When you have a personal injury case, you are most often going to settle before you go to trial. A settlement is a formal resolution of your lawsuit before you have to go to court. In civil cases, you can come to a settlement at any point during your litigation. Your case can even be settled even before filing a formal lawsuit.
While every case is different, settling personal injury cases tends to follow a similar trajectory overall.
First, if you’re the plaintiff, your attorney will submit a demand letter. The demand letter outlines the amount of damages you’re demanding, the legal arguments to back up your demands, and copies of any evidence like police reports to support your demands.
After you submit it, a defense attorney will respond, sometimes making a counteroffer.
Then, the attorneys can begin to negotiate. Negotiations can include emails and phone calls.
In most cases, a defendant and a plaintiff come to a settlement that both sides are somewhat happy with, so they don’t have to go to trial. Once an agreement is made, the parties will then sign a formal agreement, including the release of liability.
If an agreement can’t be reached, then the case goes to trial. Once the case heads to trial, a jury or judge determines whether a defendant should be held liable for the damages of the plaintiff.
There are a lot of upsides to settling a case from the perspective of both the plaintiff and the defendant, but what are some reasons that this might not happen?
Liability Is In Dispute
If someone is the injured party in a personal injury case, they have the burden to prove the other party is liable for their damages. In order to prove liability, it means you have to prove the conduct of the other party caused injuries. Liability is a reference to the legal responsibility to compensate someone for their damages.
If the insurance company for the other party doesn’t think you’ll be able to prove the legal elements that are required to establish liability, they might not be interested in settling. The vast majority of personal injury claims are based on negligence.
To win an injury claim, you have to prove the legal elements of negligence. These include the duty of care, a breach of duty, causation, and damages.
Insufficient Insurance Coverage
If the at-fault party’s insurance company agrees to pay the policy limits for a claim, they are indicating the insured is liable for the damages of the plaintiff. However, damages might be more than the limits of the person’s policy.
The insurance provider agrees in this scenario to settle the claim for the full amount of the policy limit. Then, your personal injury lawyer might accept this offer to settle but refuse to release the claims.
The insurance company lived up to its responsibility, but you might want to get a personal judgment against the individual who caused your injury. You may feel that you’re owed damages beyond their policy limits.
You can only go forward in this situation if you didn’t sign a release of your right to file a lawsuit.
The Damages Are Extensive
An insurance company can disagree with a plaintiff’s damages valuation. The insurance company, just as an example, might make an allegation that the plaintiff’s damages are much lower than what’s being demanded to settle the case.
Damages in personal injury include economic damages, which cover financial loss, and non-economic damages, which cover pain and suffering.
Maybe you have an expert providing testimony valuing your damages based on your injuries. Then, the defense could have their own expert witness who disagrees. Their witness might say that you are owed a much lower value for your damages. If this happens, a jury might decide the value of damages once they hear evidence during a trial.
The Statute of Limitations is Near Its Expiration
Insurance companies are notorious for dragging investigations out, as well as the process of settling.
This is strategic. By dragging the situation out, they can allow the statute of limitations to expire. The statute of limitations is a firm legal deadline. You have to file a lawsuit within that amount of time, and if you don’t, you can’t hold the party at fault legally liable for damages.
The statute of limitations depends on your state and the type of claim.
Multiple Parties Are Liable
If there are multiple parties that are potentially liable in a case, it may need to go to trial to settle disputes. Each defendant in a lawsuit might make the argument they’re innocent of any liability. A judge or jury has to decide which of the defendants are liable and in what amounts they hold liability.
Then, a jury verdict reflects the share of liability for each of the defendants.
Ultimately, both parties in a personal injury dispute are typically going to understand that moving forward and going to trial is expensive and time-consuming, meaning that negotiation is very often in the best interest of both parties.
Jury trials are inherently risky because you can’t predict what a jury could decide.
Even if a party has a stronger case, the jurors could still rule in favor of the other.
If you’re in a situation where you are going to have to negotiate a settlement offer, it can be tough to know if you’re making the right decision before you accept. This is just one of the many reasons it’s a good idea to work with a personal injury attorney in these situations.
An attorney with experience can go over the details of your case and help you determine whether a settlement offer is fair or not. They can also help you evaluate the risks of going to court versus accepting a settlement offer that might currently be on the table.
There’s very rarely a situation where it’s better to go to trial than to settle, but of course, there are always exceptions.