If you are injured or have lost a loved one in a car accident and want to file a claim for personal injury or wrongful death in North Carolina, you must go through a mandatory settlement conference before the Superior Court will hold a trial. This requirement was put into place in 1995 through Section 7A-38.1 of the North Carolina General Statutes in an attempt to keep smaller claims cases out of the courts. There is also evidence that a mediated settlement can save the parties money by sparing everyone involved lengthy litigation.
The law permits plaintiffs and defendants to settle prior to a scheduled mediation, but the parties cannot reach an agreement before attending the mandatory settlement conference. Not doing so can lead to contempt of court charges and fines.
Most cases do not end in trials since mediation provides all the parties involved with some level of control over the final results.
What Happens During a Mandatory Settlement Conference?
The first step in the mediation process is to designate a mediator, who is often an experienced trial attorney who has no connection with the proceeding. If the parties cannot agree on a mediator, the court will appoint one.
The mediated settlement conference will begin with the parties involved, along with their lawyers and the mediator, gathering in a conference room to present their cases. This usually means the plaintiff will describe their damages or losses and the defendant’s liability, and the defendant will describe any legal defenses to which they are entitled.
After this joint session, the parties then “break out” into separate rooms. Once the parties are in separate rooms, the mediator will go back and forth to try to close the gap between settlement offers to get the parties to agree. They might also provide their own neutral insight into the case. Even though the mediator’s opinion is nonbinding, their trial experience can provide the parties with good insight into what might happen if no settlement is reached.
What Are the Potential Outcomes of a Mandatory Settlement Conference?
To determine a fair settlement amount in your case, the parties and their attorneys will generally consider the following:
- The damages in the crash
- Insurance coverage policy limits
- Car repair costs
- Loss of personal property
- Hospital and doctor bills, both past and expected costs in the future
- Lost income because of time away from work
- Pain and suffering
One of the advantages of a mediated settlement is the possibility of a win-win settlement. When a judge or jury makes a decision, someone wins and someone loses. With successful mediation, at least some of the needs of both parties will likely be satisfied.
If the parties are able to come to an agreement at the mandatory settlement conference, an agreement can be drafted immediately and the case will be dismissed. If no agreement is reached with the mediator, your attorney can continue negotiating a settlement on your behalf.
Why Do You Need a Lawyer for a Mandatory Settlement Conference?
The plaintiff has the final say as to whether or not they will accept the offered settlement, but having an attorney present can help you sort through the consequences of making certain decisions. Having a lawyer with you will not only ensure that your rights are protected but will help you make informed decisions. It is difficult to know whether a settlement offer is “fair” because there are a number of factors that go into making that determination, and an experienced car accident attorney can help.
If you have been injured or lost a loved one because of another driver, you need an attorney on your side from the start. Contact Brent Adams & Associates to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation about your rights. We will work with you to ensure that you get a fair recovery after being in a car crash, including damages for medical costs, lost income, and pain and suffering.