I think it is the experience of every personal injury lawyer that there can be a major difference between the sum of money a client says (s)he will accept before the defendant puts any money on the table—“theoretical money”, and the lesser sum of money the client insists on accepting once actual money is offered—“real money.”

In a recent car accident case, my client, a 50-yr-old woman, suffered injuries to both knees and had surgery on each. Her medical bills were more than $60,000. The defendant’s insurance policy had a $100,000 limit. While there was never a dispute as to how the accident happened, the insurance company kept refusing to settle, saying it needed to investigate my client’s claim of injuries. The insurance company thought the client was treated for knee complaints before this auto accident. When this was disproved, they wanted a report from her surgeon, to learn his opinion of the relationship between the accident and his surgeries. Even after this was done, the insurance company wanted more time “to investigate.” At this point I filed suit.

Under Illinois personal injury law, an insurance company is under a duty to engage in the settlement process “in good faith.” Failure to do so could result in the insurance company having to pay a sum of money more than its insured’s policy limits. In this case, my client was unemployed, with little income and had borrowed money from a professional service (at about a 40% interest rate!). I told her the potential value of her case was more than $200,000, and that the insurance company may have been in bad faith in the handling her case.

She absolutely wanted to go for the $200,000. She told me she would not accept the defendant’s policy limits of $100,000, even if offered. She was adamant. We discussed the merits of settling—money now, avoiding the risk posed by any trial, etc.—versus going to trial and maybe getting much more money later. Ultimately, the choice to settle or go to trial is always the client’s…my role as her Illinois personal injury attorney is to provide the information necessary for my client to make the decision that is in his/her best interests.

Then I got a call from the insurance company offering the $100,000. I called my client to see if she still wanted me to reject the offer. She said yes and I got ready to call the insurance adjuster to reject the offer. Then the phone rang.

It was my client saying after thinking more about the offer (in all of about 3 minutes), she decided she wanted to accept the $100,000 after all. It was a good decision. She had no income, her bills had piled high, and little way to support her family. She simply could not wait another 2-3 years until all of the required litigation was over to see if she could collect a sum beyond the $100,000.

“Real” money tends to trump “theoretical” money all the time.