Settlements vs. Verdicts in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Regarding personal injury lawsuits, you’ve probably heard of “settlements” or “verdicts” recovered for the injured. But what is the difference between the two, and how can you know which type of outcome will be in your best interests? Here, we will address these two terms independently of one another in order to provide a clear explanation of how they differ and how they may affect you.
When a person is injured as the result of another’s conduct, even when unintentional, he or she may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible individual or company. Lawsuits of this kind may be resolved through a settlement or verdict.
A settlement is an out-of-court agreement, wherein two parties to a lawsuit reach an arrangement without completing legal proceedings. In the field of personal injury law, a lawsuit may be filed by a person or representative of a person who has been injured against another person or company that caused the injury due to their negligence or wrongdoing. The plaintiff is the injured party and the defendant is the party accused of causing harm to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff files a lawsuit against the defendant but they are able to reach a negotiated agreement before or during civil court proceedings, this may be considered a settlement. Either the plaintiff or the defendant may make an offer of a certain payment amount to settle the case; the other party may accept, counter or deny the offer.
A verdict is defined as a judgment or decision reached by a judge or jury in court proceedings. If a personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, a jury will have the task of hearing both sides of the case and then evaluating evidence in order to determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. This is somewhat different than in a criminal trial, where the jury must unanimously find the defendant guilty. In civil court, it takes a majority of jurors and the burden of proof is not as strict. As opposed to criminal court, where guilt must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the burden of proof in civil court is a “preponderance of evidence” in the plaintiff’s favor. Preponderance is defined as a majority. A simplified way of looking at the burden of proof in a personal injury case is whether the jury believes that it is more than likely that the defendant was at-fault for the plaintiff’s injuries.
If the defendant is found guilty, the jury may have the task of determining what amount of financial compensation the defendant will pay to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s legal counsel will typically show evidence of the amount of compensation that should be awarded by reviewing current and future medical expenses, lost earnings and also the emotional impact that the injuries have had. Verdicts reached in civil court typically result in higher payouts to plaintiffs, but this will vary depending on the unique matter. Some states have caps, or limits, on the amount of money that a jury may award to a plaintiff. In California, for example, the limit for non-economic damages (such as pain and suffering) in a medical malpractice lawsuit is $250,000.
The majority of personal injury cases settle out of court. This may be in both parties’ best interests in order to avoid the time and expense of a drawn-out courtroom battle. Whether your particular case goes to court and results in a verdict will depend on the circumstances at hand, such as the defendant’s willingness to pay a fair settlement and your tenacity in seeking maximum compensation even if it means going to trial. You and your attorney can discuss your options ahead of time to determine whether settling out of court or going to trial will be best for you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Napoli Shkolnik, PLLC
Headquartered in New York City, New York, Napoli Shkolnik PLLC has additional office locations in New Jersey, Long Island, Pennsylvania, California, Delaware, Florida, Texas, and Illinois. The firm has recovered more than $3 billion in settlements and awards for the injured, disabled and elderly. The law firm represents plaintiffs across the country in complex litigation, class actions, arbitration, and mediation related to a number of practice areas including employment law, commercial disputes, pharmaceutical litigation, product liability, environmental litigation, and personal injury.
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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.