Is It Better To Settle Or Go To Trial? The Answer May Surprise You.
If you were injured in a car accident that wasn't your fault, one of the first things you think about is the burden of a personal injury trial.
You were injured, and your car was totaled. You need to be compensated for emotional and financial damages. The only way to get that compensation is to go to trial, right?
Actually, no. Settling outside of court is also an option that many skilled lawyers recommend for their clients. Settling outside of court helps you get the compensation you deserve, without the stress of going to trial.
So which is better; a trial or settlement negotiations?
Believe it or not, settling is usually the better option. In fact, most personal injury lawsuits settle before ever reaching trial, and for good reason.
There are several reasons why settling your injury lawsuit outside of court can provide a number of advantages over taking your court to trial and fighting to the bitter end.
In the article below, we will discuss a few of those advantages.
Table Of Contents
- What is a Personal Injury Trial?
- What is a Settlement?
- The Pros and Cons of Going to Trial for a Personal Injury Case
- The Pros and Cons of Settling a Personal Injury Case
- Why You Should Hire a Personal Injury Attorney After an Accident
What is a Personal Injury Trial?
In personal injury law, when a personal injury case goes to trial, the injured party and at-fault party argue their claims before a jury or judge, who will decide whether or not the defendant should be held responsible for the plaintiff's damages. The goal is to find liability.
A jury trial is divided into these six stages:
- Putting together the jury
- Making the opening remarks
- Cross-examination of witnesses and witness testimony
- Closing statements/arguments
- Instructions to the jury
- The jury's deliberations and decision
A personal injury trial could take hours or weeks to come to a close depending on the amount of key evidence, witness testimony, and time it takes for the jury to deliberate.
What is a Settlement?
The formal resolution of a case before it goes to court is called a settlement.
Settlements can be reached at any time throughout the litigation process, and many cases are settled before a formal lawsuit is filed. There is an option to settle the day before or even the day of trial.
Although no two personal injury cases are ever the same, the process of settling personal injury claims is fairly consistent.
First, the plaintiff's lawyer sends a demand letter to the defendant, the defendant's lawyer, or the defendant's insurance company.
The plaintiff's demand letter contains the amount of damages sought, the legal justification supporting the demand, and reproductions of supporting documents such as medical bills and police reports.
Both parties then get to work on the settlement negotiations.
The Pros and Cons of Going to Trial for a Personal Injury Case
There are various reasons why someone might choose to take their personal injury case to court.
Here are some of the benefits of going to trial:
- If you take your personal injury claim to trial rather than going through the settlement process, you may be able to earn a more successful settlement. The jury verdict may, for instance, include extra compensation for pain and suffering, which insurance companies attempt to limit.
- Winning a trial improves the sense of justice for many other personal injury victims.
- Within a trial format, someone is always found guilty or innocent, unlike when you settle your personal injury claim out of court.
- Filing in court makes sense in some cases, especially if your lawyer believes you have a valuable case.
Now, here are some of the drawbacks of going to trial:
- Trials are expensive. The way most personal injury lawsuits work is that the plaintiff will have a contingency fee arrangement with their personal injury lawyer. The contingency fee is a predetermined percentage the attorney will receive from any settlement that is awarded. Contingency fees are on average 33%-40% of the final successful settlement.
Specialist witnesses, travel, court costs, and lost time at work can also add up rather quickly if you decide to go to trial. The sooner a case settles, the less expensive the process will be for everyone involved.
- The pre-trial discovery process alone involves lengthy depositions, including depositions from accident experts. Experts cost money.
- Some plaintiff's attorneys will agree to pay pre-litigation expenses upfront. And if they are paid upfront, those fees will come out of the settlement. These litigation costs don't occur if you settle outside of court. If you have a relatively open and shut case and an experienced attorney, you should do all you can to settle outside of court to save yourself additional time and money.
- Trials are stressful. Although the trial itself doesn't last very long, the process can be extremely stressful for everyone involved. The weeks leading up to trial can be very labor-intensive for both you and your lawyer.
Both parties are likely to be subjected to examination and cross-examination and possibly have their character called publicly into question.
- Trials are notoriously unpredictable. There is a chance that a judge could offer you much more in damages than you would receive if you settled, but there's no guarantee that it's going to happen.
- The judge might deem certain evidence unimportant, eyewitnesses may seem unreliable, or there might be inconsistencies in testimonies. The legal system is designed to take surprises out of the trial process, but the system isn't perfect. Still, the most unpredictable part of the entire process is what the jury thinks.
- The entire process leading up to a trial can take years. A trial often won't start until more than a year after the initial demand is filed. Even if one party wins, the other party can prolong the process by appealing. On the other hand, a settlement allows each party to discuss a fair settlement so they can put the matter behind them quickly.
Unless a judge orders the records to be sealed, which rarely happens in personal injury cases, all the details of the trial will be public record. Some people like to keep their affairs private, and going to trial will make the amount of the settlement public.
- The witness testimony, the evidence, and anything else each party used to make the other party look bad are available for anyone to read. As a defendant, this could be seen by future employers.
The Pros and Cons of Settling a Personal Injury Case
Settling out of court may be the right choice for you.
When you settle out of court, both parties have control over how much the defendant is going to payout. Many states even encourage settling out of court by requiring the plaintiff to pay the defendant's lawyer fees in the event that the plaintiff wins less at trial than what the defendant proposed to settle.
Also, the involved parties are in complete control of what remains private and what goes public, including the settlement amount.
Settlements are significantly faster than a personal injury trial. On average, a settlement will take three to six months to complete. On the other hand, a trial takes twice as long to complete. Settlements are usually quicker, more efficient, less expensive, and less stressful than going to court.
When it comes to settlement negotiations, you are in the driver's seat. You and your personal injury lawyer have the option to accept or reject any settlement offer made to you. You also have the option of negotiating a better deal. In a trial, you must accept the decision of the judge or jury.
On the other hand, settling could put you at a disadvantage. Accepting a settlement may result in you receiving less money than you would if you went to court. Your lawyer will assist you in determining if going to trial is worth the extra time and money.
It's important to note that in a personal injury settlement, decisions are final. Settlements are irreversible for both the injured person and the guilty party. After you accept a settlement, you cannot ask for more money or renegotiate a different deal if your injuries worsen or new injuries are detected. If you have a skilled law firm on your side, they will calculate future expenses for your injuries.
Each case is different, and while most may be resolved without going to trial, others will benefit from the legal system.
Why You Should Hire a Personal Injury Attorney After an Accident
As you can see, there are many reasons why it is better to settle outside of court. It all depends on the type of case you have and the circumstances surrounding your personal injury claim. Your personal injury attorney knows what legal action is best for your case, so trust them.
You can always take a risk and go to trial to see if a jury will award you more money, but you cannot always predict the jury. When you settle, you remain in control.
If you were involved in a car accident and aren't sure whether you need to settle or go to trial, contact an experienced lawyer at Helping The Hurt. Their team of experts will put in the time and effort to research your case thoroughly so you can receive a reasonable settlement.
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