiation is an integral part of reaching an agreement that makes you whole without having to resort to the rigors of a trial.

The key to a satisfactory settlement is that both the plaintiff and defendant have to agree that the terms are workable and fair. This will typically mean refusing the first settlement offer. Here is what happens next.

What Happens If You Refuse a Settlement Offer?

Refusing a settlement offer is normal. Serious cases, such as a car accident or wrongful death claim, will involve negotiation to see that both parties get to an outcome that feels fair. The defendant may initially disagree they were at fault for your injury, or with the number of damages you are asking for. Often, you will not want to accept their initial settlement offer. They probably also won’t want to accept your initial terms. Your lawyer may also be familiar with the insurance company’s negotiating style, and whether they typically start low, or with an offer that reflects what they are willing to pay.

When you refuse a settlement offer, the next step is usually more negotiation. Your attorney will continue to communicate with the other side using the facts and law to support your terms. It is also common for either side to change their offer when new evidence is discovered, or the judge makes a preliminary ruling about distinct parts of a case.

It is important to understand, once you refuse a settlement offer, it is gone. If you learn something that changes your opinion about the offer or you change your mind, the defendant no longer has to honor a previous settlement offer. Their opinion about the value of the case may also have changed. You can ask if an offer you refused is still available, but this is essentially a new offer the defendant is free to accept or reject.

What Happens If You Do Not Accept a Settlement Agreement?

If you do not accept a settlement agreement, your case will proceed to the next steps. If you have already filed a lawsuit, this means you might have more hearings and eventually go to trial. When a case goes to trial, that introduces the chance you could lose in court. The judge might dismiss your case entirely or make a ruling that limits what you can recover. A jury might also not find in your favor or award an amount lower than you were expecting.

If you have not filed a lawsuit yet and negotiations have broken down, you may need to act quickly to recover damages for your injuries. Texas law gives you two years from the date of the injury to file most personal injury or wrongful death claims. (*Always speak directly to your attorney to learn the exact deadlines that apply to your claims.) You generally don’t get additional time to file your lawsuit if you were trying to negotiate a settlement.

Do You Have to Accept a Settlement Offer?

You do not have to accept a settlement offer. You have the right to try to continue to negotiate, and to file suit and go to trial instead. No matter what you choose to do, there is risk involved. If you choose to settle, you may get less than if you had gone to trial. If you go to trial, you might not get as much as your initial settlement offer. If you do not accept an early settlement offer, the other side may go lower instead of higher in a future offer.

In a simple world, whether to accept a settlement offer would be a basic math problem. If your case is worth $1,000,000 and you have a 70% chance of winning, it would make mathematical sense to settle for $700,000. If you want to avoid risk, you might be willing to settle for a little less. If you are willing to take on more risk, you might only be willing to settle for a higher amount.

The problem is you can almost never know the dollar value of your case or your odds of winning for sure. Lawsuits happen because two parties cannot agree on the amount owed or the chances of winning and losing.

Each judge and jury will also view each case differently. Sometimes, your case will closely match many others, so you might expect similar outcomes. In other circumstances, your facts might be unusual or highly disputed. Or, you might have a legal issue that has not been tested in court. For example, spinal cord injury and brain injury cases are much less common than car accident cases, so there is less case law to draw on. In more complex cases, it can be harder to predict what will happen if you do not accept a settlement offer.

Can You Reject a Settlement Offer?

You have the right to reject any settlement offer for any reason at all. There is no law that limits what you can ask for or tells you when you have to accept an offer. If someone causes a car crash where you were not hurt, you can reject their offer to replace your car with a brand new one and demand they pay you $1 million instead.

That said, it is wise to be reasonable if you want your case to settle. The other party also can also reject your settlement offers. To arrive at a settlement that is agreeable, negotiations from both sides have to be supported by proven facts, the laws supporting your right to recover, and the amount of uncertainty in the case.

For example, you might have a settlement offer to settle your personal injury case for the exact cost of your medical bills. Your doctors may have already told you have recovered fully and have nothing to worry about in the future. However, your damages may also include missed time from work and extra childcare expenses while you were in the hospital. You might reject the settlement offer because it does not cover your lost wages and extra expenses, or your pain and suffering. Depending on how much supporting information you have, you might be able to convince the other side to pay all or most of those expenses. You might also reach a number that is not exactly what you want but is worth avoiding time in court and the risk of getting less.

You alone have the right to accept or reject any settlement offer. Your attorney’s job is to give you advice about what to do, but they must tell you about all settlement offers made by the other side. Your attorney cannot decide for you based on their opinion, what they will make in attorney’s fees, or any other reason.

How Do You Decline a Settlement Offer?

Declining a settlement offer is as simple as saying no. There are not any special steps you need to take. However, your attorney or the defendant might ask you to respond in writing, so everything is clear. If a settlement offer has a deadline, you can also decline it by ignoring it until it expires. Once you make the decision, it is a good idea to let your attorney deliver your answer to the defendant’s lawyer, because your attorney can also explain the factual and legal reasons you are asking for a higher offer. In many situations, your lawyer will negotiate with the defendant’s lawyer by phone. Your lawyer will contact you if a settlement offer is made during those discussions. Your lawyer will discuss their offer, and work with you to make a decision before responding back to the other side.

How Do You Know When to Accept a Settlement Offer?

It can be difficult to know whether to accept or refuse a settlement offer. Even in cases involving common injuries, minor differences in the facts or the law that applies to the case can drastically change what the plaintiff might receive if the case goes to court. Plus, you cannot always rely on the insurance company to make a fair offer, since their goal is often to minimize what they have to pay.

Only your own attorney has a legal obligation to help you get the most to which you are entitled. Your attorney will be able to advise you on what you can expect and whether the offer from the defendant is fair and acceptable.

Get Help from an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law opened his personal injury firm in 1985. Since then, he has built a team of skilled and experienced litigators and support staff to get his clients results.

To learn more about what your case might be worth or whether you should refuse a settlement offer you received, call Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law now at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000. We can review your case and help you decide the best way forward.

Attorney Terry Bryant

Attorney Terry BryantTerry Bryant is Board Certified in personal injury trial law, which means his extensive knowledge of the law has been recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, setting him apart from many other injury attorneys. The 22 years he spent as a Municipal Judge, Spring Valley Village, TX also provides him keen insight into the Texas court system. That experience also helps shape his perspective on personal injury cases and how they might resolve. This unique insight benefits his clients. [ Attorney Bio ]

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