Personal injury cases often lead victims and their representatives to ask: is it better to settle or go to trial? Of course, every case is unique and calls for a tailored legal strategy after close review. Still, this question is important in each case. It can mean the difference between a client obtaining fair compensation and having to foot the bill for their accident-related losses.
In general, settling instead of going to trial can save your firm and your client time and money. Trials involve various court fees and take longer to settle claims. As you consider which path to take, consider the following pros and cons of settling and going to trial.
The Benefits of Settling a Claim
The main benefits of settling a claim instead of taking it to trial come down to time and money. Your injury law firm and your client can avoid costly court fees and obtain compensation sooner than if you take their case to trial.
Your Client Can Access Treatment Sooner
Sometimes, a client will already be facing mounting medical bills for their accident-related injuries. A settlement can help them access the treatment they need sooner. In some cases, a client may need surgery, for example, or their prognosis may include long-term care.
They will likely be eager to obtain compensation to begin paying off their medical debt and afford any necessary continued treatment.
Your Firm and Your Client Will Avoid Paying Court Fees
Various court fees are associated with going to trial. Every county court system has a list of court fees.
You can read more about court fees below under the drawbacks of going to trial.
For a free legal consultation, call (404) 888-8888
The Drawbacks of Settling a Claim
As with anything, settling a claim instead of going to trial also has drawbacks. Consider the following factors.
You May Not Receive as Much Compensation
There’s always a chance your firm and your client will not receive a high amount of compensation by settling a claim. Part of the reason insurers usually try to settle before going to trial is because they know a judge or jury may award a plaintiff even more in a trial. They also want to avoid court fees.
As you go back and forth with an insurer during negotiations, they may offer more and more compensation, but their last offer may still not match what you could get from a trial verdict. Of course, you will never know. It is up to your firm and your client’s best judgment to decide whether the risks of trial outweigh the benefits of settling a claim.
You Can Never Reopen the Case
One of the most important things to consider is that once you accept a settlement offer, you usually cannot change your mind later and reopen the claim. Usually, insurers will have your client sign documents waiving their right to take legal action if they accept a settlement offer.
Before accepting a settlement, it’s important to ensure your client has received a long-term prognosis from their doctor, since this will give you an idea of any future healthcare costs they may face. The last thing you want is for your client to have to foot the bill for their accident-related losses down the road.
The Benefits of Going to Trial
There are a few benefits of taking legal action instead of settling a claim. As drawn-out as trials can be, they offer some advantages to settling. Specifically, you may win more compensation for your client, and they may find comfort in seeing justice served in the courts.
You May Receive More Compensation in the Form of a Verdict
When cases go to trial, a judge or jury decides on a verdict. Depending on the nature of the case and the extent of your client’s injuries and losses, you may stand to win more compensation by taking their case to trial. However, nothing is guaranteed until the end of the trial.
It all depends on the particular details of each case. It will help to assess the client’s total losses before making this decision. Also, remember that you do not have to wait for an insurer to deny or undervalue a claim to take legal action. If you believe a case warrants a lawsuit, you may begin with one immediately.
Your Client Can Experience a Greater Sense of Justice
Sometimes, when you take a case to trial and win, your client will experience a greater sense of justice. They will know that your firm exhausted every legal option available and secured the most compensation possible. They may also want to make an example of an insurer who engaged in bath faith practices, for example.
Complete a Free Case Evaluation form now
The Drawbacks of Going to Trial
As stated before, the main drawbacks of going to trial include court fees, other expenses, and a long legal process. It could be months or even years before a trial concludes and the court awards a verdict. This does not only affect your client, but also your firm. You will both be waiting much longer to obtain compensation.
The costs of going to trial may even constitute a greater drawback, though.
Court Fees and Other Trial Expenses
A compelling reason to settle instead of going to trial is court fees. As mentioned before, each county court system has a fee structure. To give you an example of court fees, consider the following fees in the Northern District Court of Georgia:
- Civil filing fee
- Writ of Mandamus fee
- Appeal fee
- Writ of Habeas Corpus fee
- Registering a judgment from another district
Other miscellaneous fees can include filing and indexing papers, retrieving records from the Federal Records Center, clearance letters, record searches, document certification, reproducing auto recordings of court proceedings, and more. In short, almost anything you ask the court to do will cost money. While each individual fee may not sound like very much, they can add up very quickly.
Along with court fees, there are other court-related expenses. For example, you may have to pay expert witnesses to perform research and testify on your client’s behalf. When a case goes to trial, you will want to have as much evidence to present as possible. You may want to go the extra mile during your investigation to hire an accident reconstructionist, for example. All of these experts charge for their work on your client’s case.
The Risk of Losing in a Trial
Finally, the greatest drawback of going to trial instead of settling a claim is that you may lose. Even in cases that seem straightforward, this is always a risk. For instance, you do not have much control over who serves as the jury members or the judge for your case.
You’re always gambling when going to trial, since what happens in the courtroom can be so unpredictable by nature. Even one seemingly small piece of evidence produced by the defendant may derail your entire case.
You and your client will have to assess the risk of going to court and weigh it against the insurer’s best settlement offer. Additionally, if you operate on a contingency fee, losing a trial usually means your firm will assume all court costs and other expenses related to the case, and the client will not owe you anything.
Click to contact our personal injury lawyers today
Other Points to Consider When Choosing to Settle or Go to Trial
Aside from the general pros and cons of settling and going to trial, you should consider a few other factors. Consider what else can inform your decision of whether it is better to settle or go to trial.
Contingency Fees vs. Hourly Rates
Another factor that may influence the decision of whether to settle or go to trial involves your firm’s fee arrangement. Many personal injury firms work on a contingency-fee basis, so their payments directly depend on the amount of compensation they win for their clients.
If your firm operates on a retainer or hourly rate, your attorney’s fees may be higher the longer the legal process lasts. Going to trial only extends the amount of time a case lasts, and sometimes, trials can last for a year or longer.
However, it would be unethical to prolong a case simply to earn more money for yourself. Your client is always in the driver’s seat, and they should understand the costs and risks of going to trial when they pay by the hour for legal representation. Ultimately, the risk of losing a case in a trial may motivate your firm and your client to settle when the liable party makes a decent offer.
Clients usually want to get fair compensation quickly, and it can be difficult to temper their expectations. As you explain whether it is better to settle or go to trial, remember that your clients’ opinions about you and your work will speak volumes about your firm.
Regardless of which path is right for a particular client, you should ensure they understand the benefits of the particular legal strategies you apply in their case. This way, when they talk about their experience working with your firm, they will understand just how much your legal guidance contributed to the outcome of their cases.
The Statute of Limitations
Another thing to consider when debating whether to settle or go to trial is the statute of limitations. This deadline for legal action may inform your decision greatly, depending on when you begin working on a claim and how long negotiations take. For example, Georgia’s statute of limitations generally allows victims up to two years to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
As you begin conducting investigations and negotiating with an insurer, keep an eye on the statute of limitations. The last thing you want is to let the statute of limitations slip by and cost a client their last and best chance at obtaining fair compensation. If you wait too long, an insurer may outright deny a claim, knowing that your client has no legal standing to sue.
Also, remember that filing a lawsuit does not always mean going to trial—in fact, most cases, even those involving lawsuits, are settled before actually going to court. Often the threat of going to trial alone is enough to prompt a fair settlement offer from the insurance company.
How Long Investigation and Evidence Gathering Will Take
You should consider that it takes time to investigate a case and gather evidence. You may have to locate witnesses for interviews and consult expert witnesses for testimonies. If this takes longer than expected, you may have to gauge the risk of losing a trial.
You Must Choose if It Is Better to Settle or Go to Trial
At the end of the day, you and your client will have to take a chance when determining whether it is better to settle or go to trial. No one can predict which path will lead to more compensation.
As you weigh your options, remember to consider the strength of the evidence you have gathered, your deadline for taking legal action, the settlement offers you have already received from an insurer, your client’s needs, and your firm’s fee arrangement.
All these factors will play a role in your decision to settle or go to trial. Remember that every case is unique, so your personal injury team must make this decision with every client you serve. What works best in one case may not in another. It’s up to you to determine the best course of action for each case.
Call or text (404) 888-8888 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form