Setting realistic expectations is critical in successfully resolving cases. It is always better to exceed your client’s expectations in a settlement. Most clients are naïve about the true value of a Plaintiff’s personal injury case and have skewed expectations based upon things that they have seen on television, heard on the news and/or read in the newspaper.
The settlement demand is always going to be much higher than the true settlement value of the case. There needs to be room for negotiation. Before entering into settlement negotiations, there should be a sit-down meeting with the Plaintiffs so that they are fully informed on how the process works. They need to understand that the demand amount will never be offered and that it is more likely that the defense will insult them with their first offer.
With regard to mediation presentations, some folks think they help and some do not. The consensus seems to be that presentations can often times upset the key players in a settlement negotiation and put them on the defense. There is also a line of thought that if there is something new or unique about the case that needs to be presented to the decision-makers, then it should be provided to them well before the mediation. Generally, the insurance companies enter the mediation with a top dollar that they will pay. Although that top dollar can sometimes be adjusted with a phone call, that does not happen very often.
Before preparing any presentation materials, you should always talk with the opposing counsel and the mediator. Everyone needs to be on the same page before entering into a mediation and, frankly, some mediators will be opposed to presentations. The last thing you want to do is upset your mediator before you get started.
If you are going to do a presentation, then I suggest that you keep it short and sweet. For instance, in a wrongful death/medical malpractice case where the liability issues had been covered extensively, we played a two-minute video demonstrating for the insurance adjuster the relationship between our client, who was an adorable 11-year old girl and her deceased father.
Overall, client control and expectations are key in getting a case resolved. Your client must be well-informed on the progress of the case and have a good understanding of how things are going to work. Ultimately, the goal should be to exceed your client’s expectations, which you should set at a level that can reasonably be exceeded.