Where Are the Reasonable Settlements?
Our law firm, Timmons, Owen, Jansen & Tichy, Inc., have been practicing personal injury and workers’ compensation law for over forty years and we have seen many changes over that time. Today, the small to medium size personal injury case has become very difficult to settle. Particularly, in the past five years, the insurance industry has gained the upper hand with these cases in the courts and in the public’s mind.
The reasons insurance companies are winning now are many, but most lead back to the superior amount of money insurance companies have compared to claimants or plaintiffs.
For many years an injured party was allowed to present the incurred medical bills as proof of medical damages. The California Supreme Court ruled that the injured party could only present to a jury what was actually paid for medical care. This has a major impact on almost every case because some sort of insurance, be it Medicare, Medi-Cal or a private company, pays the bills at a reduced rate. The amount paid can be as low as 10 to 20 percent of the billed amount and that tremendously deflates the value of the case and our client’s recovery. That was a clear victory for the insurance industry.
The insurance companies have also influenced the minds of the public. They will argue that pain and suffering is non-existent or is overstated. The insurance companies argue that there are always cases of insurance fraud and no matter how righteous a case is, how do we really know it is real? Very little of what the insurance companies say is true but the public is unaware of the real facts.
Because of the negative publicity about claims and the reduction of medical damages, the insurance companies take a hard line when it comes to settlement. The insurance companies’ hard line forces many of these cases into litigation. Our firm litigates cases quite often now as the settlements are not appropriate. Often the cases will still settle, but at a later date and with more legal expenses. That is unfair for the injured party but with settlement offers so low, there are few other options.
The solution to these issues is slow but coming. Organizations of plaintiff’s lawyers are fighting the reduced medical bill issue. American Association for Justice, Consumer Attorneys of California, and Capital City Trial Attorneys Association are organizations our law firm belongs to and supports. These organizations educate lawyers in preparing clients for trial. Hopefully measures like these will put the insurance on their heels so that injured people can expect reasonable settlements when they are harmed by the negligence of another.