Should You Settle Your Personal Injury Claim, Or Go To Court?
If you've received an offer that will allow you to settle your personal injury suit, you may find yourself struggling to decide whether to take the offer or head into court. Your injury attorney can offer his or her opinion on the issue, but you ultimately have to make the final decision. There are specific things that you should consider.
The Risk Factor
When you accept a settlement, there is no more question about whether or not you will win your case. Nor do you have to continue wondering how much money you will receive for your injuries.
When you decline a settlement it's possible that the defendant will offer another, larger settlement. It's also possible that the defendant will decide to let the case go to trial rather than offer anything more. Once a case reaches the courtroom there are a number of things at risk:
- If the jury decides against you entirely, you end up losing your case and won't receive anything. Juries only rule in favor of plaintiffs about 51% of the time.
- If the jury decides for you, you may still end up with a smaller award than what was offered in the settlement. The average award in an auto accident claim, for example, is only $16,000.
- There's always the possibility that a defendant will choose to appeal a verdict. An appeals process can take a year, or longer, before you get a new verdict.
You also have to consider the additional expenses of actually going to trial. It's not uncommon for an injury claim to be filed on a contingency basis - meaning that your attorney only takes a fee if he or she is successful for you. The amount is typically 1/3 of the money that you receive in your settlement or jury award.
However, once your case goes to trial, it isn't uncommon for attorney fees to increase in order to compensate the attorney for the additional work and time required by a trial.
A trial brings other expenses that will reduce the amount of money that you receive from any award. You will have to pay for expenses such as expert witnesses, lodging, court costs, filing fees, and secretarial charges.
Many people find the process of a personal injury claim to be incredibly stressful. If you are still suffering from your injury, you may not feel up to the physical demands of a long trial. Some people also panic at the idea of testifying in court.
Another issue that often emotionally impacts people in a personal injury suit is the lack of privacy. Depositions and trials surrounding injury claims are inherently intrusive. Depending on the nature of your injuries, you may be asked about your personal relationships, sexual problems, and mental health issues. Your medical records are also going to be submitted as evidence in a court of law.
All of these things become public record. Many people feel a significant amount of distress at the idea that what they consider to be private business could be accessed and read by virtually anyone.
When you accept a settlement, your private information remain out of public record. So will the amount of money that you receive in the settlement.
If you're having trouble deciding whether or not to accept a settlement, speak with your attorney and discuss your concerns. Your attorney may feel that the settlement offer is far beneath the actual value of your case. If so, you may want to refuse the offer and prepare for court. If your attorney feels that the monetary amount is reasonably close to the value of your claim, accepting the settlement may be in your best interests for more than one reason.