At Milestone, we know a thing or two about settling cases. In fact, I dedicate 100 percent of my practice to issues involving settlement. Therefore, I have been fielding quite a few questions from personal injury attorneys across the country over the past month regarding cases settling during the coronavirus pandemic. While the pause/suspension/closing of courts in jurisdictions across the country is relatively fresh, we have started to see a few growing trends.
First, settlements for very large cases, or those worth in excess of $1 million, will most likely be delayed. Jury selection and new jury trials in New York State have been delayed until further notice. This is the same in many other jurisdictions across the country. Without the risk of a jury trial resulting in a very large verdict for plaintiffs, personal injury trial attorneys are left without the biggest hammer in their tool box when it comes to negotiating a settlement. Therefore, we will likely see less substantially large settlements in the coming months.
Second, smaller cases, or those worth less than $100,000, are more likely to settle quickly. This has less to do with the attorneys involved, and more to do with the context of our current economy. Many clients are feeling a financial crunch, and are in desperate need for funds. Our own nonprofit, Bairs Foundation, is receiving more inquiries regarding non-recourse advances. When times are tough, plaintiffs are forced to settle cases early or risk going deeply into debt. We will likely see many smaller cases settling quickly, and for smaller amounts of money.
Lastly, I anticipate that this delay in the settling of large cases will create an end-of-year scramble of sorts for many defendants. There will be large outstanding liabilities that insurance companies will want to record in 2020. This desire will lead to a push to settle large cases by the end of 2020. So, while there will not be many large settlements in the next few months, the end of 2020 may very well see an escalation in settled cases in excess of $1 million.
If you have questions about how to navigate settlement in these times, or other settlement strategies such as attorney fee deferral, tax free settlement designs, or qualified settlement funds, please reach out.