Understanding Settlements in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Most lawsuits never go to trial. They are resolved out of court through settlements. Although settlements typically yield less money than jury awards, the risk is removed. Taking a personal injury case to trial means you can lose and incur large expenses. This does not mean that you should accept the first settlement offer that you receive. Your attorney will advise you on whether or not the offer is appropriate. There are many factors to consider when evaluating a settlement offer, and you should take an active role in weighing these elements.
You need to consider the likelihood of winning or losing your case, if it goes to trial, and whether the amount offered in the settlement is appropriate to address your physical, emotional and financial injuries. It is important to keep in mind that what you feel is fair may not be the same as what a jury will think is fair, and even if it is, juries are limited by the law on what actions they can take. You can’t let your emotions and beliefs get in the way of understanding how things really work in court. You must be able to prove that what your opponent has done was wrong in the eyes of the law, not just according to common sense or even a generally accepted idea of right and wrong. It can be a very painful part of the process, but sometimes you just have to let go and trust your attorney if he or she advises you that the elements which you feel are most important are not legally relevant to your case. It can make the difference between a partial victory and a total loss.
Your chances of winning at trial will be affected by a combination of factors, all of which need to be considered. These factors include:
- Verdicts in similar cases
- Strengths and weaknesses in your evidence
- Strengths and weaknesses in your opponent’s evidence
- Reliability of witnesses to follow through with the process
- Your history of claims or lawsuits for injuries
- History of claims or lawsuits against your opponent
- Your jury appeal and likeability in court
- Jury appeal and likeability of your opponent
- Your age/vulnerability/ability to have avoided injury
- Your opponent’s age and responsibility for your injury
Beyond winning and losing there are other factors to consider when deciding if you really want to go to trial:
- How long will it take to resolve your case?
- Does the defendant have the financial resources to pay the amount you expect to recieve?
- Will you be exposed to negative publicity?
- Will you be forced to reveal more personal information than you are comfortable with?
- How much personal hardship will be involved in going to trial – time away from your family, time off work, etc?
- Could winning at trial mean receiving a smaller award than the settlement offer?
- If a jury award is likely to be higher than the settlement offer, will it be enough to justify the increased expenses of going to trial?
Besides winning and losing and the pros and cons of going to trial, you will want to evaluate the settlement offer itself. Even if you feel comfortable with the idea of accepting a settlement, you and your attorney should work together to determine if the offer is appropriate. Elements to consider include:
- Expenses and losses which you have already incurred including medical expenses and lost wages
- Future expenses and losses including medical expenses and lost wages
- The nature of your injury
- The severity of your injury
- Emotional and social impact of your injury – are you scarred, disfigured, or left with a noticeable handicap? How has your injury affected your long-term enjoyment of life?
- What type of opponent are you dealing with – an individual, corporation, government entity, etc?
- Type of action which caused your injury – negligence or intentional wrongdoing?
Finally, you want to take into consideration the following:
- What does your attorney think your case is worth?
- What is the minimum amount you are willing to accept?
- Are you willing to accept a remedy other than money?
- How much of the settlement payments or jury award will go to attorney’s fees and expenses?
- How will your compensation affect your taxes?
A settlement offer is a standard part of the process. It is something you should be expecting, and be prepared for. Most personal injury cases are resolved out of court. Overall this is in the best interested of everyone involved. A fair settlement means that you receive just compensation more quickly and with less personal hardship than going to trial.
If you or a loved one has been injured by someone else’s negligence and you are considering settlement, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney today before agreeing to any settlement offer.