When you’re involved in a car accident that causes serious injuries, you could be faced with the dilemma – of settling or going to trial. This decision is crucial because it determines how you will be compensated for your losses. Both paths have pros and cons; understanding them is vital to making an informed choice. This article will shed light on the critical aspects of settling and going to trial in a car accident lawsuit, providing you with the necessary knowledge to navigate this complex terrain.
Understanding the Basics
A car accident lawsuit typically begins when a person (the plaintiff) suffering injuries and damages from a car accident files a civil lawsuit against the party they believe to be responsible (the defendant). A case follows legal pathways towards a settlement or a trial.
A settlement involves the plaintiff and defendant reaching an agreement outside of court, by their respective attorneys. The defendant agrees to compensate the plaintiff, and in return, the plaintiff relinquishes their right to pursue any further legal action related to the accident. Note that most cases settle and don’t need to go to trial.
There are, however, times when the parties cannot reach a satisfactory agreement, so the case will go to trial. In a trial, the parties present their arguments and evidence in a court, and either a judge or jury determines the outcome, including the nature and extent of compensation to be awarded to the plaintiff.
Deciding whether to settle or go to trial is a strategic decision, highly dependent on the specifics of the case and the risks and rewards each path presents. Your personal injury attorney will provide you with information you need about whether to go to trial or not and their opinion of how to proceed. Ultimately, you as the client have the final say on whether to go to trial if that situation does present it.
Benefits of Settling
Settling a car accident lawsuit outside of court holds several advantages, making it an attractive option for many plaintiffs.
A Quicker Resolution
One of the most significant advantages of settling outside of court is the speed with which your legal dispute can be resolved. Rather than waiting months or even over a year for a court date, settling means you can resolve matters much faster. This is because the litigation process can be incredibly lengthy and time-consuming, with many delays experienced during the various stages. Settling allows you to sidestep the slowly turning cogs of the legal system and reach a quick conclusion that everyone can agree to.
Settling is also a cost-efficient alternative to going to court and, in many cases, saves both sides a significant amount of money. Legal fees and other expenses associated with litigation can quickly add up, making going to court an expensive option, which is why it is not common. In contrast, settling reduces the costs of lengthy court proceedings by eliminating many legal steps and allowing you to work towards a swift resolution. Generally, personal injury attorneys will only recommend going to trial if the insurance company is not making a fair offer and the client has serious, permanent injuries.
Certainty of Outcome
Finally, settling outside of court gives you certainty of the outcome, as both parties agree to settle the issue. There are no guarantees with litigation, and a judge or jury’s decision can turn an entire case on its head. With settling, both parties control the outcome, and the resolution is amenable and mutually beneficial. This way, you don’t end up with a result you didn’t expect or agree with.
Settling outside of court can be an excellent option for those who want to avoid the lengthy and costly process of going to trial.
Drawbacks of Settling
While settlements offer many advantages, they have potential drawbacks when deciding on the best course of action.
Potential for Lower Compensation
One of the main pitfalls is the possibility of receiving lower compensation. In the negotiation process, a defendant or their insurance company may push for a settlement amount less than what the plaintiff could potentially receive at trial. The allure of receiving compensation faster leads some plaintiffs to accept lower settlement amounts than their case is worth, especially if they are facing financial hardship due to their injuries.
Perception of Injustice
Another potential downside of settling is the feeling of an absence of full justice. When a case goes to trial, there is a public acknowledgment of the defendant’s fault if they are found guilty. However, the defendant does not officially admit fault in a settlement, and the case details remain private. This lack of public accountability can make some plaintiffs feel justice has not been fully served.
Sometimes, accepting a settlement can set an unfavorable precedent that could have consequences. If a settlement agreement is reached, it can put you in a disadvantageous position if a similar dispute arises in the future. Awareness of the potential consequences and long-term considerations of settling is critical when deciding whether to settle or go to trial.
In summary, while a settlement can be a quicker, less expensive, and less stressful way to resolve a car accident lawsuit, it could also result in lower compensation and a sense of incomplete justice. Therefore, it is crucial to thoroughly consider these potential drawbacks with your car accident lawyer when deciding whether to settle a case or proceed to trial.
Benefits of Going to Trial
Despite the challenges and potential risks associated with going to trial, several advantages make this path appealing for some plaintiffs.
One of the most significant advantages of going to trial is that you may recover a higher amount of compensation. Trials often result in larger awards for plaintiffs because they determine the settlement amount based on stronger evidence. Defendants or insurance companies also tend to offer larger settlements during the trial, knowing that the judge or jury may award you even more. In a trial, you have a better opportunity to prove your case, which can lead to significant financial compensation.
Opportunity to Present Your Case in Court:
When you go to trial, you can present your case in open court, where the facts will be laid out before a judge or jury. It’s your chance to tell your side of the story in your own words and explain how the defendant or the insurance company acted negligently or intentionally harmed you. You can state your evidence, arguments, and explain why you deserve compensation. Trials provide a unique opportunity for you to tell your story and for your legal team to present powerful evidence before a jury of your peers.
Clear and Conclusive Decision:
During the trial process, a judge or jury decides on the case’s outcome based on the evidence presented. They make an unbiased decision, and the verdict is considered final, as there is no appeal once the decision is made. This means you have a clear and conclusive outcome and can move on with your life, knowing that the legal conflict has been resolved.
Greater Awards for Non-Economic Damages:
Personal injuries don’t only cause physical harm; they can also cause emotional, mental, and financial difficulties, such as loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
When settling outside of court, defendants or insurance companies often argue that non-economic damages aren’t measurable or real and will try to offer the least amount possible for them. If you go to trial, non-economic damages almost always make up the largest part of a person’s compensation since California places no ceiling on how much can be awarded.
While the prospect of going to trial can be daunting, the potential for higher compensation, the opportunity to thoroughly present one’s case, and the chance to hold the defendant publicly accountable can make it a worthwhile path for some plaintiffs in a car accident lawsuit.
Drawbacks of Going to Trial
Going to trial, while potentially advantageous in certain respects, also comes with its share of challenges and risks.
One of the most significant drawbacks of going to trial is the financial burden it places on both parties. Court, attorneys’, and other related expenses can add up quickly. Reputable personal injury firms do not charge their clients any of these legal fees if they aren’t successful, but the client could be left with no compensation if their attorney doesn’t win the case.
Unpredictability of Jury Decisions
Another risk of going to trial is the unpredictability of a jury’s decision. Juries may be swayed by emotions or personal biases, making it difficult to predict the outcome of a case. Even if you believe you have a strong case, there is no guarantee that a jury will see things the same way. As a result, going to trial can be a gamble and can add a layer of stress to an already tense legal situation.
Lengthy Court Processes
Going to trial can also be a lengthy process, often taking months or even a year or more to resolve. During this time, you may miss work, suffer from the stress of the ongoing legal battle, and incur additional expenses related to the case. Additionally, court documents and proceedings are often public records, which could result in sensitive information becoming public and causing additional stress and embarrassment.
Limited Control Over the Outcome
When you go to trial, the final decision is in a judge’s or jury’s hands. This means that you have limited control over the outcome of the case. While you and your attorney will argue your case to the best of your abilities, the decision ultimately rests with them. This can be frustrating for parties who feel strongly about their case and may feel the outcome is lacking.
While going to trial could result in higher compensation and public acknowledgment of the defendant’s fault, it can come with substantial financial costs, unpredictability of the outcome, long duration, emotional strain, and potential loss of privacy. These factors should all be carefully weighed when deciding whether to settle or proceed to trial.
A Note About the Impact of Car Accident Claims on Future Job Opportunities
In general, car accident cases have no impact on a person’s job-seeking opportunities. However, note that claims are part of the public record, and anyone can access them. This does not mean that you have no rights. Below, we detail what a potential employer can and cannot do when you apply for a job.
A potential employer can conduct a background check to see if you have ever filed a car accident lawsuit in California. However, they cannot do so unless they have made you a job offer first. They also cannot use the results against you in a discriminatory way.
If you are applying for a job that involves driving for most of the day, such as a truck driver, for example, the employer will likely review your driving history, including any car accidents or lawsuits you may have had after offering you the job. Now, that does not mean they can deny you the job once they see you filed a car accident lawsuit in the past.
It is important to note that California law is constantly evolving, so it is always best to consult with an employment lawyer to get the most up-to-date information on your rights if you find yourself in this sort of situation.
Deciding between settling a car accident lawsuit or proceeding to trial is a significant decision with far-reaching implications. It involves carefully balancing each situation’s potential benefits and drawbacks. Whether you are inclined towards a swift resolution with a settlement or are determined to hold the defendant publicly accountable through a trial, it’s vital to remember that you don’t have to navigate this complex decision-making process alone.
The Dominguez Firm offers a free, no-obligation consultation to help you understand your legal options. With over 30 years of experience and a remarkable 96%* success rate, our seasoned car accident lawyers are committed to helping you make an informed decision that aligns with your best interests. Contact us today at (800) 818-1818 to take the first step toward securing the compensation you deserve.
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