WHAT ARE THE PROS AND CONS OF SETTLING A PERSONAL INJURY CASE?
When you first retain an attorney to handle your personal injury case, images of a trial might run through your head. This is certainly one way to resolve your case. But it could come at a high cost, both financially and emotionally, especially if the jury doesn’t side with you, which is why settling a personal injury case out of court might not be as bad as it sounds.
More often than not, cases settle. There are several reasons for this. First, there is the jury. No attorney, no matter how good he or she is, knows how a jury will view a case. You and your attorney may believe the case can’t possibly lose, that a jury will reach a humongous verdict for you. But then the jury returns a verdict, and it’s against you.
The second reason is cost. Litigation costs money. A lot of money. If you hire a personal injury attorney, you may have to hire experts (doctors, economists, an accident re-constructionist, etc.). Experts can cost tens of thousands of dollars depending on the case. If you’re the defendant and have an insurance carrier covering the costs, you won’t notice the high cost of litigation, but rest assured your carrier will notice.
Third, is time. It can take years for a case to finally go before a jury, and you may then have to deal with an appeal. Many clients and insurance carriers do not want to wait years for the possibility a jury will agree with their case. For most people, a dollar today is worth more today than the possibility of two dollars a year or two in the future.
Fourth, is confidentiality. When you file a personal injury lawsuit in Washington State, your medical history takes center stage. It is no longer confidential. Medical histories provide tremendous insights, and the other side and his or her attorney, as well as any medical experts, will get to review your medical history.
Finally, cases settle because they should. Every case, and I mean every case, has warts. The attorney on the other side of your case has a job to do, and that job is to discover every wart on your case. You may be convinced your case is worth $1,000,000 when in fact there are so many warts on your case that it’s really worth only $100,000.
An expert personal injury attorney should provide you with a realistic value of your case and be able to control your expectations. But even attorneys can get carried away and value cases too high, sometimes way too high. This only hurts the client because it deprives the client of making an informed decision of whether to take the case to trial or settle. Remember: It is the client’s case, not the attorney’s.
THE ADVANTAGES OF SETTLING A PERSONAL INJURY CASE OUT OF COURT
If you—like nearly 90% of all cases—decide to settle your case, you should understand the pros and cons of your decision. It is first important to understand exactly what a settlement is. A settlement is when the parties in a lawsuit reach agreement about how to resolve the case. In a personal injury lawsuit, this means the parties reach agreement on a settlement value of the case. To be valid, a settlement must be in writing. A verbal settlement is fine, but don’t expect a court to honor it.
If you settle your case, you give up your right to a jury trial, give up your right to an appeal, avoid ongoing litigation costs, save time and stress, and give up your right to re-file your lawsuit. According to a University of Denver study, a typical rear-end car accident case can cost each side more than $100,000 to prepare for trial. If, however, the parties settle early, the costs may drop to less than $10,000. If the case goes to trial, you should remember how much you paid your attorney to represent you and the terms of that representation. If your attorney charged the usual 35% plus costs, you might end up with $5,000-$8,000 in your pocket if the jury believes your case is only worth $125,000. You might be money ahead by settling.
Settlement also has the benefit of certainty. As mentioned before, no attorney can predict what exactly a jury will do. A jury may agree with your version of the facts but not like or trust you and decide to award you far less than you expected. Or the jury may like and trust you but disagree with your version of events. It can be a roll of the dice.
Another consideration is judges. Judges can make decisions before, during, or after trial that jeopardize your case. For example, a judge might decide your expert is unqualified to testify at trial, but the other side’s expert will be allowed to testify. Or a judge might rule that evidence you are betting to win the case will be excluded so the jury will never hears it. The list of possibilities is nearly endless.
Finally, trials are a matter of public record, and this means your personal information may become part of that public record. By settling a case, you may keep your personal information protected from disclosure. Typically, the terms of the settlement are also protected from disclosure to the public.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF SETTLING A PERSONAL INJURY CASE OUT OF COURT
Studies have shown that plaintiffs are more likely to receive higher payouts from a jury verdict than if they settle. Of course, this depends on the facts of the case and other variables, but it could be an important reason why you shouldn’t settle.
If you settle, you give up punitive damages. If, for example, you were injured by a drunk driver who was speeding past a stop sign, you may decide you want to pursue punitive damages. Punitive damages are awarded to punish the other side for their conduct. If you settle, you will give up your right to recover punitive damages, if available.
As you can see, it is often better to settle a personal injury case than go to trial, which is why settlement is so common. But it depends on the unique facts of your case. No two cases are the same. Some cases should go to trial and, if necessary, appealed whether you’re the plaintiff or the defendant. For that reason alone, you should always make certain to hire a competent and seasoned personal injury attorney who can handle your case through trial if needed.
TRUST ATTORNEY JEFF AULTMAN WITH YOUR PERSONAL INJURY CASE
Aultman Law prepares every personal injury case, whether representing plaintiffs or defendants, as if the case will go to trial because an attorney who only prepares a case for settlement is an unprepared attorney. Clients and insurance carriers who hire Aultman Law are kept informed of their cases, given honest evaluations, and receive unparalleled customer service.
GET THE HELP YOU NEED IN THE TRI-CITIES AT AULTMAN LAW
At Aultman Law, experience is the difference! We are a small law firm with big law firm experience! Our law firm’s practice areas are personal injury law, business litigation, construction defect law, and insurance defense. If you need help with a personal injury matter in Benton, Franklin, or surrounding counties, contact my office today.