One of the most fundamental decisions any injured person must make as part of their civil lawsuit is whether or not to settle the case. (Having representation from a knowledgeable Santa Barbara personal injury accident lawyer can be crucial in this area, helping you assess the "value" of your case and identify whether a settlement offer is or is not reasonable.) This decision-making process is vital because more likely than not, your case will end in a settlement.
Another reason why understanding the settlement process is important relates to a part of California statutory law, specifically Section 998 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
Section 998 may possibly allow you, if you achieve a successful result, to obtain a court order forcing the other side to pay some of your costs. This is important because, in some cases, these costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars (or more.)
After you make a valid offer under the statute, the other side has the option to accept it or reject it. If they reject it and you later achieve a more favorable result, then you're allowed to seek payment of those costs from the other side. So, for example, say you offer to settle your car accident case for $500,000. The defense rejects the offer and, after a trial, the jury awards you $600,000 in damages. In that scenario, you are allowed to pursue payment of those costs.
You're only entitled to do so, though, if you structure your settlement offer in a way that complies with the statute. The law does impose some specific details on making these others. Last fall, for example, a California Court of Appeal opinion concluded that a party was not allowed to seek costs because the settlement offer it made did not qualify under the statute. The offer did not have a settlement agreement or a release agreement attached, and those absences made the offer invalid for purposes of Section 998.
A More Favorable Result (a/k/a a Judgment or a Settlement)
Additionally, a case from earlier this year clarified what types of case outcomes may trigger an award of costs under the statute. In that lawsuit, the defense initially offered $37,396. Six months later, the defense offered $55,556. The plaintiffs did not accept either offer.
On the eve of the trial, the two sides settled for $39,000. The defense asked for costs and the Court of Appeal concluded that they were entitled to them because the second statutory offer ($55,556) was more than the final outcome ($39,000.) The Court of Appeal sided with the defense. The ruling is useful for clarifying that the statute only requires a more favorable result, not necessarily a more favorable judgment. (A more favorable stipulated settlement qualified just as much as a jury award.)
This probably all sounds very technical, but all this "inside baseball" holds some broader truths. One, most injury cases end in settlement. Two, California statutory law has certain provisions that may allow you to recoup certain costs from the other side in some situations. Recovering these costs requires making a settlement offer in a specific way according to the law, which means that your case can be enhanced by having someone on your side with in-depth knowledge of the "nuts and bolts" of this area of the law.
If you've been hurt in an accident, you have many enormously important decisions ahead of you. To the extent those choices relate to your legal rights and options, don't make them alone.
Instead, look to the experienced Santa Barbara car accident attorneys at the law firm of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos, LLP to provide you with reliable information and advice, as well as diligent advocacy in your pursuit of justice.
Contact us at 805-617-1365 or through our website to get a free case consultation.
GALINE, FRYE, FITTING & FRANGOS, LLP - SANTA BARBARA OFFICE
Thank you so much for all of your legal help on my case. I’ve really enjoyed working with you and your professional team including Lisa and Mavis. I also appreciate your efforts in reaching a settlement on my behalf. I will definitely refer my clients and friends to your firm they are in need of legal representation in the future. Regards.- ADRIAN C.