What is a good settlement offer?

What is a good settlement offer?  When do you take a case to trial?  This is the true story of a case that went from a $50,000 settlement offer to a $463,000 jury verdict.

In November of 2012, plaintiff John Bisel was driving his truck on I-80.  As Bisel slowed down, his truck was impacted from the rear by another truck driven by defendant Wochnik.  Wochnik stipulated to negligence.  The case proceeded on the issues of causation and damages.

Bisel experienced immediate neck and left leg pain and had a brief loss of consciousness.    He was taken by ambulance and diagnosed with a post-traumatic headache and lumbar sprain.  The plaintiff followed up with his family doctor who put him on a course of physical therapy. He treated with physical therapy three times a week, pain medication, and a back brace, for the next five months. The plaintiff remained out of work for one week following the accident.  He attempted to return to work but was unable to do so since his job required heavy lifting.  In March, 2013, an MRI was ordered which showed herniations.  He underwent a lumbar epidural injection which only provided minimal relief. He continued to treat with pain medication.  In January, 2014, the plaintiff underwent a lumbar disectomy. Following the surgery, he continued to to have severe leg and lower back pain.  He was treated with two additional lumbar transforaminal injections and continued to treat with pain medication.  The plaintiff’s neurosurgeon related the plaintiff’s hernation and treatment to the accident and testified that he will require a future lumbar fusion and instrumentation. According to the physician, the plaintiff is unable to work as a truck driver because of his chronic back pain and use of opiate pain medication.  The plaintiff’s vocational rehabilitation expert estimated the plaintiff’s lost earning capacity to be around $400,000.  The plaintiff also sought to recover a $70,000 worker’s compensation lien.  The plaintiff also claimed he can no longer participate in his hobbies of bike riding, exercising and skiing, and sought compensation for pain and suffering.

I felt the value of this case was around $400,000.  The insurance company was slow to make a fair settlement offer.  At the beginning of the first mediation meeting the settlement offer was $50,000.  At the end of the first mediation meeting, the settlement offer was increased to $100,000.  After the second mediation, the plaintiff was presented with a $200,000 settlement offer. After the first day of trial, defense attorneys for the insurance company increased their settlement offer to $350,000.  Although this offer was getting closer to the fair value of the case, I felt it was still a low settlement offer.  My client rejected the $350,000 offer and we took the case to a $463,000 jury trial verdict. My client was awarded $150,000 for pain and suffering, $240,000 for future lost earning capacity, and about $70,000 for past wage loss and medical bills.  For the very conservative town of Williamsport, PA, this was a very good verdict and a fair verdict for the plaintiff in light of the testimony presented.  The most contested issue was the future lost earning capacity. This case is a good example of how a settlement offer substantially increases if your attorney is prepared to go to trial and will go to trial.


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