A personal injury claim is often complicated and complex. But you don’t need to handle it alone. A seasoned attorney can help you decide whether to seek compensation through a settlement or through a trial if it necessary or warranted.
Both have advantages and disadvantages, although the vast majority of personal injury cases are settled before trial.
Advantages of Settlement
Why? Because in general, a negotiated settlement is:
- Less risky than heading to court
- Less expensive
- Less emotionally draining and intimidating or upsetting
- Less time-consuming
For these reasons, a competent and experienced attorney often will suggest a reasonable settlement rather than a trial. A settlement is money in the bank, a sure amount you will receive.
Going to court has other downsides: sometimes it takes months, a year, or longer for a court date to become available. Lawyers warn that the uncertainty of how juries will respond to evidence—no matter how convincing–often isn’t worth the risk. After months of court litigation, you could potentially walk away with nothing.
Accepting a settlement can help get your life back on track sooner.
Personal Injury Law 101
Your attorney will help you determine whether a settlement is the right choice by first conferring with you and evaluating your claim. If yours is strong, your lawyer typically will offer a settlement amount that makes financial sense, based on estimating your best outcome and your opponent’s desired outcome.
How can you trust your attorney’s advice? By first doing your research and selecting a skilled, candid personal injury attorney. You want an attorney who updates you regularly, who takes time to explain terms and opinions in clear language. Who isn’t simply out to make a fast buck and “churn” through cases.
- Do your homework and research the law firm you plan to hire. Does the legal team have experience in complex liability issues?
- Choose your attorney wisely. A proven track record in personal injury law is crucial.
However, even the most experienced lawyers sometimes need outside help, and they may consult mediators or facilitators to help resolve a settlement. If mediation fails, the next step is going to court. Indeed, some insurance carriers have been known to force a trial.
Advantages of a Trial
- The possibility of a higher award
- The opportunity to explain and document your claim
- The chance to appeal the decision
Going to court can result in a higher award than accepting an out of court settlement, but there are no guarantees. In addition, you can expect higher legal expenses for a trial due to added court and attorney fees.
If your lawsuit involves a severe injury or case of death, however, you should seriously consider going to court rather than accepting a settlement.
Explaining the Numbers
Now let’s talk about the numbers. The bottom line is compensation—the money you are entitled to due to negligence. Your attorney will get some percentage of a settlement and/or court award. However, because a settlement can be negotiated relatively fast—thereby reducing legal fees—it is in the interest of all parties to resolve it quickly and economically. It is also in the interest of the attorney to reach as high a settlement as possible, but a “middle ground” figure is more likely.
Your lawyer should be completely upfront about his/her fee agreement. In most cases, the attorney will receive one-third of your settlement award. Sometimes this percentage rises to 40 percent, and in some cases, lawyers may charge an hourly fee. Keep track of the fees and the hours, and make sure you receive clear and accurate representation from your attorney.