Settling Before Court

Those involved in a personal injury case, whether a car accident, truck accident, or otherwise, usually have questions about settling.

  • When should I settle before court?
  • Is it better to settle with the insurance company or get a lawyer?
  • What does it mean to settle with an insurance company?
  • If I settle with an insurance company, can I still recover any money?

Television makes it seem as though every lawyer spends the majority of her life in the courtroom.  However, the vast majority of civil cases settle without the courtroom drama.  To put this into perspective, in 2008, the National percentage of civil cases that went to trial was 1.4%.[1] 

Civil litigation is expensive.  Civil litigation is bizarrely expensive when it actually goes to trial.  Due to overcrowded civil dockets across the country, litigation can also be an exceedingly lengthy process. From the time a complaint is filed, through the time the case is tried, a civil case can range from several months to several years.  During this time many costs can accumulate for the parties involved.  The costs become part of the equation.  And it is simply the equation that determines whether a case should settle or go to trial.

  • What is the chance of success?
  • What is the time involved?
  • What are the costs involved?

Each one of these questions must be answered for going to trial as well as for settling.  Chance of success is often just a best guess by you and your personal injury lawyer.  Time involved is usually also a guess based on the personal injury lawyer’s previous experience.  Costs can be estimated with a reasonable degree of certainty.  Always estimate conservatively and never forget attorney’s fees.  Do not forget the actual time spent for you to go to trial.  Are you missing work in trial and preparing?  What is the emotional cost?

Judges often encourage the litigants in a case to try and reach an agreement that resolves their dispute before getting to trial.  Sometimes, there will be manatory alternative dispute resolution.  In particular, most courts encourage the use of mediation, arbitration, and other forms of ADR.  The point is early resolution of a dispute without the need for trial or other court proceedings. [2] As a result, litigants often decide to resolve a civil lawsuit with what is known as a “settlement agreement.” A “settlement agreement,” is a contract between the two parties involved, in which the parties agree on paper as to how they will resolve the dispute.  The settlement agreement almost always takes the form of one party agreeing to pay the other party a set amount of money in exchange for an agreement to drop the lawsuit. The agreement to pay the other party, can be structured as a lump sum, or divided into periodic payments over a set course of time.

Should you settle?  Only a good personal injury lawyer can tell you that.  The majority of the time, the insurance company will offer you less than the case is worth.  It’s simply built into the insurance company DNA.

Should you get a lawyer?  We say “Always yes, in every car accident or other personal injury case.”  But then again, we’re biased.  We’re personal injury lawyers.  That said, talk to some injury lawyers.  You’re certainly talking to insurance adjusters.  You might as well see both sides of the coin.

Most times, settlement will foreclose future rights to compensation.  That reason alone should be enough to speak to a lawyer.

[1] The Honorable Susan K. Gauvey, Heather R. Pruger, Trials, Verdicts and Mediation in Maryland’s U.S. District Court, Md. B.J., July/August 2010, at 52, 53

[2] Civil Cases, USCOURTS.GOV, (last visited February 15, 2014)