Advantages of Settling a Personal Injury Case

Most personal injury cases settle out of court, and for good reason. Settlement is faster, less expensive, and less risky.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School

Most personal injury cases settle out of court, well before trial, and many settle before a personal injury lawsuit even needs to be filed. Settling out of court has many advantages over litigating a case to the (often bitter) end. Here's an overview of some of those advantages.

Settlements Are Less Expensive Than Trials

Attorneys are expensive. The person suing in a personal injury lawsuit (the "plaintiff") typically has a contingency fee arrangement with their attorney. The most common arrangement is that the attorney will receive around 33% of any pre-trial settlement and about 40% of any amount received after trial begins. The person getting sued (the "defendant") typically pays an attorney an hourly rate, so the very time-intensive lawsuit process represents a significant out-of-pocket expense for the defendant, compared to settling.

Paying more to attorneys is not the only expense of litigation. Expert witnesses, court costs, travel, and lost time from work can all add up considerably. (Learn more about the cost of taking a personal injury case to court.)

Keep in mind that the earlier a case settles, the less expensive the litigation process is for both parties, particularly a defendant paying at an hourly rate. The pre-trial discovery process can involve numerous depositions, including depositions of experts. Some plaintiffs' attorneys will agree to pay pre-litigation expenses like expert witness fees up front, but some do not—and if the fees are paid upfront, they then come out of any award or settlement. If the defendant's liability and the nature and extent of the plaintiff's injuries are fairly clear early on, both parties benefit from settling earlier.

Learn more about the cost of taking a personal injury case to court.

Settlements Are Less Stressful Than Trials

Although a typical personal injury trial will not last more than a few days, the process can be extremely stressful for everyone involved. Both parties may be subjected to examination and cross-examination on the witness stand, and have their past (and their character) publicly scrutinized. In addition, the weeks leading up to a trial can be very labor-intensive for both parties, not just their attorneys. Settlements are much less dramatic and involve less work than litigation.

Settlements Are More Predictable Than Trials

While a jury may award the plaintiff more money ("damages") than the defendant's settlement offer, there is no guarantee of that. Trials are notoriously unpredictable. Key evidence might be excluded by the judge, eyewitnesses might come across as unreliable, or the plaintiff might not testify well.

Even more unpredictable than proving liability, however, is just what the jury will award a plaintiff who wins at trial. What a plaintiff receives is up to the jury's discretion, and predicting what that number will be ahead of time can never be more than an educated guess. With an out-of-court settlement, both parties have negotiated exactly how much a defendant must pay out.

Settlements Are Quicker Than Trials

Getting to trial can take months or years. An appeal can drag the case out for much longer. Even a relatively simple personal injury case, can take three or four years to litigate and sometimes much longer. Settlements are typically faster and both parties can put the matter behind them after the settlement agreement is signed because settlements aren't appealable.

Learn more about how long it takes to settle a personal injury case.

Settlements Are More Private Than Trials are Private

Unless the judge orders the records sealed, which will rarely ever happen in a personal injury case, all the details of a trial are public record. This means all of the witness testimony, all of the evidence, everything the two sides used to make each other look as bad as possible, will be available for anyone to read. By settling the personal injury case out of court, the parties are in complete control of what remains private and what becomes public record, including the terms of the settlement.

A Settling Defendant Doesn't Have to Admit Liability

Defendants who lose in court are officially declared liable (legally responsible) for the plaintiff's injuries. If the parties settle, however, the defendant is not required to admit liability. This may not be ideal for a plaintiff who feels morally invested in proving a defendant's culpability, but it is a significant bonus to a defendant concerned about having a public record of negligence or intentional wrongdoing.

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