When you’re seeking compensation for a personal injury, in most cases the other party will offer you a settlement to avoid going to court. Sometimes this offer matches all your requests for monetary reparations and other settlement terms.
But what if the settlement offered doesn’t match your desired terms? Should you accept the settlement offered by the other party, or should you pursue better compensation by taking your case to court?
Navigating the questions raised by a settlement offer can be tricky. It’s especially difficult to know what to do when emotions about the injury and its lasting effects obscure your judgment.
Because every case is unique, you should seek legal advice before deciding to settle or go to court. However, you can feel empowere d to make the right decision when you understand the pros and cons of both settling and going to court.
Reasons to Settle Out of Court
In a settlement agreement, one party in the lawsuit offers to end the dispute by meeting certain terms, such as paying for damages or negligence. If both parties agree to the settlement, they avoid taking the case to court.
Most lawsuits settle out of court. This makes sense because settling out of court has many benefits for both parties involved:
1. Guarantee compensation. A major upside to settling is that you know exactly what you’ll receive. You don’t h ave to rely on a judge or jury to side with you and award you the damages you want. The terms of a settlement are laid out in careful an d precise documentation. Your lawyer can look over this paperwork before you sign it to make sure everything is in order.
2. Save time. Sometimes personal injury settlements drag out for long periods of time. If you decide to go to co urt, you delay receiving compensation even further. Sometimes even if you win, appeals prevent you from receiving your restitution righ
t away. In contrast, when you settle, you typically receive payments from the other party much sooner.
3. Maintain privacy. When you go to court, details of the case become public record. Anyone can request to see these documents. Details of cases settled out of court largely remain private between the involved parties and their legal counsel. Some s ettlements even contain confidentiality agreements to protect the case from being discussed with anyone else.
4. Prevent appeals. Another benefit of settlements are their finality. Once you agree to a settlement and sign the related paperwork, the dispute is over. In court, even if you win the other party can appeal the case to higher courts. These appeals so metimes decrease the amount of damages you receive or overturn the result entirely.
5. Avoid stress. Taking a case to trial can be stressful. People often worry about being put on the stand to descri be the details of the case and face cross-examination. These worries can be especially prevalent in severe or highly personal cases. Often settling out of court eliminates these worries.
Reasons to Consider Going to Court
In some circumstances, going to court is a better option than agreeing to a settlement. Again, the following guidelines do not apply in every circumstance, so only use them for a basic understanding of why going to court might be a good choice:
1. When settlement negotiations break down. Parties involved in a personal injury dispute seldom agree to the f irst settlement offer. Instead, they negotiate terms until they reach an agreement approved by both sides. However, sometimes even the
se negotiations fail to produce an acceptable settlement. If you feel the other party isn’t negotiating fairly or compromising enough, goin g to court may give you better chances for a fair settlement.
2. When you are suing an individual. Personal injury lawsuits frequently involve seeking damages f rom a company or group, such as your employer or an insurance company. When you sue an individual, that person’s assets and resour ces are usually much smaller than a business’s. With fewer assets and resources, individuals are less likely to appeal a court decision than companies are.
3. When you want to hold out for more damages. While negotiating a settlement with you, the other party may extend multiple payment offers that don’t match what you think is fair. If this happens to you, you can opt to take the case to trial, hopi ng a judge or jury will force them to pay you a higher amount. Be careful using this tactic, however, because going to court removes you r guarantee for receiving some compensation. It’s possible the other party could win the case, leaving you with nothing or causing you t
o spend time and money appealing the ruling.
When you’re seeking compensation, your lawyer can help you decide whether settling or taking your case to court is the best option for you. Ultimately, the decision to settle or go to court rests with you, so put plenty of thought into it before making a final choice.