Following an accident - car accident, slip & fall injury, dog bite, etc - you generally have two options: Settle your injury claim with the defendant out of court, or sue and follow through with a court trial. (The major exception is an accident that occurred while at work, because you usually cannot sue your employer).
If you are considering taking an injury claim to trial, you may already have been told by a lawyer, friend, or your insurance company that taking your case to trial increases your chances of receiving a higher dollar value through a jury award. Going to trial may also give you a better chance of recouping all of your out of pocket costs. As such, the option of taking a personal injury case to trial as opposed to settling can sometimes be beneficial to you from a financial perspective, but there are risks and rewards to taking a personal injury case to trial that you should be aware of before you decline a settlement offer and decide to go the trial route.
One major risk of taking a personal injury lawsuit to trial is that you may receive less than the initial settlement amount after the court makes its decision, and in some cases you may receive nothing at all.
The insurance company is making a settlement offer based on what they expect the court to rule, and by taking the case to trial, you might get a larger ruling. However, if you do not have enough evidence, or your case is not strong enough, your case may fail to even meet the burden of proof and the defendant may not have to pay you anything at all. In other cases, the financial compensation that the jury will award will be less than the amount you would have received had you simply taken the settlement.
One potential reward of taking a personal injury lawsuit to trial is the flip side of the previous risk – you could end up with a much higher verdict than the settlement you were initially offered.
The insurance company's fear of this possibility is the major reason they typically want you to give up your right to sue and accept a settlement. Turning them down and taking the case to court means you could very easily end up being compensated much more than if you had settled out of court and given up your right to sue. In addition, you may be able to win an award for pain and suffering beyond that which was offered initially or even be awarded punitive damages.
Another risk of taking a personal injury lawsuit to court is that you may end up spending a large portion of your potential reward on the case itself.
Most lawyers do not take money up front for personal injury cases, and only take payment if they win your case; however, they will need to be paid, and the amount they charge may be more if you go all the way through a trial than if you settle.
Ultimately, your attorney is in the best position to let you know when a settlement offer is fair, or when your case is strong and you should go to trial. Make sure you consult with a qualified lawyer before giving up your right to sue or accepting or turning down a settlement, as once you make a decision on accepting a settlement, you cannot simply change your mind later on.