While the #1 goal for any injured worker should be to get healthy, we as lawyers want you to get everything that you are entitled to under the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act. All workers give up certain rights in exchange for the work comp system (the main one being that you can’t sue an employer for negligence). As a result you should get whatever the law entitles you to. That usually means 100% of your medical care paid for, being paid for the time when a doctor says you can’t work and when you are all better getting a settlement for the extent of your injuries.
Many callers and clients are understandably curious as to what their case is worth. For most cases there is a range of what a case could be worth if it settled as well as the likely outcome if it went to trial. The goal is to get you the highest amount we can on that range. Too many lawyers seem OK with a low ball offer rather than doing some work that can make the case worth more.
In many cases the accident and injury are clear cut and no reasonable person could dispute what the case is worth. Insurance companies will always look for a reason to minimize benefits, but if you slip on grease on a kitchen floor (clearly compensable accident) and break your hand during your fall, there isn’t much to fight over other than making sure you get toward the higher end of the settlement range when you are all better.
On the other hand, some cases have a range from $0 to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, a long time ago, a guy called our office who was badly injured when an elevator door at his office building closed on him. It’s a public elevator used by many businesses in the office building. Generally speaking that isn’t a compensable case because the injury had nothing to do with his employment and was outside his work premises before his day started.
A closer look though showed that he was banned from using the stairs so in order to do his job he had to go up this elevator. That made for a good argument that in fact the case should be compensable. It wasn’t a slam dunk, but it went from a case that seemed to be worth nothing to one that in my opinion had about a 70% chance of winning.
We ended up not taking the case so I’m not sure what happened to it, but what I told him when he asked about what it might be worth is that it depends on his patience. We would have wanted to get him top dollar for sure, but also make sure that he understands the risks. This is what you need to understand as well in deciding whether to settle or go to trial.
In a case like this let’s assume the range of what the case could be worth is from $0 to $100,000.00. If you think that there is a 70% chance of winning and a 30% chance of losing then an offer of around $70,000.00 would seem fair if all of your medical bills are paid.
So what do you do if the insurance company looks at the case the same way and says their bottom line is $50,000.00? 50k is way better than nothing, but certainly way less than full value. In a case like this it’s your unique life issues that matter. What would 50k mean to you? Do you understand the risks? Who is the Arbitrator? Are you OK waiting 18 months to get paid if you win because the case would surely be appealed?
What I would often suggest in a situation like this, especially after the offer has been made, is to do a pre-trial before the Arbitrator. That is an informal and unofficial meeting where each side tells the Judge their version of the facts and the Judge says how they would likely rule if the case went to trial and also possibly suggests a good settlement amount. It’s not binding, but gives us a good insight in to their thinking and is another way of helping you make a decision.
What you can’t do is have a lawyer who says, “This is the offer, do you want it or not?” You must know what your settlement range is and what the other factors are. If it’s an initial offer then it’s almost always not their best offer and worth countering. While the offer can theoretically be withdrawn, that almost never happens. You also almost never see offers that expire get enforced. It’s usually just a negotiating tactic.
Bottom line is don’t settle too early, be informed and make a thoughtful decision. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does increase your chances of getting the best result. That’s what we want and should be what you want too.