Consider the following common scenario. One morning while you are driving to work, you slow down for traffic on I-95 and get rear-ended by the car behind you. Your car is a mangled mess.
At first, you feel fine physically. You even make it into your office and work a full day. You go to be still feeling fine and counting yourself lucky. Then in the middle of the night, you suddenly wake up with shooting pain in your neck and shoulder.
By morning, the pain is so bad that you can barely get out of bed let alone go to work. Your spouse takes you to the local urgent care facility. Nothing is broken, but the doctor says you may have suffered a herniated disc in the car accident. He also says you probably tore your rotator cuff. You spend the next 3 months in and out of various doctor offices undergoing escalating treatment efforts to stop the debilitating pain in your back and shoulder. You end up missing almost 4 months from work and racking up thousands in medical bills.
You hire a Baltimore auto accident lawyer (shameless, I know) to handle your accident claim. The lawyer spends a long time collecting your medical records and he eventually submits a demand package to claim adjuster for the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You are expecting to get a big settlement out of this. You’ve heard stories about six-figure accident settlements and you assume that is what your case must be worth. After all, you just went through pure hell and almost lost your job.
Then your lawyer comes back with the insurance company’s settlement offer of $60,000. You are shocked and disappointed. You were expecting 3 times that amount. Your lawyer claims that this is a “very reasonable” settlement offer, and he tries to convince you that your case just isn’t worth as much as you thought. Now you find yourself very unhappy. In your view, this is NOT an acceptable settlement offer, but your lawyer says it’s fair so you feel like you sort of have to accept it. You try calling other lawyers for “second opinions” but they won’t talk to you because you are already represented. This makes you feel even more compelled to accept the offer. Can you overrule your lawyer and reject the offer? Will the attorney get annoyed and bail out on your case if you reject the offer?
The Lawyer Works for YOU
In a personal injury case, the client is in charge, not the lawyer. The lawyer is like the quarterback on a football team. The client is the coach. The quarterback may be the one running the plays out on the field. But the coach has the final authority. The coach is the one that gets to decide whether to go for it on 4th down, and the quarterback must follow that decision whether or not she agrees.
This is exactly how the lawyer-client relationship is supposed to function in a personal injury case. The client is the coach. The client is the one that gets to make decisions on whether to accept a settlement offer and the lawyer is ethically obligated to accept that decision and make their best effort on behalf of the client.
Will My Lawyer Bail Out of the Case if I Don’t Accept the Settlement Offer?
Even if your lawyer desperately wants you to accept the settlement offer and no matter how frustrated the attorney might be if you don’t accept, there is only a small chance that she will bail out of the case if you turn the offer down. The attorney ethical rules do not prohibit an attorney from bailing out in this situation. Attorneys can end a relationship with a client for good cause as long as it doesn’t harm the client. There is a much more compelling reason your lawyer won’t be looking for the ripcord on his parachute if you decline the settlement offer: money. Personal injury lawyers don’t get paid unless they win money in your case. If your lawyer has already invested considerable time and money into your case, she is not simply going to abandon that investment just because you decline a settlement. That would not make sense for the lawyer economically. No matter how frustrated he is about your decision, bailing on the case would cost money.
Can I Trust My Lawyer When He Says It’s a Reasonable Offer or Does He Just Want to Settle the Case and Move On?
The answer to this depends on who your lawyer is. Some personal injury law firms want to settle every case that comes in the door and they will aggressively push you to accept settlement offers. These firms are often called “settlement mills.” Settlement mills rely on bringing in a high volume of cases and getting each one settled as quickly as possible so that they can move on to get the next one settled. They want your case to settle so they can avoid a time-consuming trial.