Many of those involved in a personal injury case assume they'll go to trial. However, according to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 4 to 5% of personal injury cases see the inside of a courtroom. The vast majority are settled pretrial.
While there are advantages and disadvantages to settling your case outside of court, going to trial has its own set of pros and cons. Understanding the risks and benefits of settling versus going to court will help you achieve the best possible outcome for your case.
The Pros and Cons of Personal Injury Settlements
A settlement, as described above, involves resolving your case out of court with the other party. Both the defendant and the plaintiff must agree on a one-time payment the plaintiff will receive.
The Advantages of Settling
• Settlements are typically less time-consuming, less stressful, and more private than trials.
• In a settlement, the plaintiff knows exactly how much money they will receive from the defendant. In turn, the defendant must agree to the settlement amount.
• Where trials can go on for years, in a settlement the plaintiff usually receives their monetary award within 30 days.
• Settlements are much less expensive than taking a case to trial. In addition to lower attorney fees due to fewer billable hours, additional expenses such as copying fees and travel are less substantial.
The Disadvantages of Settling
• In most cases, the defendant does not admit liability in a settlement.
• Since settlements are often confidential, the plaintiff is limited in their ability to go public with information relating to their case (including the settlement amount).
• The settlement award may be less than what the plaintiff would receive in a trial. This, however, isn't always the case, which is why one might consider going to trial.
The Pros and Cons of Going to Trial
Some personal injury cases go to trial when a settlement cannot be reached. Others go to trial right away. Maybe the plaintiff has a strong case they believe merits a substantial monetary award, or maybe going to trial is simply their preference. While the process can be time-consuming, the seventh amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures the right to a jury trial: a public trial with a judge, jury, attorneys, witnesses, and testimonies.
In a jury trial, the jury decides how much money, if any, the plaintiff should be awarded. And just like settlements, going to trial features a number of pros and cons.
The Advantages of Going to Trial
• Trials tend to offer more closure—since they are public record, the defendant will be held publicly accountable if the verdict is in the plaintiff's favor.
• If the defendant is attempting to hide evidence or refusing to negotiate a fair settlement award, going to trial may be in the plaintiff's best interest.
• Jury awards can be much higher than settlement awards.
The Disadvantages of Going to Trial
• Trials can be expensive. Even with a generous award, litigation fees, attorney fees, and witness fees add up.
• There is an inherent risk in going to trial. Even if the plaintiff believes they have a solid case, there is no telling how a jury will respond. In a courtroom, the parties relinquish control over the outcome of their case.
• Trials can take years—and when one party wins, the other can appeal the case, making the trial stretch on for even longer periods of time.
• Since trials are public record, the plaintiff and the defendant have little control over the information they wish to keep private.
Of course, sometimes neither going to trial nor settling is a good fit for the parties. You can also resolve your claim through arbitration, where an arbitrator—a neutral party—decides how to best resolve the case. Mediation is another alternative, and involves a mediator helping the plaintiff and the defendant reach an appropriate resolution.