In my experience, many claimants become anxious or nervous when their solicitor tells them that their matter has been set down for a settlement conference. Usually once your injuries have stabilised, a claim has been lodged and all relevant information supporting the claim has been gathered, your matter will be set down for a settlement conference. A settlement conference is an opportunity for the parties involved in the claim to come together in an effort to try and resolve the claim. In most cases, it will be compulsory for your matter to proceed to a settlement conference.
Parties attending the conference
You will be required to attend the conference. Most conferences are conducted face-to-face. If you feel more comfortable having a support person with you (eg. partner), then you should inform your solicitor before the conference.
Your solicitor may brief a barrister (also referred to as “counsel”) to attend the conference on your behalf. In this case, both your solicitor and barrister will be present at the conference.
Usually the insurer’s solicitor and/or the claims officer will attend the conference on behalf of the Respondent (eg. your employer, “at fault” driver or other party). Sometimes a representative of the Respondent may also attend.
Some conferences may involve a Mediator, in which case the conference might be referred to as a “mediation”. The Mediator’s job is to liaise with each party in an effort to encourage the parties to resolve the claim. The mediator acts independently of each party.
Structure of the conference
Most conferences are conducted around a table so they are relatively informal.
The conference usually commences with introductions of each of the persons in attendance followed by verbal submissions made by your representative outlining the evidence which you say supports your claim and your opening offer of settlement. The other side will then have their opportunity to respond to your submissions followed by a discussion of the evidence which they say supports their defence of your claim.
In personal injury cases, often the two main issues that may be discussed during the conference are “liability” (i.e. whether your injury was caused by the negligence of the Respondent) and “quantum” (i.e. the amount of damages being sought).
Once the parties have discussed the matter initially, they will then separate into different rooms.
Your representative and the other side will then negotiate with each other, which normally involves the exchange of a series of offers. Your representative will advise you on what counter-offers you should put to the Respondent and seek your instructions. Once either party has reached the limit of their instructions and the last offer is not accepted by the other party, the parties will have to exchange written offers. These offers have associated cost consequences should the matter proceed before a court, which your representative should explain to you. Therefore, you have to be careful about any final offer you put in writing.
Do I have to answer questions from the Respondent?
If you do not feel comfortable answering questions from the Respondent at the conference then please advise your representative before it commences. In that case, if questions are then asked by the Respondent, your representative will either answer them (based on prior instructions you have given) or will indicate that they will seek instructions from you (at a later time).
If you do feel comfortable answering questions, then you should keep your answers brief and relevant to the question being asked. If you are unsure as to whether to answer a particular question or how to respond to it then remain silent and wait for further advice from your representative.
Your representative should advise you before the conference commences as to whether they prefer you to answer questions directly with the Respondent.
How should I behave?
You may hear comments at the conference from the other side that you do not like, agree with or are incorrect. Keep a note of the comments and then discuss them with your representative away from earshot of the other side. Your representative will then decide whether it needs to be raised with the other side during the conference.
What should I wear?
You should wear something comfortable but smart casual or business-like. You should not wear thongs, shorts or casual singlet tops, where possible.
If you have any further queries or concerns about the conference process, you should discuss these with your solicitor before the conference date.