There are almost countless ways that an experienced San Mateo personal injury attorney can help you after you’ve been hurt in an accident. Your attorney can be essential as you litigate at trial. Your attorney also can be just as (if not more) instrumental when it comes time to engage in the settlement process.
An experienced attorney will be able to advise you, based on his/her past cases and other knowledge, what your case is approximately worth. That can be key as you seek not to shortchange yourself by making a settlement offer that’s too low. It can also be vital in determining whether an offer from the other side is a low-ball one or a fair one.
Furthermore, your knowledgeable attorney can help when it comes to the timing of making an offer, the timing of accepting or rejecting an offer from the other side and the conditions you place within an offer. As a recent premises liability case shows, these issues of conditions and timing matter more than you might think.
In that recent case, E.S. was a shopper at a retail store when she slipped and fell on a smashed grape left on the store’s floor. The fall caused serious harm, as E.S. required surgery to treat her injuries, according to her lawsuit.
The store filed a motion asking the trial judge to grant a summary judgment in its favor and to throw out the woman’s case. While the two sides were waiting on the judge to rule, the store’s attorney emailed the woman’s attorney and extended a settlement offer in the amount of $35,000. That Wednesday afternoon email indicated that the offer was good until 3:00 pm on Friday.
On Thursday morning, the trial judge granted summary judgment in favor of the store. About 45 minutes later, the woman’s attorney emailed the store’s attorney and accepted the settlement offer. The store sought to revoke its offer and avoid paying the settlement.
Revocation came too late
The store was not successful. According to the appeals court, because the only condition on the store’s offer said “good until 3:00 pm on Friday,” and because the injured woman met that condition by accepting at 10:03 on Thursday morning, the store was bound to pay the settlement.
That happened in Texas, but the courts in California have also been called on to resolve issues of timing and settlement offers and have reached similar results. In 2006, a California appeals court took up the case of a doctor who gave her malpractice insurer written permission to settle a case for $125,000 but then revoked the authorization after the patient had unconditionally accepted the insurer’s offer.
Much like the retail store, this doctor’s action came too late. In upholding a $125,000 judgment for the patient, the appeals court stated that, once she authorized the insurer to settle, the doctor “had no further rights to object to the settlement at all,” whether through a withdrawal of consent or otherwise.
A few years earlier, these issues came up in an auto accident case. The woman injured in the crash made a valid Section 998 settlement offer of $5,000. The defendants accepted the woman’s offer. The attorneys shook hands and exchanged taxpayer identification number information. The next day, the injured woman decided she didn’t want to settle for $5,000. Once she resumed litigating the case, the defense argued that the revocation was too late and that the settlement had to be honored.
The appeals court agreed, declaring that an acceptance of an unconditional 998 offer need only be made in any “reasonable and usual mode of communication.” The only way that an acceptance must, for example, be made in writing in order to be valid is if “acceptance in writing” is a condition expressly stated in the offer of settlement.
All of these cases show that, generally, it can be very hard to get out of a settlement if an otherwise valid offer and acceptance have already occurred, so it is of paramount importance that you’re completely certain before you authorize a settlement offer or the acceptance of an offer from the other side.
This, of course, is where having the right attorney comes in. The right attorney can help you ensure that the settlement offer you make (or the acceptance/rejection you make to an opposing party’s settlement offer) is a decision in which you can be completely confident. The knowledgeable auto accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos have the experience needed to provide you with the reliable advice you deserve and give you that feeling of complete confidence. To set up a free consultation with one of our helpful attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.