Does this scenario sound anything like yours?
That night the semi truck rammed into your car changed everything. You sustained a traumatic brain injury that still causes intense headaches and affects your mood and memory. You also have back and neck pain from your injuries.
The trucking company’s insurance agents have offered you a settlement. It covers the cost of your totaled car and medical treatment to date, but you don’t know what the future will bring.
It’s tempting to settle now and end the legal battle. Plus, you could really use the money. But you don’t want to forfeit a bigger reward for a quick return. And you have no way of knowing if your medical problems from the accident will go away soon or persist.
If you were injured due to another driver’s negligence, you might be offered the opportunity to settle out of court. Whether or not that is the best solution depends on a number of factors. We’ll help you understand more in this article so you can make an informed decision that is best for your situation.
What does it mean to settle your legal case out of court?
When the at-fault party (the defendant) agrees to pay you (the plaintiff) a certain amount of money to end the legal dispute, this is called a settlement. You may choose to accept this settlement, but once you do, the case is closed. As a general rule, you have forfeited the right to sue for more money.
Why Settle Pre-trial?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 96% of personal injury cases are settled before going to trial. Clearly, there are some advantages to settling.
A predictable reward.
When you settle out of court, you know exactly how much money you will be getting. If that amount is lower than you feel you deserve, it may be worth going to court. However, once you decline the settlement, you no longer have any guarantees. You may end up with more than the settlement offer. If things don’t go your way, you may end up with less. In fact, it’s possible that you won’t receive any compensation at all.
How does this shake out statistically? Studies have shown that only 50% of personal injury cases that go all the way to a court verdict are successful. Auto accidents had a higher than average success rate at 61%, but medical malpractice cases were significantly less successful, with a 19% win rate.
Counsel with an experienced car accident lawyer. They can help you know the difference between a fair and low-ball settlement. The primary goal of insurance companies is to protect their bottom line by offering you as little compensation as possible. If the settlement isn’t enough to cover your existing medical bills–let alone future bills for ongoing health problems caused by the accident–it may be best to go to trial.
Your attorney can also examine the merits of your case. If you have a strong body of evidence in your favor, going to trial may be a prudent move.
One of the biggest drawbacks of court cases is that they can drag on for years. The trial itself may not take long–it’s getting there. Courts can get backed up, and it may be months before you can get a trial date.
Also, once you decline the settlement, you may feel like the defense is walking in cement. They will be in no hurry to go to court as they would prefer to postpone any kind of pay out. They could delay responses for weeks on end, and you will be at their mercy.
If there are complex liability issues, both parties will be very thorough in gathering more evidence and clearing up factual disputes. They may need to summon witnesses and experts, which can take time. And finally, your own lawyer may want to delay the case until your healing progresses. This is a good thing because it will help them better estimate your future medical expenses, but it also delays a resolution.
And finally, there’s always a possibility of an appeal. From start to finish, it’s not uncommon to see personal injury trials drag out for a few years.
Fewer legal fees.
It is a good idea to work with a car accident attorney who has a contingency fee arrangement. This means that they won’t collect fees until you receive a monetary benefit. However, going to trial increases your attorney’s responsibilities, and this will be reflected in the final award. If you have a contingency lawyer and you are not awarded a benefit, you won’t have to pay. But if you win in trial, you will pay them a bigger portion of your compensation than you would have if you settled out of court because they will have done more work.
Your attorney should do a lot of the heavy lifting if you decide to go to trial. But even still, more will be required of you, too. You may need to provide more evidence during the discovery process. If you are being cross-examined in court, you will want to prepare so that you are a credit to your case.
And then there’s the emotional stress. Remember, the insurance company’s goal is to pay out as little as possible. If they can show that you bore some fault for the accident or try to pin your injuries on pre-existing conditions, they will do so. This could involve questioning your past or your character.
If you place a high value on privacy, make sure that you’re OK surrendering this as your case goes to court. Court cases are public record. If you settle out of court, however, the details of your case are usually kept between the two parties.
In some cases, lack of privacy may be a desired end–not that anyone wants their personal life on display, but they may want to expose the misdeeds of the negligent party and make an example of them. For instance, if the trucking company from our original example has a history of safety violations, a high profile court battle may finally persuade the company to stop endangering others.
Also, a trial could force the defendant to admit guilt, which may be an important part of the resolution–especially if you are trying to press them to make safety-related changes. With settlements, the defendant has the option of paying out damages without admitting fault.
At LifeLaw, we know that your decision about whether or not to settle can be a difficult one. We want you to make a decision that you won’t regret. Contact our Salt Lake City personal injury lawyers for a consultation, and we can help you understand the pros and cons of settling your case.