According to the Florida Office of the State Courts Administrator, less than one percent of civil cases in the state actually make it to a trial. Instead, most cases settle out of court, and that leads many involved in a civil case to think about both the advantages and disadvantages of reaching a settlement. Understanding the process of settlement, why so many cases settle, and what’s right for your case can be fairly complex.
What Settlement Looks Like
Typically settlement negotiations begin shortly after a lawsuit is filed. The plaintiff’s attorney usually submits a letter that demands the compensation for the incident involved, and it often involves a particular amount. The defense usually responds with some kind of offer that is usually quite a bit lower. Usually there’s some back and forth, and oftentimes, mediation is involved in the process to help aid the settlement process. Once an agreement is reached, both sides will sign paperwork that details the terms of the settlement, and the plaintiff will be given a check for the amount involved in the settlement.
Why So Many Cases Settle
Many cases choose to settle out of court for different reasons. There are a number of benefits of settling out of court that serve as the driver for plaintiffs and defendants alike. One of the most important benefits for plaintiffs is that you receive compensation much faster than you’d expect to. Trials are a very slow process. Depending on the court involved, trials often don’t start for one to two years after the initial lawsuit is filed. Even if you do win once you go to trial, the defendant can appeal the verdict, which can put your compensation on hold until the appeal has worked its way through the court of appeals. Often the entire process can take three years or more, which can be a long time to wait if your bills from the lawsuit begin to pile out.
Timeline is not the only advantage in a settlement. Settlement also means fewer costs for plaintiffs and defendants alike. Court costs can be incredible. Few involved in a lawsuit understand that litigation means the cost of medical records, expert witnesses, transcripts, court reporters, and more, which adds up over time. Many attorneys charge a much higher percentage of your judgement if you take the case to trial. Often it can be seven to ten percent more than it would be if the case is settled out of court, which may be a powerful motivator for some plaintiffs.
Settlement, often achieved through mediation, can also help reduce the amount of stress involved. Going to trial means a number of hearings, as well as depositions on both sides, cross-examination from the other side while you’re in a trial, continual meetings with your attorney, and much more. That may affect your ability to work and create quite a bit of stress. Settlement, though, helps to avoid much of that time involved in the case.
Additionally, settlement provides a level of privacy that a trial simply doesn’t. Settlements can remain confidential at all times. In fact, many settlements must remain confidential according to the terms of the agreement. For both plaintiffs and defendants, that can be incredibly important because the details of medical records, personal relationships, and more never have to be entered into the record.
Settlement also means a level of predictability that a trial simply cannot. With a settlement, you know what the offer is before you go to trial. Should you go on to trial, almost anything can happen. A judge can decide to exclude important evidence, the jury may decide not to give you as much in damages, and witnesses may not appear or testify in a convincing manner. All of these things can lead to some uncertainty in your case that simply won’t happen if you decide to settle. What’s more, though, is that settlement guarantees you will collect the amount for which the defendant has settled. The settlement amount is part of the negotiated agreement, and that means that even if the defendant declares bankruptcy, he or she is still responsible for the settlement amount.
Despite the number of benefits, though, there are some disadvantages of settling a case. One of the biggest is that the jury may actually decide to give you a better result than a compromised settlement would. Of course, the opposite is also true. Trial can also help raise public awareness so others aren’t injured by the defendant, or from the defendant’s perspective establish that it was not doing anything wrong. It could also give you added closure you simply won’t get from a settlement.
What’s Right For Your Case
Knowing whether settlement is right for your case can be complicated. In some cases, settling out of court can be a real advantage. In others, you may feel like it’s a huge loss. Understanding what’s right for your case means discussing the possibilities with your attorney and knowing what your chances are if you choose not to settle.