Pros and Cons of Settling a Case Out of Court – Do legal cases always go to court? No. Sometimes, a case is prepared for trial but ends up being settled out of court before the trial begins.
Other cases, such as insurance claims for a car or other vehicle accident, are ordinarily settled out of court and may proceed to court only if the claim is unfair to the injured party. These cases, too, many be settled out of court before a trial actually begins.
The fact is, there are pros and cons in settling out of court in West Virginia.
1. Settlement is guaranteed and predictable.
If you’ve ever seen the trials in television shows or movies, you know that the two sides, the plaintiff and defendant, argue their respective cases before a judge and jury. The jury and judges make the decisions on the merits of the two sides. The decisions aren’t guaranteed or predictable.
If you settle out of court, attorneys for both sides hammer out the agreement. Once you feel comfortable making an agreement out of court, no one else is involved. The settlement is thus guaranteed and predictable because it isn’t up to a jury and judge to decide.
2. Settlements are made and received more quickly
Court cases can take months to wind through the court system. Some cases take years.
Even if a case is decided in your favor, there is a possibility of appeal. Appeals can also take a very long time. The net result is, defendants can wait a long time for a settlement to be final.
3. Guilt is not a factor
Trials must assess guilt or innocence. But in out-of-court settlements, guilt is not a factor.
Why? Because neither the plaintiff nor defendant admits to wrongdoing in a settlement. They simply agree with, and sign, the settlement itself.
4. Stress and anxiety can be less
The trial process can be stressful. Some people get nervous or anxious when they have to testify in court. Others find the idea that there is an ongoing process very anxiety-provoking.
In a settlement, by contrast, you don’t have to appear in court, and the process may have more input from plaintiffs.
1. Potentially less compensation for damages
People in personal injury cases seek justice for their injuries. Compensation for damages done, whether it is for medical bills, surgery, lost wages, or pain and suffering, is one way of achieving justice.
Plaintiffs should be aware that, if defendants want to settle out of court, it may be because the plaintiffs have an excellent case. Sometimes defendants seek to limit the damages the plaintiff might be awarded in court by offering a lower amount than the court might award.
Sometimes, plaintiffs will offer a low settlement out of court to see if the plaintiff will accept it. They may reason that the plaintiff would rather have the money relatively quickly than wait for a court case.
In either case, an out-of-court settlement can be a negotiation tactic used by the other side, and it can result in a lower settlement amount than a court case would.
2. No punitive damages are possible
Most damages in a case are compensatory— that is, they compensate you for losses or damage. But if cases of extreme negligence or intentional misconduct, the court sometimes awards the plaintiff damages termed “punitive.” As the term implies, these are designed to punish the defendants and to deter others from behaving similarly.
A settlement out of court does not have any possibility of including punitive damages.
3. Psychological closure
If a defendant has harmed you or a loved one severely, you may gain psychological closure from finding a verdict that goes against them – and for that matter, from a court case in which behavior and actions (or lack of actions) are made public and testified to.
Making a Decision
The decision of whether to accept a settlement out of court or not is not an easy one. Your attorney can advise you on the most prudent course of action, so you can make a determination of which is the best for you.
If You Need a West Virginia Personal Injury Lawyer
Personal injury cases can be complex, and the decision of whether to settle or proceed to trial is not easy. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you of your rights, the merits of your case, and negotiating with insurance companies and attorneys.
At Johnstone & Gabhart, initial consultations are always free. Contact us today to discuss your case.