The Importance of Having a Properly Drafted Statutory Settlement Offer in Your California Auto Accident Case

There are so many areas where a knowledgeable San Mateo injury attorney can provide you with invaluable advice and assistance with your accident case. Your experienced attorney can give you essential guidance in assessing what your case is “worth,” and guide you in deciding how much to offer in settlement, as well as whether or not to accept a settlement offer from the defense.

A recent San Francisco accident case is a helpful illustration of how important these things can be. The plaintiff, C.A., was significantly injured an accident involving himself and X.L. Roughly two years later, C.A. sued X.L. for negligence.

In California, settlement of disputes like personal injury matters is encouraged by the courts. To further that goal, state law has Code of Civil Procedure Section 998. The section says that if you, as an injured plaintiff, make a qualifying settlement offer that the defense rejects and then, at the end of your trial, your damages award is more than 25% more than your settlement offer, then you may be entitled to recover certain additional costs and fees.

The section also says that if the defense makes a qualifying settlement offer that you reject, and then the jury rules for the defense or awards you damages that were less than 75% of the defense offer, then the defense can recover certain costs and fees. This entitlement to costs and fees is why a 998 offer is sometimes called a “settlement offer with teeth.”

So, for example, if you make a qualifying offer of $600,000, the defense rejects it and the jury ultimately awards you $900,000 in damages, then that is 50% more than your offer, so you potentially could recover additional costs and fees.

You can see, then, just how important it is to know what your case is “worth.” It is also essential, though, that the settlement offer you present be constructed correctly. An incorrectly written offer can deny you recovery of costs and fees, no matter how large your damages award was. This can make a sizable difference, as costs and fees can run in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In C.A.’s case, his lawsuit ended in a major success, but his recovery could have been even greater. C.A.’s settlement offer was $500,000. The defense’s offer was $175,001. At the trial’s end, the jury ruled in C.A.’s favor, concluding that X.L. was negligent and that the injured man’s damages totaled $650,235.

Ambiguity can unravel a statutory settlement offer’s effectiveness

That $650,235 figure is 30.05% more than $500,000, so C.A. potentially could have recovered additional costs and fees. In this case, though, the court did not order X.L. to pay 100% of the injured man’s expert witness fees. The reason? The settlement offer was not written correctly. It was a joint offer directed at X.L. and another defendant who had been dismissed from the case two months earlier. That made the offer ambiguous, which meant X.L. was not liable for C.A.’s expert witness fees, which exceeded $60,000.

A $650,000 judgment is certainly a successful outcome, but one that includes $650,000 in damages plus costs and fees is even more complete in fully compensating you for the harm you suffered.

The right legal team can help you spot a “low-ball” offer from the other side, and help you fight for everything you deserve in your car accident case. As this case reminds us, the right legal team will also make sure that the offer you make is a proper and effective one. The skilled San Mateo injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos are here to provide you with that type of reliable legal representation. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys and find out how we can help, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

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