Deciding whether or not to accept a settlement offer in your workers’ compensation case is one of the most important decisions you will make in your case. It may not be an easy decision. In many cases, the insurance company will not agree to pay the full amount that your attorney is requesting on your behalf. Here, we discuss important considerations in evaluating whether settling your claim is right for you.
What Should You Think About Before Agreeing to a Workers’ Compensation Settlement?
Unlike some other states, you are permitted to settle a workers’ compensation claim in New Jersey before you are fully recovered from your injuries. However, this does not mean that you want to accept the first offer you receive—even if you feel the need to receive your settlement amount quickly. By doing so, you may be waiving your right to obtain benefits that you deserve and that will help you down the road. Some important considerations when making your decision include:
- Maximum medical recovery. It is important to wait until you reach your maximum medical recovery. This is when your medical condition has stabilized and improved as much as it will or you receive a final prognosis from your treating physician. When you reach this stage of your treatment, you will know if you suffered a permanent disability, what future medical expenses you will likely incur, and the future wage losses you will suffer. These future losses should be included in your settlement.
- Type of settlement. There are two types of settlements of workers’ comp claims in New Jersey. A Section 20 Settlement can only be used when the insurance company disputes your claim. You agree to accept a lump sum and to dismiss your claim in exchange for a lump sum settlement. A Section 22 can be used in any claim. You and the insurance company would agree to a permanent disability rating, and you would receive your benefits in weekly payments. In addition, you could be entitled to future medical expenses. You need to consider whether the type of settlement being offered is right for your situation.
- Expert opinions to support your claim. Often a workers’ compensation insurance company will raise disputes about the severity of the workers’ injuries or whether it was caused by an incident other than a workplace accident. Depending on your circumstances, you may have needed to retain experts in your case, such as a physician, financial expert, or vocational rehabilitation expert. You need to think about what they are saying about your case and how strongly they support your position on disputed issues when considering a settlement offer.
- Strengths and weaknesses of your claim. Whenever you consider a settlement offer, you need to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Almost every case has some weaknesses as well as strengths. You need to evaluate both with an experienced workers’ compensation attorney to determine potential likely options if you do not accept the settlement based on the facts of your claim.
- Settlement amount. Your attorney can give you advice on the value of your claim. How close is the amount being offered to what you deserve? You will need to consider this along with the strengths and weaknesses of your claim in evaluating an offer. It is important to be realistic about this amount.
- Finality of settlement. A settlement of your claim is a final resolution of your claim, and you cannot reopen your case to request additional sums in most cases. You need to understand the finality of your agreement in deciding whether you should agree to what is being offered.
- Control over the outcome. In a settlement, parties on both sides of a dispute sometimes do not receive 100 percent of what they wanted. This is a negative aspect of many agreements. However, you do get a benefit by settling your claim. This is the certainty of the settlement versus the uncertainty of taking your case to trial. Even if you have a strong case, there is no guarantee of how the judge will decide your claim. If you believe that a settlement offer is fair, you may want to accept it to know that you will receive benefits and control some of the terms that are important to you instead of leaving this all in the control of the judge in your case.
Before agreeing to any settlement, you want to seek the advice of an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. You should also let him negotiate your settlement because he will be more skilled than you in negotiating with the claims adjuster. If you were hurt at work and must file a workers’ compensation claim, call our office to schedule a free consultation.