Should You Settle an Injury Case Out of Court? The Pros and Cons
Injury cases are often settled out of court without actually going to trial. It’s up to you whether you want to take up this route with your case, however. How does an out-of-court settlement work in your favor, and in what ways is it a less-than-ideal alternative? This article offers insights.
Legal contests arising out of incidents of personal injury don’t always end up in court. Sometimes, lawyers for either side prepare their case as fully as they would if they expected to go up before a judge, but end up arriving at a compromise before trial even begins. This is a process known as settling out of court. Insurance claims for vehicle accidents, among other cases, are usually settled out of court, and only go to trial if a settlement offer made by the defendant or their insurance company is perceived to be unfair.
If you have a vehicle accident injury or another personal injury to deal with, your personal injury lawyer in West Virginia may, depending on the specifics of your case, recommend that you settle out of court. In general, however, you may be curious about what the upsides and downsides of an out-of-court settlement are, over a case that you take to trial.
The benefits of settling
With a settlement, you know what to expect: Court cases that go to trial tend to be unpredictable. Each side builds their case out of the evidence and arguments that they have, and the court weighs each case on its merits to arrive at a decision about what, if anything, the injured party is awarded. With a settlement, however, you know going in what you’re getting, and you can decide on whether the compensation is fair and adequate.
You come by compensation more quickly: Personal injury lawsuits can take months, if not years, to make their way through the legal system. Even if you do win a favorable verdict from the court, the defendants may take up an appeal, meaning that you wait even longer. Meanwhile, if you have expenses to meet rising out of the injury, you’ll need to take care of them, yourself. A settlement gives you compensation more readily, making life much easier for you.
You don’t need to worry about establishing guilt: Legal trials, and the compensation that depends on their outcome, turn on findings of guilt. Such findings aren’t a part of out-of-court settlements, however. Guilt is simply not a factor, because, with a settlement, neither party needs to admit to doing anything wrong. They simply agree on a financial settlement, sign, and move on.
You’ll have an easier time: Going through a trial is more than just a great deal of uncertainty. It also puts you through much stress and anxiety. There is more for you to do, as well, including working with your lawyer to prepare for trial, and mentally preparing yourself for testifying. As mentioned, you also need to live long-term with the uncertainty of not knowing whether you’ll get compensation for your injuries in the end. With a settlement, however, all the work involved is done in a short period of time, and you’re able to move on within weeks.
The downsides of settling
You may receive lower compensation than you otherwise might: The defendants in personal injury cases are usually aware of the benefits that plaintiffs come by when they agree to a settlement: namely, they get compensation quickly to help pay for medical or other important expenses right away. Defendants often reason that the hope of quick compensation is likely to get plaintiffs to agree to even lowball offers. Sometimes, they are right, and they get off with paying less. If you are faced with such a tactic you may need to work with your lawyer to decide on making a counter-offer, or turning down the offer, altogether.
You aren’t able to receive punitive damages: The damages that you receive in a personal injury case are mostly compensatory in nature. In other words, they are meant to compensate you for whatever losses you’ve experienced through the accident. In cases involving gross misconduct or negligence by the defendant, however, the court, if you choose to go to trial, may award you punitive damages, that the defendant pays. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for their actions, and to be a deterrent to others who may consider irresponsible behavior. Punitive damages, however, are only possible when a case goes to trial. They aren’t a part of out-of-court settlements.
You may have less opportunity for psychological satisfaction: There can be great psychological fulfillment in hearing the court declare that the defendant was wrong to do what they did. In many cases, an official verdict of this nature, and having the truth come out in court, offer psychological closure. In a settlement, however, the truth about what happened never gets out. Instead, the defendant gets to walk away with no admission of guilt. The lack of psychological closure can feel unsatisfying.
Making up your mind whether you would like to go with an out-of-court settlement or a full trial is often not an easy choice. Carefully considering your options, and listening to what your personal injury attorney feels is likely to work well in your circumstance, you’re usually able to find a way forward that makes sense for you.