When you’re injured in an accident, there are a few initial steps to take. First, you should always get the appropriate medical treatment and keep detailed records of your expenses and medical bills.
Once you’ve gotten medical treatment, your next step should be hiring an experienced personal injury attorney. Before taking your case, a lawyer should listen to the details, and then they will help you as you’re working with insurance adjusters who might want you to accept an offer that’s too low.
Once a case is put together, negotiation can begin.
If you’ve hired a lawyer, they will negotiate on your behalf, starting with an amount you approve.
Then, the other party will consider your initial demand and maybe make a counteroffer. At this point, the insurance company will try to poke holes in your case. They might, for example, claim that liability isn’t clear or that you received treatments that were too expensive.
If you aren’t able to negotiate an amount that both parties agree upon, which is a settlement, then you might have to go forward with the lawsuit.
Even once a lawsuit is filed, negotiations can continue.
First, you may go through the discovery process, and then you can negotiate again. You can even negotiate during a trial.
There’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with going to trial for all parties involved. It’s often preferred to settle. The following are some of the pros and cons of settling a personal injury case out of court.
The Pros of Settling
Litigation is time-consuming. It can go on months or years, and that’s just the time it takes to get to the trial. Then, the trial itself can take weeks.
If you settle a claim out of court, it can speed this up quite a bit. You may be able to secure a settlement in weeks or months.
Settling is less expensive. You pay less in attorney’s fees and expenses because it requires less work on your lawyer’s part.
When you accept a settlement offer, you are getting a guaranteed outcome, and you don’t have to deal with the uncertain outcome of a jury trial.
You have no certainty when you head to court about anything. You retain a lot of control in a settlement.
A settlement also tends to be significantly less stressful. Going into a courtroom is stressful, particularly when a jury is involved.
When your case goes to court, it becomes part of the public record. That means if someone wants to request a transcript of the proceedings, they can. With a settlement, everything stays private.
What Are the Cons of Settling?
While for many people, the pros of settling out of court outweigh the cons, you do still need to be realistic about possible downsides.
The biggest risk is that if you settle, you may receive less than you would have if a court had decided. Of course, you have no way of knowing if this would be the case ahead of time.
There will always be that thought in the back of your mind that if your case had gone to trial, you might have gotten a larger ruling.
Your attorney should be honest with you from the start so you’ll know what your chances are, based on your evidence and the strength of your case.
Insurance companies do tend to fear that if cases go to trial, this is just what will happen—the plaintiff will get a higher award. That’s why they tend to push for settlements.
Your settlement amount is also probably not going to take into consideration some punitive damages like emotional suffering that you experienced as the result of an accident.
This is part of the reason going to trial can mean a bigger award.
You have to balance this potentially bigger award with all of the downsides, like the fact that you’re going to have to pay your lawyer more. To be practical, you may need to do the math to figure out what’s worth it to you in your situation. Your lawyer, as was touched on will charge more for a case that goes to trial, so this could erode some of the financial benefits of doing so.
Your lawyer is your best resource in these situations. They’ll provide you objective information to help you make the best decision.