How Do Settlement Offers Work in Georgia Car Accident Lawsuits?
Most Georgia personal injury claims are resolved out of court, often with the insurance company of the negligent party. State law even provides for such settlements. Specifically, Georgia Code § 9-11-67.1 outlines the requirements for making and accepting written settlement offers prior to a defendant filing a formal answer to a personal injury complaint. Essentially, this law requires an offer to be made in writing and contains all of the material terms needed to settle the case, including a time limit to accept the offer and the specific parties and claims that will be released.
Court of Appeals: No Settlement Agreement Formed Due to Insurance Company’s Actions
Generally speaking, a defendant or insurance company assents to a settlement offer through conduct rather than communication. That is to say, if the plaintiff offers to settle their claims for a certain amount of money, the other side accepts by actually cutting a check to the plaintiff or their personal injury lawyer. This acceptance must comply with the terms of the settlement offer and not attempt to impose any additional material conditions that would make the defendant’s actions a counter-offer instead.
A recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals, Pierce v. Banks, provides an illustration of how this process works. In this case, the plaintiff was injured in a car accident caused by the defendants. Before filing a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff’s attorney made a written settlement offer to the defendants’ insurance company. The offer called for the insurance company to pay the plaintiff $25,000–the limit of the defendants’ bodily injury coverage–and said the insurer “must accept” the offer in writing within 31 days. The offer further stated that the plaintiff or his attorney had to receive the $25,000 payment within “15 days after” the insurance company’s written acceptance of the offer, and that the payment could not include any additional terms or conditions.
A few days later, the insurer informed the plaintiff’s attorney of their written acceptance of the settlement offer. The acceptance included a $25,000 check with a notation that the instrument was “void after 180 days.” The plaintiff rejected this payment, pointing out that it did not comply with the terms of the settlement offer for two reasons: First, the payment was not received 15 days after the written acceptance; and second, the expiration date on the check constituted an additional term not contained in the settlement offer.
The plaintiff subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendants. The defense moved to enforce the purported settlement agreement. The trial court granted that motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, agreeing with the plaintiff that the defendants’ actions did not demonstrate acceptance of the plaintiff’s offer. Rather, they had effectively made a counter-offer. So there was no settlement agreement to enforce.
Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today
Dealing with insurance companies and settlement negotiations can be a complex process following a car accident. A qualified Dunwoody personal injury lawyer can advise and represent you in these proceedings and help ensure you receive full and fair compensation for your damages. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.