When you file a personal injury case, there’s a high chance you and your lawyer will be considering a settlement at some point during the case. Sometimes, you’ll be contemplating if the settlement provided by the defendant is worth it, and other times, you may be the one to start the negotiations.
Most court cases in the United States end in a settlement, but it may be unclear what this means or how to obtain one. In this article, we’ll define what personal injury cases and settlements are, when you can expect to see one, what the average cost is, and what happens if you accept a settlement to end your case.
What is a Personal Injury Case?
A personal injury case is when someone seeks damages after being harmed. There are many types of personal injury cases and quite a few different kinds of damages you could seek compensation for.
Generally speaking, personal injury cases are broken down into three types: negligence, bystander/strict liability, and intentional. A negligence suit can be brought up when someone acts so carelessly that it leads to you being injured—car and workplace accident cases are a few common negligence cases.
Strict liability cases are brought up when a defendant’s intentions don’t matter because they have a duty to try and prevent the injury from occurring. This usually applies to product defects, though there are many situations where it may apply. Intentional harm cases are potentially the most egregious type. If you are a victim of assault and battery, then this is the type of case you’ll pursue.
You can also seek many different types of damages in these cases. For example, suppose you were in a car accident. In that case, you may be able to seek damages to pay for your medical bills, your legal fees, and possibly even for your emotional distress, such as anxiety and fear of driving.
Some of these damages will be easier to get than others, so discuss with your lawyer the charges you may want to bring and the evidence you have to back up your claims.
What is a Settlement?
A settlement is an agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant for one side to take a lump sum of money to drop the case. Settlements can be offered at any stage in the trial, from the moment the case was filed to after a party has one. The latter settlements tend to just be so the losing party doesn’t appeal the verdict.
While a settlement can be tempting for both parties involved, it can also be risky to take. The plaintiff seeking the damages may take the offered cash so they can pay their bills and move on with their lives, though this amount may be less than they would receive should the court rule in their favour. The defendant wants a settlement for a few reasons, many of which will be discussed later, with the main one being to avoid the possibly expensive trial altogether.
That being said, at least a settlement guarantees payment. The biggest reasons why most personal injury cases end in a settlement are because a company wants to avoid the bad publicity the case will bring them should they lose, and the plaintiff is shockingly unlikely to come out victorious.
This is assuming that the case isn’t dropped by the plaintiff themselves or the court, which is also possible.
How Much Will the Settlement Pay?
How much money you’ll receive from a settlement varies based on how founded your case is, what kinds of damages you’re seeking, who the defendant is, and more. Even when two similar cases settle, the payment offered to each can be vastly different.
With this in mind, according to the findings of Martindale-Nolo Research, the average settlement cost was about $52,900. They break this down even further as well. In 2016, 58% of the people who filled out their survey received pay-outs ranging from $3,000 to $25,000, 26% got over $25,000 and about 16% received less than $3,000. However, it’s important to note that these results don’t include those who received nothing from their claims.
For those who were injured physically, mentally, or both from an accident or misdeed, these numbers are encouraging. While money can’t reverse the damage caused, it can help those who suffered pay their bills and move on to a life that is hopefully happier and healthier. Closure is something that an unfortunate amount of people will never receive, and some may see a settlement as that closure.
However, if you and your lawyer agree that your case has a high chance of success and you’d rather see it through to the verdict, then go for it. While a lawyer can advise you on whether or not to accept a settlement, the choice is ultimately up to you.
Should You Accept a Settlement Offer?
For the sake of explaining the consequences, let’s say that you did accept a settlement offer. What happens next? Well, the first thing that happens is your case is dropped.
You’ll also have to sign a contract saying that you won’t pursue the case again and that the defendant doesn’t have to accept liability. Yes, by taking a settlement, you absolve the other party of any wrongdoing—they can claim that they did nothing wrong, even if you have evidence to prove the opposite.
Discuss the settlement offer with your lawyer if you’re seriously considering it. They’ll tell you the chances your case has of succeeding and can even tell you if the damages you’re seeing compensation for are worth more than is being offered. As mentioned before, the choice is up to you, so weigh your options carefully before making your decision.
To be clear, this article isn’t intended to persuade you to accept a settlement or even carry on with the case. Instead, we simply aim to explain what a settlement means for both you and the defendant to help you make an informed decision.