If you were injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligent or intentional behavior, you may be entitled to compensation for the mental, physical, emotional, and financial hardship you have endured. You might be just starting the claims process, or you might be at a point where you need to make a serious decision about how to ensure you receive an amount that satisfies your current and future monetary needs. No matter what stage of the process you are in, it is important to understand the pros and cons of a personal injury settlement vs. trial. Every case is different and will need to be evaluated on its own merits according to the circumstances of the accident, the evidence available, the value of the claim, and the overall probability of achieving your desired outcome. Here are some of the things to consider as you decide whether to settle or go to trial.
Why Do Some Claims Go to Trial Where Others Settle?
The vast majority of personal injury cases (estimated 95%) settle rather than go to trial, but that does not necessarily mean accepting a settlement is the best strategy for your specific case. But why do some people choose trial vs. settlement in injury cases? There are several reasons a case may go to trial, but these are the two most common.
Dispute Concerning a Material Issue
If parties disagree on a key issue in the case—such as who caused the accident, whether or not the plaintiff shares fault, or whether the injury asserted is pre-existing—you may need to present evidence to a jury. The jury’s function is to be the fact-finder, so they listen to the evidence and decide who should be held liable and what damages they are liable for. Under these circumstances, a trial may be necessary to achieve any sort of resolution at all.
If parties cannot agree on a fair settlement amount, a jury can decide that amount for them. This applies to cases where significant disagreement exists about the severity of damages and their monetary value. For example, a plaintiff may assert that their injuries are serious and negatively impact their ability to work or live the way they used to. The defendant may disagree, believing you are unjustly inflating the injury severity to obtain more money.
Personal Injury Settlement vs. Trial: Pros and Cons
There are a lot of factors to consider in a personal injury settlement. When evaluating an offer, it is reasonable to wonder if pursuing litigation would be a better option to obtain the desired results. Here are a few things to remember as you make that decision.
Consider how long it takes to come to a resolution and receive the funds you need. One of the pros of settlements is that they are often a much faster process from start to finish than going to trial. Though settlements may involve lengthy negotiations, trials can stretch over months and even years. Typically, accepting a settlement means that you have money in hand much sooner.
This is both a benefit and a temptation. It is a great benefit as long as the offer is fair. But if you jump at a low settlement too quickly for convenience, you might not have enough money to pay your injury-related bills over the long haul. Your lawyer can help you balance these competing interests.
Choosing to accept a settlement may mean that you sacrifice a potentially higher reward. When parties agree to settle, the plaintiff often accepts a lower amount than they would expect from a jury trial. The trade-off is that the settlement amount is guaranteed rather than going to a jury whose decision is uncertain. Juries can be unpredictable, and things can go in unexpected directions during a trial. When you go to trial, there is always the chance that you could walk away with nothing. Therefore, an agreed-upon and fair settlement can be a better option if you want a sure thing.
However, one of the advantages of going to trial is that a jury could find that the defendant owes you significantly more than you originally expected. If you choose to litigate, you must have an experienced trial lawyer to represent you. You’ll need their expertise in trial procedure and strategy to help you assess your chances of winning.
In many cases, settlement agreements for personal injury cases are confidential and include a clause stating that the parties must keep case details and settlement amounts private. For those wishing to avoid public exposure about the injury claim, this can be beneficial.
As stated, the details are often confidential when you negotiate a settlement out of court. For some, this may be perfectly fine. But for some injured victims, part of achieving justice includes holding the defendant publicly accountable for their actions. Without public scrutiny and a record of their behavior, they are more likely to repeat the behavior. Another pro of a jury trial is exposing the defendant’s misconduct.
Everyone has their own level of risk aversion, which is something to keep in mind when considering a personal injury settlement vs. trial. One of the pros of accepting a settlement is that you know exactly the amount you are going to receive without question. Ideally, your attorney has been able to help you negotiate a fair settlement that, at minimum, covers your current and future expenses associated with the accident.
Your award can increase significantly if the court awards punitive damages. The court can apply this additional money in cases where the defendant acted in a way that clearly exhibited oppression, fraud, malice, or other egregious misconduct. In that situation, a jury or judge may grant these additional damages to punish and deter similar future behavior. However, defendants are unlikely to agree to punish themselves, so these awards are only available through the court system.
You might be feeling overwhelmed by the weight of choosing between a personal injury settlement vs. a trial. If so, please understand that you do not have to, and in fact, you should not make that decision without the guidance of an experienced attorney well-versed in both settlement negotiations and courtroom representation.
Michael Henderson has tried and settled hundreds of cases for clients just like you. He has over 25 years in practice as a personal injury attorney in California. The team of legal professionals at Henderson Law is committed to helping you determine and execute the best legal strategy to secure the compensation you deserve. Contact us today to schedule your free case consultation.