Settling vs. Going to Court for Your Personal Injury Case
One of the most difficult parts about pursuing damages in a personal injury case is that you are often still recovering at the most opportune time to file a claim. Directly following your injury, you may be in serious physical or emotional pain. It can be hard to build a coherent case when you cannot think straight or are still dealing with the mental repercussions of an accident.
The steps of a personal injury lawsuit are complicated and require serious patience. Getting frustrated with the process or the other involved party can ultimately hurt your case. This is one reason we recommend hiring a Chain | Cohn | Clark attorney to represent you.
We will help you determine whether you should take the defendant to trial or aim for a settlement. Once we have a goal in mind, we will start researching and working so you can focus fully on your recovery.
What Is a Settlement?
In personal injury cases, a settlement is the agreement or resolution of a claim before the matter needs to be decided by a jury or judge. This can happen at any point during litigation and negotiation, and sometimes even happens before a lawsuit is filed.
Personal injury settlements usually follow the same general format. The attorney of the plaintiff (victim) will submit a demand letter that requests damages from the guilty party. Along with the demand letter, the attorney will also include any supporting documents and a legal argument for compensation. The attorney of the defendant (guilty party) will then respond with a counteroffer.
The attorneys from both parties will then begin to negotiate a settlement back and forth until something can be agreed upon. There will be a lot of phone and email communication between both parties, and perhaps even some pre-trial hearings. These interactions will help the case take shape.
The final offer typically tends to be valued somewhere between the initial demand and the counteroffer. If both parties can agree on something, they will sign a document which also states the plaintiff cannot sue the defendant down the road for the same claim. If the case cannot be settled, it will move to trial.
Pros and Cons of Settling
Settling is often preferred by both parties for the following reasons:
- Each side knows the terms of an agreement before signing a settlement, so there is no risk or ambiguity.
- Settlements move much faster and require significantly less effort.
- Settlements do not require fees for court representation.
- There is less stress involved.
- When a case is settled, the details can remain confidential. If there is sensitive information that you don’t want people to know, this will prevent it from becoming public knowledge.
- Settlements are not valid until the settlement check clears. Plaintiffs can be certain they will receive their benefits.
In some cases, trial could be the better option. Here are some out-of-court settlement disadvantages that might affect your decision:
- Settlements are often lower dollar amounts.
- Settlements may not take all factors into account.
- You may not get any admission of guilt with a settlement.
A trained California injury lawyer will be able to advise you on whether or not you should accept a settlement.
What Is a Trial?
A personal injury trial is when both parties involved in a claim present their legal arguments to a judge or jury. The judge or jury then makes the decision of whether or not the defendant should be held liable for financial damages.
There are six phases involved in a jury trial:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements
- Witnesses and cross-examinations
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Deliberation and verdict
The trial portion of civil cases can be over in a few hours or span the course of multiple weeks. Regardless, there is a massive amount of preparation that goes into these cases. A good legal team should handle most of the details.
Pros and Cons of Going to Trial
Most of the ups and downs of going to trial are just the opposite of taking a settlement. For example, you may want to push to trial if you want the following:
- Higher benefit value
- A jury, which may be more likely to take your side
- A sense of satisfaction or justice in the defendant’s guilt
- A much more comprehensive investigation
The risks of going to trial include the following:
- You cannot be certain that you will win.
- The process will take much longer and be more stressful.
- You will have additional attorney fees to pay.
- The results may be made publicly available.
- There is no guarantee of money.
Trials are more high-risk, high-reward than settlements. With a competent attorney, you may be able to recover a significantly higher reward. Contact Chain | Cohn | Clark if you’re looking for legal assistance in the greater California area around Bakersfield.
Do Most Personal Injury Cases Settle?
Most cases are settled outside of a courtroom and a jury is rarely necessary in civil court. In California, the percentage of cases that settle before trial is almost 100%. Only around 4% of personal injury claims progress all the way to a jury trial. Those cases are usually more complex and involve significantly larger sums of money. Remember to consider this when looking at successful cases on attorney websites.
Why Is My Personal Injury Case Going to Trial?
There are many reasons why a personal injury case may not settle. Cases of complex liability, high-profile parties, and vague evidence may make it difficult to agree upon a settlement value.
More often than not, a case will go to trial because someone is not happy with a settlement offer. The insurance company may think they can get away with paying you less or your lawyer may think you could recover more. In either case, having an experienced legal representative on your team can make all the difference.
Why Does a Judge Prefer a Settlement Over a Trial?
Judges—and juries—are tasked with a difficult decision in personal injury cases. Not only must they determine which party was at fault, they must also assign a value to the awarded benefits.
When a case is settled beforehand, all of the difficult decisions are handled by the involved parties. A settlement is easier for almost everyone who is involved, but that does not always mean it is the best option.
How Does a Case Change When it Goes to Trial?
Your attorney may recommend that you settle or go to trial, but it will ultimately be your choice. While we recommend you follow your legal team’s advice, we understand that you may have your own motivations. The following are some of the things you should consider before deciding whether to settle or go to trial.
Awarded benefits in a personal injury case are likely to increase if the lawsuit goes to trial. One of the popular reasons a case does not settle is because the plaintiff’s team is not satisfied with the other party’s offer. Therefore, when the case goes to trial, the plaintiff’s lawyer will attempt to aim higher, especially because there are additional fees that may be included in the courtroom process.
During the settlement process, the plaintiff’s lawyer works on investigating the accident and negotiating with the defendant’s insurance company. Assuming both parties reach a mutual agreement to settle the case, the responsibilities will not go much further.
When a case moves to trial, however, expectations increase dramatically. The plaintiff’s attorney will likely become their courtroom representative. Instead of talking to some adjusters on the phone, the attorney will be expected to present evidence in a way that convinces a jury or judge. This means a more comprehensive investigation, research on former verdicts that may hold precedence, and rehearsal of other courtroom tactics.
Interrogating someone on the witness stand is no stroll through the park. There is a lot more pressure to say the right words and ask the right questions. Most attorneys will accept this new responsibility because a trial often means a larger settlement.
Length of Time
A settlement involves gathering information and evidence before creating a case for compensation. Lawyers will start immediately after being hired and gather documents to help prove your claim.
The amount of time between hiring a lawyer and receiving a check will depend on the complexity of your case and the experience level of your attorney. The stronger your evidence, the sooner you are likely to receive a settlement offer.
When you push a case to trial, the timetable changes dramatically. The amount of time and effort a trial takes is one of the primary reasons people don’t keep pushing their lawsuit. It may be quite some time before you see any money if your case goes to trial. If you need extensive medical care and cannot work, you will need compensation sooner rather than later. Otherwise debt may begin building up and make it more difficult for you to recover, even with extra money from the trial.
An experienced personal injury attorney can help the process move faster, but the defendant’s legal team will often try to drag it out for as long as possible. If you are trying to recover a certain amount of money or your evidence is not rock solid, it can be very difficult to swiftly recover benefits.
Let Chain | Cohn | Clark Inform Your Decision
Determining whether you want to settle a case or push forward to trial is a huge piece of filing a personal injury lawsuit. Do not make your decision without putting in serious thought or conferring with an experienced personal injury lawyer. You could risk getting benefits that are substantially lower than you deserve—or getting none at all.
If your case is not strong enough to hold up in trial, you should be ready to settle. If you are offered an extremely low first settlement, you should know how to negotiate for more.
Do not let insurance companies and adjusters take advantage of you. Hire a Chain | Cohn | Clark personal injury lawyer to walk you through the legal process. We have the resources and expertise to build a strong case, all while keeping your best interests in the forefront.
Call (661) 616-9829 or fill out our online contact form for a free case evaluation and we will get back to you as soon as possible.