Most cases that are brought to recover for an injury or wrongful death are settled rather than going to trial. The key to a settlement is that both the plaintiff and defendant have to agree that settling is what is best for them. You have the absolute right to refuse any settlement offer that you aren’t satisfied with. Here’s what happens next.
What Happens If You Refuse a Settlement Offer?
Refusing a settlement offer is normal. Even in a serious case, such as a car accident or wrongful death claim, settlements are still a negotiation. The defendant may not agree that they were at fault for your injury, or with the amount of damages you’re asking for. Oftentimes, you will not want to accept their initial settlement offer, and they probably also won’t want to accept your initial offer. Your lawyer may also be familiar with the insurance company’s negotiating style, and whether they typically start low, or with a fairer offer.
When you refuse a settlement offer, the next step is usually more negotiations. Your attorney will keep trying to persuade the other side to make a better offer using the facts and law. It’s also common for either side to change their offer when new evidence gets discovered or the judge makes a preliminary ruling about different parts of the case.
It’s important to understand that once you refuse a settlement offer, it’s gone. If you learn something that changes your opinion about the offer or you just change your mind, the defendant no longer has to honor that 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 you’re basically making a new offer that the defendant is free to accept or reject.
What Happens If I Don’t Accept a Settlement Agreement?
If you don’t accept a settlement agreement, your case will proceed to the next steps. If you have already filed a lawsuit, this means that you might have more hearings and eventually go to trial. Keep in mind that there is a 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 that is lower than what you were expecting.
If you haven’t filed a lawsuit yet, you will need to do so if you want to recover for your injuries. Texas law gives you two years from the date of the injury to file most personal injury or wrongful death claim. (*Always speak directly to an attorney for the exact deadlines that apply to your potential claim(s).) You generally don’t get additional time to file your lawsuit if you were trying to negotiate a settlement.
Do I Have to Accept a Settlement Offer?
You do not have to accept a settlement offer. You have the right to go to trial instead. No matter what you choose to do, there is some risk involved. If you choose to settle, you might have gotten more at trial. If you go to trial, you might not get as much as your settlement offer. If you don’t accept an early settlement offer, the other side may not offer as much in a future settlement 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’re willing to take on more risk, you might only be willing to settle for a higher amount.
The problem is that you can almost never know the dollar value of your case or your odds of winning for sure. Lawsuits happen because two parties can’t agree on the amount owed or the chances of winning and losing. Each judge and jury will also view each case differently. Your lawyer can only help you to make an informed decision about what happened in similar cases. Sometimes, your case will closely match many others, so you might expect almost exactly the same thing to happen in yours. In other cases, your facts might be unusual or highly disputed or you might have a legal issue that hasn’t been tested in court. For example, spinal cord injury and brain injury cases are much less common than car accident cases in general. In more complex cases, it can be harder to predict what will happen if you don’t accept a settlement offer.
Can I Reject a Settlement Offer?
You have the absolute 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 weren’t hurt, you can reject their offer to replace your car with a brand new one and demand that they pay you $1 million instead. Of course, you will need to be reasonable if you want your case to settle since the other side can also reject your counteroffers. This will mean understanding that the offers you receive will have to be supported by the 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 that you have recovered fully and have nothing to worry about in the future. However, maybe you missed time from work and had extra childcare expenses while you were in the hospital. You might reject the settlement offer if it doesn’t also cover your lost wages and extra expenses. 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 isn’t exactly what you want but is worth not spending more time in court and taking on the risk of getting less. If you ask for a much higher amount, the other side will have no reason to accept your counteroffer.
In addition, 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 can’t make a decision for you based on their opinion, what they will make in attorney’s fees, or any other reason.
How Do I Decline a Settlement Offer?
Declining a settlement offer is as simple as saying no. There aren’t any special steps you need to take. However, your attorney or the defendant might sometimes 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’s often 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 that you’re 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 then sends your answer to the other lawyer. Sometimes, you might meet with the defendant, their lawyer, and your lawyer in person. You can immediately say no to any offers that are made, but it’s also common to stop and have a private conversation with your attorney before making a major decision.
Get Help from an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
It can be very difficult to know when you should refuse a settlement offer. Even in cases involving common injuries, small 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. In addition, 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 you’re entitled to.
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.