Should You Settle Your Personal Injury Case?
You or your lawyer have done some negotiating with the insurance company and there is an offer on the table. You’re wondering whether you should accept the offer and settle the case or take the case to court. Here are some things to think about before making the decision.
One of the main things to think about when deciding whether you should settle your personal injury case is the simple math involved in the distribution of the settlement proceeds. You should ask your lawyer for a breakdown of a hypothetical settlement. This breakdown will show the deductions for attorney’s fees, any costs incurred by your lawyer, health insurance liens, and outstanding medical bills. Sometimes the amount of health insurance liens or outstanding medical bills needs to be estimated, but you should have some idea of how those amounts might reduce your portion of the settlement proceeds.
If you want to consider putting your case in court, ask your lawyer what the costs involved in litigation might be. There are filing fees, deposition costs, and the possibility of having to hire expert witnesses to testify about your injuries or other aspects of the case. All of these costs come out of your portion of any settlement. Litigating a routine car accident with no expert witnesses and common soft-tissue injuries can cost $1,500. Litigating more complicated cases can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more. Are those costs justified by the prospect of a higher offer or substantial jury verdict after litigating the case? If not, you are likely better off settling your case.
Another thing to think about when deciding whether to settle your personal injury case is the challenge of proving your case at trial. You, as the injured person, have the burden of proof in the trial of a personal injury case. Are there credible, independent witnesses who you can locate and who will vouch for your version of the facts? Do you have helpful photographs or video footage to corroborate your story? On the one hand, if your injury was unwitnessed and you have no corroborative evidence, you may face challenges in convincing a jury to believe your version of what happened and why it is the defendant’s fault. On the other hand, if you have significant and helpful supporting evidence, and the insurance company is not offering a fair settlement, you might be better litigating the case.
Finally, remember that taking your case to court does not guarantee a favorable result. Litigation is expensive and usually a very slow process. Jury trials leave the outcome of your case in the hands of between 6 and 12 jurors who are strangers to you. Discuss with your lawyer whether it is better to agree on a settlement value with opposing counsel, or to take the risk of leaving the outcome of your case in the hands of a jury.
Most of my practice involves litigation of personal injury cases. While I am comfortable litigating cases, my goal is always to give my clients the best advice I can about whether their case should be settled or put into court. If you have questions about whether you should settle your personal injury case, I'd be happy to speak with you!