Nearly every case, where a lawsuit gets filed, results in the parties attending a settlement conference. It is for that reason that this article was written. Specifically to answer the more common questions we hear from our clients. But, remember nothing replaces the face to face counsel that we at Anderson Hemmat pride ourselves in providing.
A) WHAT IS A SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE?
A settlement conference is a meeting where the injured party, a representative from the insurance company, the lawyers for both sides and finally a neutral mediator come together with the goal of discussing settlement. The job of the mediator, usually an old time lawyer or ex-judge, is to facilitate a dialogue between the parties. That dialogue is geared toward getting the parties to focus on the prospects of settling their pending case. It nearly always involves separating the parties to different rooms and the mediator going from room to room. Ultimately this shuttle diplomacy results in the mediator running settlement offers and counter-offers from room to room.
B) WHY GO?
Usually, the Court requires parties to attend. No one can make you settle. But, the Courts generally believe that ordering the parties to talk settlement in a forum as described above works to resolve cases. In our experience, settlement conferences result in settlements being achieved in a great majority of cases.
C) WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET THERE?
We like to have our clients arrive to the settlement conference 30 minutes before the meeting actually begins. This gives us time to meet and discuss the process. These meetings usually take place in some unassuming office building. When you first arrive you will be escorted to a conference room. That room is going to be yours and your lawyers for the duration of the conference. So get comfortable. Your lawyer will be there 30 minutes early, as well to make sure you are clear on what is happening and what is expected of you that day, as well as to answer all your questions.
About a week before the conference, each side will have sent the mediator their position statements about the case. So, when the mediator walks in to the room to greet you, you should expect that he or she has read a great deal about you and your case.
Generally the mediator will spend time with each side in a closed door session. In fact, these are quite time intensive meetings. We counsel our clients to expect to spend the day at settlement conference. Certainly a successful settlement conference can take all day and into the night to settle.
D) DO I HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION RIGHT THEN?
Because figures are being exchanged back and forth, often clients ask whether they will have a chance to leave and consider the offer for some days or weeks thereafter, as opposed to making a hasty decision. Again, no one is there to force you to settle. So, if you really need to think out what you want to do with your personal injury case after an offer is made at the settlement conference, you should feel free to leave.
E) CAN I FEEL FREE TO ASK QUESTION?
Absolutely! You should feel free to ask question of your lawyer during this process and we recommend that you also should be inquisitive with the mediator.
F) IF IT DOESN'T SETTLE THEN, WILL THERE BE OTHER CHANCES?
With rare exception, leaving a settlement conference with your case not settled doesn't mean the case can't settle. Often times one or both sides need to leave a settlement conference to reconsider their position.
G) IF I SETTLE, CAN I CHANGE MY MIND LATER?
No. Settling at a settlement conference is final. There is no turning back. So, it is important that you fully understand the implication of agreeing to settle. That is why we recommend that you bring anyone to the conference, friend or family, that you feel can help you make a correct decision for you. Ask the hard questions and make sure if you do decide that you want to settle that you understand that settlement gives up your right to ever take your case further to a jury. Unless you feel that ending your case and taking the money offered at the end of the settlement conference process is the right thing for you, you should hold off settlement, until it feels right for you.
Settling a case can often times be in a Plaintiff's best interest and a Settlement Conference is usually the best place and time to accomplish that. It is important that you are comfortable with the process and have all the information you need to make an informed decision that is best for you.
At Anderson Hemmat, we take pride in making sure our clients are fully informed at their settlement conference. We know that our clients have already gone through so much to get that far and are often exhausted by the entire process. We don't take lightly the duty of standing strong with our clients at settlement conferences to make sure they get the compensation they deserve. If you have questions about your case and the possibility of a settlement conference being used to resolve it, please call and speak to one of our attorneys today.