Settlement or Court? The Choice Is Yours
People who suffer an injury in an accident may be able to get compensation that covers their medical costs, lost wages, and other non-economic losses, such as psychological trauma. To pursue compensation, they would need to hire a personal injury attorney to represent them, but that doesn’t mean the case necessarily has to go to court.
Attorneys can advise their clients about which course of action is preferable: settling the matter out of court or letting a judge or jury decide the outcome. Ultimately, though, clients decide what route to take.
In a personal injury case, attorneys for the victims examine applicable insurance policies to determine how much compensation they can get for their clients. For example, if a large commercial truck causes a crash that injures two other drivers, each driver would likely be entitled to a payout from the trucking company’s insurer. And if the insurer recognizes that the evidence overwhelmingly suggests their driver was at fault for the crash, they are likely to offer a settlement – a one-time cash payment – to the injured parties.
It may seem that settling out of court is the easiest option – and often it is. But there are some reasons victims might want the case to be heard in court, such as:
• The victim, or victim’s family, wants justice – A settlement is not an admission of guilt. In cases where someone has suffered a severe or fatal injury, their family may want to feel some sense of closure that a simple settlement cannot provide. In a trial, proceedings establish the issue of fault (and in some cases, negligence), which may be some relief for injured parties and their families.
• The victim wants to speak freely about what happened – The terms of settlements are often confidential, and the injured parties may have to agree to not disclose facts of the accident or settlement. In instances when an injured party wants to talk to the public about their experience, a settlement might prohibit them from doing so.
• The victim’s attorney believes a jury trial will result in a larger payout – Sometimes, insurers offer less than what the victim’s attorney believes is reasonable. If the matter goes to trial, a jury may be inclined to award a greater sum to the injured party. (In some states, if the victim is seeking punitive/non-economic damages, a jury trial may be required by law).
About the Court Process
Generally, resolving a matter outside of court takes less time than a trial. Although a trial may take longer, and therefore be more costly, the resulting compensation may make it worth one’s while. Personal injury attorneys also work on a contingency basis, meaning injury victims don’t have to pay up-front for representation, and the cost of legal services is deducted from any compensation they receive.
In certain types of cases, going to court may be a gamble. For example, an injured victim taking on a large corporation may find that corporate lawyers are willing to offer a settlement; but if the case goes to court, those same lawyers will work tirelessly to fight the victim’s injury claim (which is why injury victims need the advice of experienced attorneys).
Proceedings in court become part of the public record, and that may be the preferred course for injured parties who want the public to know what happened. For some families, that’s an important part of gaining closure.
Even if court proceedings have already begun, parties may agree to a settlement at any time. An experienced personal injury attorney will keep the lines of communication open – with their clients and the opposing parties – to ensure the best possible outcome for injury victims and their families.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chip Evans
Chip Evans is the owner and lead lawyer at the Evans Law Firm. Chip brings to the firm more than 15 years of experience as a trial lawyer representing Plaintiffs. It is the desire to help individuals, not corporations, that attracts Chip to this side of the docket.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.