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Do Personal Injury Cases End Up As Settlements Or In Court?

13 mins read

When you get injured through negligence in a car accident, defective product usage, unrepaired structures that caused you to fall or slip, and when seeking compensation for damages, you may have the option to either accept settlement negotiated out of court by parties, or take your case to trial.

At this point, it’s advisable to hire experienced personal injury lawyers from the Best Personal Injury Law Firm in Orange County who are conversant with such cases. Your lawyers will advise you whether your case is better off being prosecuted in court or settled out of court.  

Typically, personal injury claims are initiated by a demand letter. This letter is meant to notify the liable party that you’re commencing legal action to pursue compensation for damages. The letter usually describes the sequence of events leading to your injuries and lists the injuries sustained. It also indicates the amount of compensation you expect to receive for the damages. 

What Happens In Out Of Court Settlements?

When the liable party with their insurer or lawyer, receives the demand letter, they might decide to engage your lawyer in negotiations leading to an amicable settlement. 

An out of court settlement occurs when the liable party makes an offer to pay your damages. The offer of settlement may be made either before the claim is filed in court, after the claim has been filed and a proceeding has begun, or even after the case has been prosecuted but before the final verdict is made.

Negotiation is mostly done through phone calls, emails or one-on-one meetings between the lawyers of the parties they represent.

Once an agreement is reached, you will be required to drop all other claims against the defendant which arose from the accident. You will then sign documents to release the defendant from further liability and cease the court case. For instance, if you reach a settlement of USD$20,000 after a car accident, you will relinquish any other claim relating to the accident. 

What happens In A Trial? 

When your claim is filed in court, the case will go through different phases namely; 

  • Complaint and answer phase

In this phase, a complaint document containing your claim, details of your injuries, and the extent of your damages, is usually filed in the place (state, county) where the injury occurred or where the liable party resides. The liable party should answer the complaint either by admitting or denying the allegations within a set period of time, usually 30 days. 

  • Discovery phase

This is the phase where parties compile testimonies, evidence and information regarding the case. Written discovery includes questions and request for documents. Witnesses from all sides also answer depositions (oral questions) on record.  Your presence during a deposition is crucial.

  • Motions phase

The defendant can file a motion before or after discovery is complete to compel the court to act by dismissing one or more of your claims or even the entire case. Your lawyer is required to file a response, within the usual period of 28 days, to rebut the motion. 

After that, a hearing date is usually set, so that the parties involved can present arguments concerning the case. The case is argued before a judge or jury who’ll determine if the defendant is liable for your injuries; if so, to what extent the defendant will be held liable, including the amount you should be paid.

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The trial goes through different phases including where witnesses from all litigating sides give their testimonies, and the cross examination of witnesses done by the lawyers involved. The lawyers then give their closing statements and then wait for the court’s verdict.

A personal injury trial can take just a few hours, or even months depending on the trajectory of the case.

To help you with your settlement decisions, both in and out of court, here are some of the pros and cons you should take a look at:

Pros Of Out Of Court Settlement

  • In an amicable settlement, you’ll be assured of payment without the uncertainty of a court verdict.
  • You’re in control over the outcome of the case and settlements can’t be reviewed or appealed. You’re able to accept or refuse any offer proposed if you think it’s not adequate, thus enabling you to negotiate a better deal.
  • If parties do not reach an agreement, you can always go back to court and have the case go to full trial.
  • Settlements are much quicker. The process is usually more efficient, faster, costs less and is less stressful than a trial. Once you accept the offer, the case is closed.
  • Settlements eliminate the need for the discovery phase and depositions which are all lengthy and therefore, time consuming.
  • Trials are far more expensive than settlements. The earlier a case is settled, the less expensive it will be. A case takes time and may drag on for a long time before it’s concluded. The court attendances and travel expenses are costly especially when the progress of the case is slow.
  • Going to trial can cause a significant amount of anxiety and stress.  Court battles can spike your anxiety to dangerous levels especially when they become overly contentious.  Resolving the case out of court may significantly reduce the amount of stress you’ll be exposed to.
  • Trials are public affairs. A reputable company will want to settle its matters privately especially if it’s a big corporation. For instance, if one of their products has affected some members of the public. They wouldn’t risk damaging their reputation when their private documents are made public and people testify publicly against them through a public trial. Settlements are private and work well for those who want to protect their reputation.

Cons Of Out Of Court Settlement

  • If you fall in the hands of an incompetent lawyer, your interests may not be fully covered. Especially if the negotiation process is rushed, some aspects of your economic and non-economic damages may not be taken into account. So, you may end up with a bad deal.
  • There’s a chance that you’ll receive lesser money in compensation than if you were to have your case prosecuted in court.
  • Once you accept an offer, it’s permanent. If your injuries worsen or you discover new aspects of your injuries that need compensation, you cannot go back and renegotiate. You become ineligible to pursue further legal action.
  • The liable party will walk away without being punished and will not admit any wrongdoing.

 

Pros Of A Trial

  • In a trial, you have the potential to receive a higher award than from a settlement. For instance, you’re likely to be awarded more for pain and suffering which insurance companies try to downplay. You can even get more than you bargained for.
  • The evidence presented in court by your lawyer can strengthen your argument for compensation and so increasing your chances of better compensation in the eyes of the participants. 
  • If you prevail in trial, you’ll feel that justice has been served because the liable party will be found guilty of negligence. They’ll be held accountable for their actions. 
  • If your case goes for trial and you win, it can benefit the public as it will set an example that can used as a precedence in other cases.
  • You have the option to appeal the outcome of your case if you feel the damages awarded are not reflective of the injuries sustained. 
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Cons Of A Trial 

  • If you decide to go to court, you’ll hold the burden of proof. Your lawyer will have to prove to court that the liable party acted negligently and that their negligence resulted in your accident, which caused you injures. Your lawyer will also need to prove the damages, unlike in settlements where negotiations are more direct.
  • Trials are unpredictable. The jury may make a verdict that is unexpected which might be to your disadvantage. You may be having a clear-cut straightforward case with high chances of success, but the jury may see it differently. You may end up with very little in compensation or nothing at all.
  • A trial is a costly affair. The process is also long, and drawn-out. It can sometimes last for more than a year before it’s settled. This consumes time and can make you anxious and stressed out, especially when you have to continuously visit your lawyer for pre-trial preparations and discussions. And also, going through many processes and appearing before the judge or jury over and over.
  • Trials do not afford you the luxury of settling your matters privately.  Trials can expose your private details to the public which may impact you negatively. 

Conclusion

The majority of personal injury cases usually end up being settled out of court.  This is because most people prefer settlement compared to trials because of the time taken to conclude and settle the claims.

The advantages of out of court settlements also far outweigh those of the trials. Moreover, most people feel that they’ve more say in settlements than in trials. They feel that they have a certain level of control.  Besides, the guarantee of getting compensation also plays a big role in people choosing settlement over trials.

You should however note that some matters are best prosecuted in court through a trial especially if they present complex issues. For instance, you may have suffered severe injuries that need extensive medical care. You’ll require money to cover your present and future medical expenses.  In this case, it would be best to go to trial especially if the insurance company isn’t giving you a reasonable settlement offer.

 

Author’s Bio

Marcus Hamming is a legal practitioner. He continues to learn about things in the legal field. He conducts webinars and podcasts to share his expertise in his chosen field. Marcus enjoys sports like basketball, soccer, and volleyball.

 

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