Structured Settlements in Montana Injury Cases

In Montana, when a personal injury case or wrongful death claim is settled, the money may be paid in a lump sum. A check for the full amount is given to the plaintiffs and their lawyer and the case concludes. Once the check has cleared, the victim is given her share of the proceeds according to the fee arrangement she worked out with her injury attorney at the beginning of the case.

In a structured settlement, the victim usually receives a large initial payment (enough to pay attorneys’ fees and costs, subrogation expenses, liens, and some amount for the victim). From there the victim continues to receive payments on some sort of a regular basis in the form of an annuity. One drawback to a structured is that the victim will not have access to all the funds at once. This can also be a benefit in that it ensures a steady stream of income for at least some length of time.

The pros and cons of structured settlement should be considered carefully and with the help of a Montana injury attorney. If you have been injured in an accident please call me today for a free initial consultation at (406) 752-6373.

My Case Settled, Now What?

After a Montana injury case settles, through mediation or another process, insurance companies usually send a check and release to your injury lawyer who will have you sign both and deposit the check in his trust account. Unfortunately, depositing the check doesn’t automatically transfer the funds. You may have to wait up to ten business days for the funds to transfer. And because of the strict rules regarding lawyer trust accounts in Montana, your lawyer should never disburse any funds before the check has cleared (even if the check is from a major insurance company).

Once the funds have cleared the lawyer should cut you a check for your share of the proceeds. Most Montana injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they only get paid at the end of the case if they recover damages for you. This means that their payment is deducted from the insurance company’s check before payment is made to you.

Your lawyer may also need to deduct some money for medical bills. For example, if you received Medicare benefits related to your injury, Medicare must be repaid from the settlement. Unfortunately, Medicare can be painfully slow in getting those issues resolved so some injury attorneys cut two checks. One immediately, and a second after the Medicare issues have been resolved.

Your lawyer should have gone over the way any settlement or proceeds would be divided at your first meeting. If he didn’t, or if you don’t remember how things are to be divided, or if you’ve got questions you should feel free to ask your injury attorney how it will work at any time. The last thing you want is a big surprise waiting for you when you thought your case was over.

Selling a Structured Settlement

More and more on TV I see ads for companies that buy structured settlements from injury victims who have settled their cases. A structured settlement involves a number of payments over a period of time instead of a lump sum payment as settlement for an injury case. A structured settlement is sometimes a way for companies to pay more over a longer period of time than they would with the one time payoff (the same way a lottery winner gets more if they take it in installment payments instead of a lump sum). The drawback is that victims don’t have access to all the money and are often left waiting from check to check.

These companies pray on the inconvenience and purchase structured settlements for pennies on the dollar. I have never recommended to a client, or anyone else, that they sell their structured settlement to one of these companies. Frankly, I have trouble imagining a scenario where I would.

That being said, the decision of whether to sell a structured settlement for an injury settlement is more of a financial question than a legal one. So I always refer people in that position to a financial advisor. A good financial advisor can help you determine which path is best for you and demonstrate the pros and cons of each option with concrete numbers.

What is Mediation?

Mediation means different things to different people, but in general it’s an informal process to try to settle a lawsuit out of court. It’s often used after an injury case has been filed, but before it has gone to trial. The idea is to use a neutral third party (the mediator) to help get the dispute resolved in a way that everyone can live with.

The mediator can take a number of different approaches in his quest. One way mediators work is by assessing the case each side has and pointing out relative strengths and weaknesses to each side and expressing an opinion on how the case would ultimately be resolved if it went all the way to a jury verdict. This requires that the mediator be knowledgable and experienced when it comes to your type of case and injury.

Other forms of mediation involve a less active role by the mediator and he generally just tries to play peacemaker. Instead of assessing the case and predicting its outcome, the mediator just tries to find common ground between the parties and craft an agreement that everyone will sign off on.

Mediation is a path the settlement, that is an agreement between the parties reached out of court that ends the lawsuit. It can be court-ordered or voluntary. Because our court systems are more and more congested, mediation is becoming more and more important as a way to complete cases without complete judicial involvement.

Just like anything else, some mediators are great and some are pretty awful. Your Montana injury lawyer can help you select a mediator if it looks like your case is headed that way. And your attorney should attend the mediation with you, there will be a lot of tough legal questions to answer and issues to deal with before a good settlement can be reached.