Over 90% of all personal injury cases settle out of court, and research shows this is good news for all of us. Whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant, settling a case before trial is more likely to create successful results.
Plaintiff: the person who brings a case against another in a court of law.
Defendant: a person, institution, or company sued or accused in a court of law.
Two studies tracking hundreds of similar legal cases in the US found that most plaintiffs who decided to refuse a settlement offer ended up getting less money than if they had taken the offer. The study authors compared rejected settlement offers to what the plaintiffs eventually received after a court trial. In over 60% of the analyzed cases, the plaintiffs would have received more financial compensation if they had accepted the settlement offer instead of proceeding to trial.
The study authors acknowledged that their study design fell short of explaining why the plaintiffs in the study had refused settlement offers. It was unclear whether plaintiffs in the study had followed poor advice from their lawyers or whether plaintiffs had ignored good advice. Some lawyers may be incentivized to take their client’s case to trial because they [the lawyers] will pocket a higher fee. Furthermore, clients who are inflamed about wrongful, preventable injuries or death caused by the negligence of another may be mistrustful of the defendant and unwilling to accept any settlement offer, even a fair one.
Generally speaking, plaintiffs who went to court when there was an option to settle pocketed less money than if they’d accepted the settlement offer. In addition, the average amount of difference per client between the declined settlement and the trial settlement was about $43,000.
Settling a case offers many advantages to the client besides the likelihood of receiving a larger financial compensation. Settling a case generally means that the legal process is finished much quicker than if the case goes to trial. The amount of time before a settlement is reached varies widely, from days to months to years. Settlements can be offered, accepted, or negotiated anytime in the legal process: immediately after the injury, during initial meetings, during mediation, directly before the trial is starting, or even during a trial.
Because the settlement is a shorter legal process than a trial, the lawyers spend less time on the case, resulting in lower legal fees. For example, a client may be offered a $130,000 settlement early in the legal process when only $10,000 of legal fees have been generated. Will this client be better off if they go to court and win $150,000 in compensation with $50,000 of legal fees? No, simple math shows that accepting the settlement offer would result in a better compensatory package. In addition, accepting the settlement offer would have saved these client hours of case-related meetings and paperwork.
Some clients have enough anger and resentment to feel that going to trial will help assuage or purge them of negative feelings associated with the case. Accepting a settlement, at some point, might seem like giving in to another person or organization that has already shown a willingness to take advantage. Plaintiffs often feel that they did not receive enough money after a fair settlement, and the defendants feel that they overpaid. In other words, even in a fairly negotiated deal, the human tendency is for plaintiffs to feel dissatisfied because they wonder if they should have demanded more and for defendants to feel dissatisfied because they wonder if they should have negotiated harder.
Experienced lawyers, however, say that the human tendency to second-guess decisions and mistrust the person sitting on the other side of the negotiating table are not the only psychological factors that should be considered around the decision to settle or go to trial. As experienced accident injury attorneys, we have found that clients who have accepted reasonable settlement offers have appreciated having control over the concessions they would make—something they don’t always have in litigation. In general, many of our clients have expressed having greater peace of mind in settling vs. letting someone who knows very little about their life (the judge) call the shots.
There are several reasons that an experienced lawyer may recommend that a case be brought to trial, despite all the evidence that settlements are usually the best route. Perhaps the defendants are offering an outrageously low settlement and are unwilling to negotiate. Perhaps the case highlights a widespread problem that needs to be brought to the attention of the public.
Deciding whether to settle or whether to go to trial is ultimately a personal decision. A lawyer will give advice and perspective, but the plaintiff is the one who decides whether to accept a settlement offer or continue to a trial. While settlements tend toward better results in the majority of cases, they may not be the right answer for you. As you make decisions regarding your unique case, knowing the pros and cons of settling will raise your awareness of the issues at stake.
As you weigh the decision about whether or not to settle, make sure to enlist a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer. At Tingey Injury Law Firm, we have 50 years of experience helping injured Las Vegas-area victims get the compensation that they deserve. Whether you need an auto accident attorney or brain injury attorney, contact us today for experienced counsel.