Personal Injuries in motor vehicle accident. Is settlement agree reasonable?

by Terri

I was in a car accident on a vehicle owned by a trolley company about 2 years ago. A car cut them off at an intersection, and the driver of my vehicle slammed on the brakes, causing me to be jolted into the seat in front of me.

My chest was bruised, and I had a lot of pain. The next day I had a lot of numbness in my arms, legs and rest of body. I got an attorney, and was sent to physical therapy by them and my physician. I received two MRI's which showed several herniated discs in neck, and bulging discs. The lower back also showed some discs herniated.

I also went an EMG, which showed nerve damage, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome. I went to physical therapy for almost a year, and then was sent back several months ago for more physical therapy.

After about 1 1/2 years, my attorney filed to take the case to court. I guess no settlement was made. I then had a different attorney, who I met with once 3 or 4 months ago. I didn't hear anything from him until a few days ago. He told me there was an offer for a settlement for $35,000.

He said they wouldn't go any higher because of some type of insurance issue, where if they couldn't prove that it was their driver's fault, then their insurance could only go as high as that. Does this sound like something that happens, and is reasonable, or should the settlement be higher, because of the different injuries? I'm a little confused about it. Could you offer any input or advice? Thank you.

Answer by Guy Parrinello

I’m sorry to hear about your accident and injuries. I am not certain what state you are in, so it is difficult to provide a straight answer. For example, if there is a no-fault law in your state, as there is in New York, you might be subject to receiving no settlement at all because of a requirement that your injuries be of a particular degree specified by the law.

What it comes down to is whether or not you trust your attorney to make a recommendation for a reasonable settlement amount that would fairly compensate you for your economic losses and pain and suffering that are directly attributable to your accident.

Generally, in order to recover in a lawsuit for negligence the plaintiff must prove liability (fault) and damages (economic loss, injuries and pain and suffering). When your lawyer says he would have to prove the other driver was at fault, liability is likely what he is talking about.

If I am interpreting your question correctly, your case seems to add a wrinkle to the liability part of your claim, in that you were injured by an impact of your body with some part of the inside of a trolley you were riding on that was the result of hard braking, and not the result of an impact with the other car.

In New York, it is extremely difficult to prove liability against the bus or trolley driver and company in that type of case. That is because the plaintiff must prove the injury was caused by the bus or trolley making a sudden start, stop or jolt that is well outside the ordinary movements for that mode of travel.

The plaintiff must also prove that the sudden start, stop or jolt was not the result of the driver being presented with an emergency that required the sudden start, stop or jolt.

Based upon your question, there was another car that cut off the trolley. Thus, the trolley company can make an argument that the sudden jolt was due to an emergency that required evasive action, thus alleviating the trolley company and driver of liability.

With that defense in mind, your next chance of finding someone at fault is to sue the driver of the car that cut the trolley off. If you could prove the driver of that car was negligent when it cut in front of the trolley, you could perhaps prove a case against that car’s owner and/or driver. Difficult to prove where there was no impact between the two cars. It sounds to me that is what your attorney is talking about.

I hope this helps you understand some of the issues your lawyer may be wrestling with. My suggestion is that with this information in mind you speak with your lawyer directly. Ask what he means about the liability. Find out what type of liability and damages awards other cases like yours have merited in your area. Then decide if the settlement is right for you. Good luck.

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