To Settle or Try In Front of a Jury? That is The Question

October 21, 2016

cases Settlement BasicsThe majority of personal injury plaintiffs will be troubled with making this decision at some point throughout their lawsuit. Do you settle and often receive less than what you think your case is worth or do you risk it for the biscuit at trial? Statistics show that nearly 95% of all personal injury cases settle before going to trial, and for good reason. Jury verdicts, whether in civil or criminal cases, are simply unpredictable, for example, Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson. No one in their right mind would have anticipated such verdicts. That said, would settling your case be the best option? Are those who settle outside of trial taking the easy way out, receiving less that what is deserved? The answer is not always black and white, but the decision to settle or go to trial should be made by the plaintiff, serving the plaintiff’s best interest. Before opting one way or the other, weigh out some of the benefits and concerns of settlement given below.

Cases Settlement Basics

The term “Settlement” is nothing more than legal jargon referring to a formal resolution of a legal dispute without the issue being decided by a jury or court. Typically, the defendant offers a certain amount of money in exchange for the release of liability in connection with the underlying incident in question. Settlements can happen at any stage throughout the civil lawsuit or even before a lawsuit is filed.

Upside of Settling a Case 

  • Expense: The argument can be made that there is no “typical” personal injury jury trial as the facts surrounding each case can vary significantly. That said, a jury trial on average, can cost about $15,000 just in terms of lawyer, court, transcript, copying, etc. costs. Once expert witness fees and the cost of extensive depositions during the discovery process are added in, the cost could be upwards of $30,000. Many of these cost can be greatly reduced or eliminated all together by settling outside of court.
  • Privacy: As soon as your case reaches trial, the court documents become public record, and unless the judge orders the records sealed, anyone and everyone can look at them. When a case is settled before trial, the majority of the details are kept out of court documents and thus, are not public record. Additionally, a vast number of settlements include a confidentiality clause.
  • Predictability: Accurately predicting the outcome of a jury trial is about as likely as predicting a coin toss. Any trial lawyer will tell you that predicting a jury verdict can be nearly impossible. On the flip side, during a settlement agreement, both parties will work together to come up with a deal that both the plaintiff and defendant can live with.
  • Stress: Trials are stressful. The unpredictability of a trial lends to stress for the plaintiff and defendant as well as the attorneys trying the case. Both sides of the lawsuit may also tremor at the thought of getting on the witness stand and telling their story to the judge and jury.
  • Finality: Losing parties often appeal a court judgment, which can drag the process out even longer, sometimes years. In most cases, settlements cannot be appealed.

When Should You Not Settle 

In some cases, one or both parties are not motivated to settle. These cases most often involve one of two issues: liability and causation. If the defendant has an argument that he/she is not liable and believes there’s a chance to win outright at trial, any settlement offers brought to the table will not be remotely realistic enough to settle. The only option for resolution in such a case would be a jury trial.

Causation – Did the defendant’s actions, regardless of if he/she was negligent, legally cause the injuries you are claiming. This type of situation frequently arises when the plaintiff had a pre-existing injury or condition. Cases involving liability and causation can be especially difficult to settle if the damages are very large. From a defendant’s standpoint, there may be a chance to pay nothing at trial if coming to an agreement on a reasonable settlement figure is unmanageable. From a plaintiff’s standpoint, a low settlement offer is just not tolerable because of accumulating medical bills, lost wages and the chance to be fully compensated with a win at trial.

Who is Responsible For a Settlement Decision? 

An experienced lawyer will consider all factors of the proposed settlement and assist in determining if the client’s losses will be adequately compensated. While it is the responsibility of the attorney to analyze whether or not settlement is in the client’s best interest, it is ultimately the client’s decision in determining if settling out of court is the best option.

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