In this article series, Oklahoma City injury attorney Travis Charles Smith explains the entire lawsuit settlement process in Oklahoma and all the nuances of obtaining a settlement, deducting expenses, and obtaining just compensation for your injuries or for wrongful acts of injustice.
In this article, we address the topic of evaluating the case, setting reasonable settlement goals, and preparing for trial to obtain the best verdict possible.
How do we determine reasonable Case Value or Settlement Amount in Oklahoma Lawsuits?
In any civil case, you must first have a target. What is your goal for this case? That is conversation that must take place between client and lawyer early so that you have a set goal and a target to work toward. There should be verdict goals and settlement goals. There should also be a bottom dollar settlement amount, a number that represents the absolute lowest amount you will accept, with the settlement goal being a above that bottom-dollar amount.
How do we know when to settle your case in Oklahoma?
This question becomes easy to answer if you and your lawyer have done the initial homework and analyzed the case, as described above. If you’ve done that, then knowing when to settle becomes easy, because you know your verdict potential, you know what is a good settlement value, and you have already made clear what is your bottom-dollar amount.
You go to trial when you have to. You settle when you have serious money on the table and it would be stupid to blow it off. Therefore, you must know what is a good offer and what is not. If you and your attorney have already had these discussions early in the case, then these decisions become easy later in the case when settlement offers get tossed around before trial.
When should the Client and Lawyer have these settlement discussions?
It is sometimes hard to assess damages early in the case, especially when you’ve yet to gather all the evidence. Therefore, it’s best to discuss damages periodically with your attorney, over developments in the case and how those things effect which direction the damages moving, up or down. Things like a witness’ credibility, or new witnesses coming forward, etc., can impact damages. Nevertheless, at a certain point your lawyer should have a firm grip on the range of the value of the case at trial. Based on that analysis, you set minimal amount of settlement, and a larger settlement goal. But a good trial lawyer should not be placing all eggs in the settlement basket. Any injury lawyer worth his salt should be prepared to try the case and should be expecting a trial in every case.
I never accept a case that I would not be willing to try before a jury, and I prepare all cases as if they are 100% going to trial. It is that preparation that allows me to obtain the highest and best settlements for my clients, and the best trial outcomes when there is not settlement.
The Best Settlements come when the Lawyer focuses on Trial Preparation, not on the Settlement preparation.
I know too many lawyers in Oklahoma that accept cases that they have no intention of ever taking to trial. Those lawyers are just hoping the case settles. I think that is a very poor strategy and it usually does not work. Defendants and Insurance Companies settle when they can visualize losing at trial. It’s hard to visualize losing at trial when the Plaintiff’s lawyer is obviously
scared of unprepared for trial. The Defense will always know if the Plaintiff’s lawyer is prepared for trial or not.
How will they know? Here’s some examples:
- The Plaintiff’s lawyer constantly brings up settlement, but has nothing to back it up;
- The Plaintiff’s lawyer drags on through discovery, causing as much delay as the Defense lawyers, instead of taking charge of discovery and ensuring both sides obtain all the evidence in a timely manner.
What are the hallmarks of a Plaintiff’s lawyer who is ready for trial? Here’s a few key points:
- The Plaintiff’s lawyer discusses settlement only after he has clearly demonstrated how the elements of the claim will be met with real evidence at trial. This way there is no bluff, there is meat and potatoes behind the demand.
- The Plaintiff’s lawyer does not wait for the Defense to initiate discovery. Instead, the Plaintiff’s lawyer willfully hands over all evidence, including medical bills and witness statements, even without the Defense asking. A good plaintiff’s lawyer has nothing to hide and lets the Defense know this is what we will show the jury at trial.
- The Plaintiff’s lawyer obtains experts early in the case and schedules depositions quickly, therefore preventing any justification for delaying the case.
Remember, the Defense will always try to drag the case on. Too many bad plaintiffs’ lawyers in Oklahoma allow the defense to do just that, because they themselves are unprepared. Thorough preparation early in the case ensures the best trial outcome, the quickest outcome, and usually is the reason the case settles anyway.