There are many factors that determine whether a personal injury case will go to trial or be settled out of court. A settlement is a way to formally resolve a lawsuit before the matter goes to court for a trial. According to U.S. Government statistics, most cases reach an out-of-court settlement, with less than five percent of all personal injury cases ever making it to trial. Every case is governed by its own unique circumstances, however, there are some common elements to be aware of that may decide what happens in a personal injury case.
Trials are expensive, so insurance companies can save money by settling instead of leaving the matter to a jury. A person suing for damages may want to settle their case rather than take the chance that they may lose in a trial. An experienced lawyer can evaluate the myriad facets of a case to determine the course of action with the most successful outcome. Some factors to consider include:
- Time: A trial can go on for a long time, from the time the complaint is filed to when the verdict is issued can take over a year. Some trials drag on for multiple years, and after the verdict, the defendant can appeal, which would extend the time it takes before the case is over and damages are paid.
- Expenses: Going to trial involves preparing pleadings, gathering evidence, analyzing evidence presented in discovery, reviewing documents, preparing witnesses, and appearing in court. This can all add up to large lawyer fees. Expert testimony may be required for a personal injury lawsuit, which is very expensive as well. Most experts are paid for their preparation and travel time in addition to their time providing testimony. Multiple experts may be needed to support and explain evidence being presented by the legal team. All types of expenses must be weighed against the risk of possibly losing the trial.
- Damages: Damages sought by the client, including for injuries, medical treatment, future medical expenses, property and other damages, the client’s income, earning capacity, and lost wages.
- Other factors: Age of the client and if they have a family, jurisdiction for the case, precedence, and how sympathetic the client will appear before a judge or jury.
What Should I Consider Before Accepting a Settlement?
Accepting a settlement means the amount may be smaller than the damages awarded in a trial. This is something that must be weighed against the time and expense of going to court.
If the settlement is reached before the complaint is filed, it keeps the matter much more private, something that may be in the interest of both parties. A settlement can be reached at any point in time, including before the lawsuit is filed, after the case has gone to trial, or during jury deliberations. However, the most important factor to know is that a settlement is permanent. It cannot be renegotiated, even if the plaintiff discovers new injuries or the original injuries develop into more severe ones.
What Should I Consider Before Pursuing a Trial?
It is entirely possible to lose a case at trial and not recover any money after having spent a huge amount of time and money. On the other hand, winning a case delivers a sense of justice that cannot be achieved in a settlement, where the defendant does not have to admit guilt for anything. When a plaintiff wins their case, the defendant is found guilty and then damages are awarded, which could be much higher than a settlement amount if the judge or jury takes pain and suffering into account. Punitive damages are also sometimes given in particularly egregious cases.
Due to the time, effort, and risk involved in going to trial, the process is much more stressful than reaching a settlement. Some of the uncertainty in a trial comes from factors outside the control of the lawyer, such as the performance of witnesses who may buckle under pressure on the witness stand. The discovery process where both sides present the evidence they will use in court may also bring unplanned surprises that must be handled.
Once the trial begins, there is no privacy. The courts are public, and in most proceedings, anyone can observe what goes on. All the personal details the lawyers for the defendant think are relevant for the judge or jury to know will be brought out into the courtroom. The defense may also hire a private investigator to confirm the details of a personal injury claim. Plaintiffs who value their privacy or who are unwilling to relive the trauma of the car accident, truck accident, or another traumatic event that caused their injuries may think twice about the trial process.
What Types of Compensation are Available in Personal Injury Cases?
A successful personal injury claim has the potential to recover more compensation than a settlement reached out of court. This is especially true if the plaintiff appears sympathetic to the judge or jury or if the type of negligence exhibited by the defendant is a problem in the jurisdiction where the case is being tried. Compensation awarded in a personal injury case may include some or all of the following:
- Medical expenses, present and future
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
In wrongful death cases where loved ones have lost a family member, damages may be awarded for emotional distress, loss of income, loss of companionship, medical expenses before the death, and funeral and burial expenses.
How Do I Choose a Personal Injury Lawyer to Handle My Case?
A personal injury lawyer should always be ready to go to trial for their client if the settlement amount they are being offered is unfair. Not every lawyer is experienced in the courtroom, and there are lawyers who settle cases expressly to avoid having to go to trial.
When choosing a lawyer, be sure to ask their personal percentage of cases gone to trial and record of success for cases that were tried in front of a judge or jury. Their average should be close to the national average. The insurance company will no doubt examine who is filing a claim against them, and if they see a lawyer has a track record of settling before trial, they will likely offer a lower settlement amount.
In some personal injury cases, the insurance company will refuse to pay proper compensation or anything at all to the victim, and under those circumstances, the case must go to court to prove the defendant’s negligence. Then, it will be crucial that the plaintiff’s lawyer is experienced in presenting evidence in a convincing way that leaves no doubt that the injuries were directly caused by the defendant.
A good personal injury lawyer will have excellent negotiating skills and enough experience to calculate what a case is worth by assessing the client, the client’s story, and the total damages. Only then can a settlement offer be evaluated and the best course of legal action decided.
Springfield Personal Injury Lawyers at Kicklighter Law Help Clients Decide if They Should Settle or Go to Trial
If you have a personal injury case, you can trust the Springfield personal injury lawyers at Kicklighter Law to guide you in the right direction. We use our decades of experience to provide personalized representation to each one of our clients. Call us at 912-754-6003 or contact us online for a free consultation. Based in Springfield, Georgia, we proudly serve clients throughout Effingham County, Savannah, and the surrounding areas.