Why You May Not Want To Settle Your Personal Injury Claim Out of Court
Bill Allen | January 5, 2024 | Personal Injury
A personal injury claim arises when one party becomes liable for compensating the victim of an injury. Typically, but not always, it is the at-fault party who bears liability. The two main ways of resolving a personal injury claim are out of court settlement and public trial.
Most parties, whether they are the victim or the defendant, strongly prefer to settle their personal injury claim out of court. Out-of-court settlements are quicker, cheaper, easier, and far less stressful than full-blown trials.
Nevertheless, some parties actually prefer a trial. Under the right circumstances, there are good reasons for this preference.
What Percentage of Personal Injury Claims Go to Trial?
Personal injury trials are far less common than most people realize. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only about 3 to 4 percent of personal injury cases in the United States go to trial
Additionally, statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice indicate that about 3% of personal injury cases go to trial. About two-thirds of these cases are resolved by a judge, and only one-third, or 1% of the total number of personal injury cases, go to a jury
This figure does not even include the majority of claims that are settled without a lawsuit ever being filed.
Reasons Why Claims Go to Trial
Following is a list of some (but not nearly all) of the reasons why a litigant might prefer to go to trial than to settle out of court.
The Availability of Punitive Damages
The availability of punitive damages can drive a decision to go to trial: Punitive damages are not compensatory in nature. Instead, they are an add-on designed to punish the defendant for outrageous behavior. Because of this, defendants are not too keen on agreeing to punitive damages at the bargaining table.
That doesn’t mean you can’t win punitive damages. It just means you’ll have to seek them in court, not at the settlement table. Be warned: Texas courts are reluctant to award punitive damages even to otherwise victorious claimants.
Another reason why an accident victim might seek punitive damages is the possibility of a ‘runaway jury’ that might award millions of dollars more than even the victim asked for. In such cases, however, judges often reduce the amount of the award.
The Defendant or the Insurance Company Is Too Stubborn To Offer Full Compensation
Some opposing parties are simply too stubborn or stingy to ever offer you a fair settlement, no matter how much you negotiate. One way of squeezing the money out of them is to sue them, wait for the pretrial discovery process to begin, and then gather evidence through pretrial discovery. That means depositions, interrogatories, and demands for copies of documents and access to physical evidence. If they refuse to cooperate, you can ask the court to sanction them.
In many cases, the discovery process will yield such strong evidence in the victim’s favor that the defendant settles immediately. Some defendants are still too stubborn to settle, however.
If you run into one of these, you might find yourself with no choice but to go to trial. The reason you don’t want to settle out of court is because you cannot obtain an adequate settlement offer that way.
You Want To Set a Legal Precedent
In the United States, courts tend to follow established precedent. That means that when determining the outcome of a case, a court will look to past cases with similar fact patterns. It will be reluctant to come to a decision that differs from decisions made by higher courts, or even its own previous decisions based on similar facts.
In some cases, however, a court might overrule its own previous precedent. When this happens, the court sets a new legal precedent that future courts will be reluctant to depart from. Perhaps the most famous legal precedent in US history was the 1973 US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide for nearly 50 years.
If you seek a similar binding legal precedent, you can’t get it at the settlement table. You cannot even get it at the trial court level. You have to appeal a trial court decision. The appeals court will decide your case, and it will issue a written opinion that includes its reasoning. This becomes a binding legal precedent that will affect the outcome of future cases with similar fact patterns.
You Want To Vindicate Yourself
A personal injury case can be about a lot of things, and financial compensation might only be one of them. It might not even be the most important matter you seek to resolve. In a settlement, the defendant typically demands that the amount of the settlement be secret, and they might demand that you keep confidential the fact that any settlement was reached at all. It is almost certain that they will refuse to admit any wrongdoing.
If you seek to establish that the defendant was wrong in order to make an example of them, or simply to publicly establish the defendant’s wrongdoing to defend yourself against false public accusations that have already been made, a trial might be the way to go.
Or, perhaps you just want your day in court to speak your mind and “tell it like it is.” The result of a trial might also pave the way for broader, permanent changes in industry practices.
You Might Want To Uncover a Larger Story
Your personal injury case might have bumped into a hornet’s nest of wrongdoing–systematic negligence by a hospital, for example, or negligent safety practices at a pharmaceutical factory. The hospital might be desperate for a quick settlement so that they can keep their secrets under wraps.
However, the public might need to know what happened. Who knows? You might save lives that way.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer Won’t Cost You a Penny Upfront
Almost every Florida personal injury lawyer works on a contingency fee basis. That means they charge their legal fees based on a pre-agreed percentage of the amount you win, either in court or at the settlement table. You don’t need to pay a penny upfront. If your lawyer wins nothing for you, you pay nothing in attorney’s fees.
Contact Our Ocala Personal Injury Law Firm in North Central Florida
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