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Settlement Versus Trial – The Pros and Cons of Each for Personal Injury Claims

Posted in Car Accidents on August 16, 2022

In February 2021, a truck driver in Idaho crashed into two vehicles, causing injuries and property damage. He faced two lawsuits, one from a driver in one of the cars and the second from her passenger. While the passenger settled his case for an undisclosed amount, the driver chose to go to trial with her case. 

What makes one person settle and another person pursue a trial in the same accident?  It often depends on various factors such as the severity of a victim’s injuries, their attorney’s negotiating skill, and the defendant’s willingness to reach an agreement. There are many pros and cons for both settlement and jury trials in personal injury claims.

Factors That Influence a Settlement Versus a Trial

While negotiating a settlement outside of court is easier than going to trial, many elements are at play, such as:

  • Amount of the claim: An expensive claim may be justified, but defendants will often balk at paying a costly settlement, preferring to take their chances with a jury that may be sympathetic.
  • Willingness to settle: Insurance companies dislike expensive, public trials almost as much as they hate paying settlement claims. A skilled attorney must know when to keep pushing for more, when to accept an offer, and when to go to trial.
  • Lawyer experience: Choosing a lawyer with the skills to negotiate with insurance companies is critical and requires previous experience to get it right.
  • Liability of the involved parties: Insurance companies often try to settle quickly before a victim’s full injuries are diagnosed. They may decide to risk a jury trial if their liability seems questionable.

Choosing a Settlement

A settlement is when a case is resolved without going to trial. Mediation between lawyers can often lead to a satisfactory settlement offer for the plaintiff, and the defendant can avoid facing discovery or an in-depth examination in court. The defendant makes a single payment to the plaintiff and doesn’t usually admit fault or wrongdoing. The plaintiff usually agrees they will not legally pursue the issue again.

Choosing a settlement can be appealing for several reasons:

  • The parties involved are in control of the amount of damages paid. 
  • Legal counsel is less expensive.
  • The agreements are private and not a matter of public record.
  • Claims are resolved much more quickly than in a trial.
  • Settlement amounts are paid soon after the agreement is reached.
  • There is less stress involved.

However, other considerations may make a settlement less beneficial:

  • Defendants frequently insist on admitting no fault or wrongdoing.
  • Settlement offers are often less than jury trial awards.
  • Confidential settlements mean no one else will know of the defendant’s actions.

Choosing a Trial

Going to court is more time-consuming but offers the opportunity to present more evidence and uncover more proof of liability. A plaintiff may choose to move to trial for reasons such as:

  • Trials often result in higher jury awards and have the chance of punitive damages.
  • A trial means a defendant is held publicly liable for their actions.
  • Some victims find significantly more closure in a jury trial.

In the Idaho truck crash, the driver suffered much more serious injuries than her passenger and may not have been able to reach an agreement that covered all her medical expenses. She has been disabled from working as a teacher, so she will likely need compensation for her loss of income. Despite the decision to move to trial, the driver may experience drawbacks such as:

  • Jury trials rely on the decision of unrelated jurors.
  • A jury makes the outcome uncertain even when the evidence seems clear.
  • Trials can take years to conclude.
  • Attorney fees for trials are much higher.
  • The public nature of a trial record means nothing is private.

Personal Injury Claim Considerations

Personal injury cases are filed for a number of reasons, such as car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, or defective products. Some are settled before a formal claim is created, and others can even be settled during the course of a jury trial. The most important consideration is deciding the balance of time, money, and stress that a plaintiff is willing to take on to see justice served.

Suing a company or institution often pits an individual against an entity with unlimited financial and legal resources. Trying to settle can be unsatisfying because most companies do not enjoy paying claims and will make lowball offers. In such situations, a jury trial may be the best option to ensure the company is held liable and the plaintiff obtains the maximum compensation available.

In personal injury claims against individuals, settlements are typical to avoid the expense and time of a jury trial for all parties involved. A settlement may be reached with the person or with their insurance company. Jury trials are becoming less common every year, and as many as 95% of cases are settled privately.

Settlement Versus Trial – How Long Does Each One Take?

The first step in a settlement is to find the right lawyer for the type of case. It’s important to hire someone with experience in the appropriate field, such as product liability or car accidents. An attorney who knows the law thoroughly and understands the common negotiating tactics can make the difference in quickly reaching a settlement that covers all the victim’s expenses.

Lawyers for all parties will spend time gathering evidence and researching the circumstances to determine how much to ask for and how much fault lies with the defendant. The opposing counsel will try to rebut all blame, but depending on the strength of the plaintiff’s claim, a resolution can often be reached within a few weeks. 

A jury trial lasts much longer when court calendars are full. Going to court takes more time for preparation and research and can be delayed by jury selection, judge caseloads, and many other factors. The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant effect on both civil and criminal trials and the backlog from those years continues to delay trials even now.

Another factor that influences how quickly a trial is completed is the strength of the case. A solid foundation of evidence and good arguments can wrap up a claim in just a few months. When the fault is more difficult to prove or a plaintiff wants a specific amount, the defendant’s lawyers may purposely drag out the case and attempt to exhaust the plaintiff. Trials like this can last years before coming to a verdict.