Many people assume that if they have a personal injury claim, either an insurance company pays or you have to go to court. While some cases are paid out by insurance and some go to court, the majority of personal injury cases settle. Sometimes those settlements are just between the parties, sometimes they are with insurance companies and sometimes they happen after filing in court but before going to trial.
An experienced Charlotte, North Carolina attorney can help you to understand what settlement is and the pros and cons of settling in your specific case.
What is a Settlement?
Settlements occur when both parties to a dispute agree to resolve their claims, generally without having filed in court first. Although settlements can happen during trial. A settlement is usually a one-time payout, though it is possible to have a settlement where the payment is made in installments.
When a settlement occurs both parties come to a mutual agreement about what the case is worth. It is a meeting in the middle and gives both parties control over what is happening. Typically the plaintiff settles for less than what they initially demanded and the defendant settles for more than their first offer.
Since neither party is getting exactly what they want, then the logical question as a plaintiff is: why should I settle? There are pros and cons of settling and they are discussed in more detail below.
Benefits of Settlements
One of the biggest benefits of settlements is the limited time involved. Settlements tend to happen much more quickly than do court cases. Personal injury cases can take years to finally get to trial. The initial filing of a case can take a significant amount of time. When a case is filed in court, the plaintiff serves a complaint on the defendant. The defendant then takes the next step by either filing an answer to the complaint, filing a counterclaim or filing a motion to dismiss the complaint. This process alone can take months. And that is just the beginning of a case. Discovery typically takes months and trials can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Even after trial, there can be appeals.
Settlements tend to happen much more quickly. In most cases, the plaintiff's counsel sends a letter to the defendant's counsel explaining why they believe their client has a claim. Defendant’s counsel generally responds to that letter with a written response or a telephone call. After a few telephone calls back and forth, the plaintiff usually makes a demand and negotiations begin. This can happen in a matter of weeks. Assuming a settlement is agreed upon, then the money agreed upon is usually paid within a few weeks to a month. Damage awards from trials can take years to be paid out, particularly if the other side appeals the award.
Settlements are much less expensive than trials. In trials, in addition to attorneys fees, there are litigation costs. When a case is filed in court, there are filing fees. There are costs involved with discovery (deposition transcripts, expert witness fees, photocopying costs, etc.) and preparing for and attending trial. If you have to attend trial, you may need to miss time from work thereby adding to your losses. Fees and costs in settlements are generally lower, particularly if a case settles early on. While there are still attorneys fees and minimal costs (like the cost of a Federal Express or a telephone call), they are generally significantly lower. While attorneys fees still exist and most attorneys put a fair amount of time into understanding the facts of a case and advocating for their client, that time is usually significantly lower than the time involved in going to trial.
Going to court can be very stressful on all parties, but especially on the plaintiff. In a car accident case, the plaintiff will have to relieve his/her accident and injuries while trying to convince a judge and/or jury that the defendant was negligent and the plaintiff is therefore entitled to compensation. Settlement involves significantly less stress.
Settlements guarantee that a plaintiff receives some money. While it may not necessarily be as much as the plaintiff would have liked, it is still some money. Trials have no such guarantees and juries can be unpredictable. A judge or a jury could find against the plaintiff and award no damages. In the case of a loss, the plaintiff will still be responsible to pay attorneys fees and costs.
Negatives of Settlements
As stated above, one of the negatives of settling for the plaintiff is that a settlement is typically less than what you might get if you were to succeed at trial. Depending on the facts of the case and the way a judge or jury reacts to the case, it could result in a high damage award. This is particularly true in an egregious case where the plaintiff might be able to receive punitive damages.
In addition, settlements are often confidential which might be problematic for the plaintiff if he/she wishes to discuss the accident. For example, a plaintiff who was hit by a drunk driver and paralyzed may wish to share their story with others as a lesson to not drink and drive. However, if a confidential settlement is reached, then that story cannot be shared.
There may be a lack of closure for the plaintiff. Most settlement agreements contain a clause where the defendant denies liability. A defendant who admits to no wrongdoing can be a tough pill for a plaintiff to swallow.
Once a settlement has been reached, there is nothing that can be done, unless there is a breach of the settlement agreement. A plaintiff cannot change his/her mind and ask for more compensation. There is no appeals process.
Find a Charlotte Lawyer Near You
The Charlotte, NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced attorneys who will discuss the pros and cons of settling your case, and guide you through the settlement process. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.