As a general rule, parties try to work out a settlement in personal injury cases before having to resort to the court system to resolve the claim. In fact, very few personal injury cases have to be taken to court, and many personal injury claims are settled outside of the courtroom. Reaching a settlement outside of court can be beneficial for a number of reasons:
- The parties have the chance to negotiate a settlement agreement that is fair and reasonable, on their terms.
- The parties have more control over the outcome of the settlement negotiations, whereas if the case goes to trial, there is no telling what a judge or jury could decide.
- Settlement negotiations are confidential, whereas if the case goes to trial, court records become public information.
- The parties can avoid the costs associated with going to court (i.e., court fees, costs associated with discovery and presenting the case to the court, etc.).
- Settlement negotiations are considerably less structured than court proceedings, which offer the parties a degree of flexibility.
- By first attempting to settle outside of court, the parties have the opportunity to control how quickly the matter gets resolved, because filing the case in court could take many months or years to be heard and resolved.
- Settlements offer finality to the matter – signing a settlement agreement often includes a release freeing the liable party from any further responsibility on the claim. When a case goes to trial, the final decision of the trial court can be appealed.
- Once settled, injured parties often receive their settlement amount within a month of signing their settlement agreement paperwork.
Negotiating A Settlement Outside of Court
Out-of-court settlement negotiations are the first step to obtaining a personal injury settlement. The negotiation process is relatively straightforward. First, the injured part, often through the help of a personal injury lawyer, makes a determination concerning liability, and prepares a claim amount based on the victim’s injuries, medical expenses, expected future medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages. Upon receipt of the initial claim, the liable party and, if applicable, their insurance company, will consider the claim and determine if they agree with the amount. Typically, the liable party will deem the initial claim as being too high, and will make a counter offer. The injured party will then review the counter offer, and decide if it is for an acceptable amount.
If, at some point, the parties agree on a settlement amount, negotiations come to a close, the injured party is paid the settlement amount, and the liable party is released from any further liability on the claim. Conversely, if the parties cannot agree on a settlement amount, they will have to move to the court system to resolve their claim dispute.
Resorting To The Court For A Judgment
When settlement negotiations fail, then the injured party must file a personal injury lawsuit in order to have the court decide how much the recovery should be. A personal injury trial can take a very long time, can be expensive, and can be very stressful for the parties involved. Evidence of the injuries will be presented to the judge or jury, as will evidence of liability and damages. At the conclusion of the trial, the court will decide what the recovery should be for the injured party, if any, and this decision is binding on the parties involved in the lawsuit. However, the parties can appeal the decision of the trial court to a court of higher authority.