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Why Settlements are More Common than Trials in Car Accident Cases

— October 12, 2023

Although the percentage of car accident cases that go to trial is very low, it is still necessary to acknowledge the possibility and to work with an experienced lawyer. 

There are a lot of misconceptions about hiring a lawyer to handle a car accident claim. Unfortunately, people often wait to seek the advice of an experienced attorney until they think they have exhausted every other option, and a court appearance is unavoidable. However, a skilled attorney can help you successfully navigate the insurance process and pursue maximum financial compensation on your behalf. You stand a much better chance of the insurance company making a fair settlement if they think it will keep them out of court.

A car accident lawyer in Orange County can explain the difference between a settlement and a trial in a car accident case. Knowing the advantages and disadvantages of each can help you decide which choice is best for you and prepare accordingly.

Settlements vs. Trials in Car Accident Cases

In most cases, after being involved in a car accident, you will file a claim with the liable driver’s insurance company. A claim is essentially a demand for compensation for your medical bills and other damages arising from the accident. Filing a claim may lead to a settlement offer. When an insurance company makes its initial settlement offer, it agrees to pay you a specific amount of money in order to rectify your claim. In exchange for this monetary compensation, the victim agrees to release the insurer from any additional liability pertaining to the accident.

In the event that the insurance company refuses to make you a reasonable settlement offer, you might have no choice but to file a personal injury lawsuit to obtain compensation for your damages. Anytime you file a civil lawsuit against the liable party or an insurance company, a trial is not likely, but it is possible. If it comes down to this, your lawyer will prepare your case for trial and present it in front of a jury or judge. The court will then determine what constitutes a fair outcome.

Advantages of a Private Settlement

One of the largest benefits of an out-of-court settlement is that your case tends to be resolved in less time. You will be able to access the money you need for your medical care much sooner if a settlement can be reached. Usually, a settlement can be negotiated with an insurance company in a lot less time than it would even take to schedule a trial on a court calendar. Negotiations can produce a successful resolution to your claim in just a few months. Some cases settle extremely quickly, and others settle just before they go to trial.

Another advantage of a settlement is that the details of your case stay private. Every court verdict is a matter of public record, whereas settlements are private.

Lastly, settling a case out of court circumvents the uncertainty and potential risks that are inherent in a trial.  

Disadvantages of a Private Settlement

Possibly the most consequential disadvantage of a private settlement is that the amount of compensation you receive might be less than you could acquire via a jury verdict. This is especially true if you sustain catastrophic injuries that demand extensive and ongoing medical care. In this case, settling out of court might not get you the money you need.

Another possible pitfall is the insurance company’s well-known use of stall tactics. You have a very limited window of time in which to file a personal injury suit. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to try to delay negotiations in an attempt to run the clock out on pursuing litigation, leaving you with no option but to accept their paltry settlement offer.

It is important to understand that settlements are permanent. Once you accept an out-of-court settlement offer, you give up your right to pursue any further financial compensation for your damages, which can be devastating if your condition or injuries take a turn for the worse.  

Advantages of a Trial

Image by Wannapik Studios.
Image by Wannapik Studios.

A jury verdict could potentially get you more money than a pre-trial settlement. Most insurance carriers negotiate only within the limits of the policyholder’s coverage. A jury verdict, however, is not bound by the limits of an insurance policy, so your odds of collecting maximum compensation are much greater when you take your personal injury case to trial.

Another possible benefit of a trial is having your case judged by an impartial third party. A jury will have to decide the merits of your case based on the evidence that is presented. 

In court, you might also be eligible to pursue punitive damages as well as compensatory damages. Punitive damages are not intended to cover your economic losses. Rather, they are a financial way to punish the at-fault party in cases where unlawful conduct or gross negligence have been committed. While rare, a good lawyer can review your case and determine the possibility of punitive damages being awarded. 

Disadvantages of a Trial

If you decide to take your car accident case to trial, you need to be ready to face a long, drawn-out legal process. Trials are time-consuming and take an extensive amount of work to prepare for. Additionally, courts usually have a backlog of cases. It could take a year or even more before your personal injury case is scheduled to be heard.

If you do file a personal injury lawsuit, you need to be aware that all court proceedings are entered into the public record. In other words, every detail of your case will be available to the general public. If you have any privacy concerns, for whatever reason, a trial could put you at a major disadvantage.

Lastly, you need to seriously think about the risk and expense of taking a case to trial. Preparing a case for court takes a not-inconsiderable amount of both resources and time. Even working with an experienced and a reputable car accident lawyer is not a 100% guarantee that you will win your case. 

In car accident cases, settlements are much more common than a trial. In fact, only about 3% of all personal injury cases, including car accident cases, ever reach the trial stage.

Car accidents are upsetting for everyone involved. Along with injuries and property damage, they can also result in legal issues.  

Seeing a car accident case all the way through to a trial will impact how long it takes to get your financial compensation, but it could also help you get the award you deserve. Although the percentage of car accident cases that go to trial is very low, it is still necessary to acknowledge the possibility and to work with an experienced lawyer. 

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