Settlement vs. Trial: How Do They Compare in a Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you file a Florida personal injury lawsuit, chances are your case will never go to trial. In fact, U.S. Justice Department data shows about 97 percent of all claims are settled or dismissed without a trial.
Even so, it is helpful to know the risks and benefits of both trials and settlements, something your South Florida personal injury lawyer should explain while reviewing your case. Ultimately, your attorney should not shy away from going to trial if it is what is in your best interest, but settlements can remove uncertainty and can often be the best course of action.
What is a Personal Injury Settlement?
The term “settlement” refers to a kind of formal resolution of your claim or lawsuit before a judge or jury hears it. It means you agree to accept money in exchange for dropping your action against the person or business who caused your injury.
Settlement agreements can be reached at any point during litigation, up to the point that a case has been tried, but before jurors reach a verdict. In some instances, your case can settle before you ever even have to file a Florida personal injury lawsuit.
The process varies depending on the type of case and the number of defendants involved, but the settlement process in a personal injury lawsuit goes something like this:
- After your injuries are stabilized or you have reached maximum medical improvement, Your injury lawyer submits a demand letter that explains your injuries, describes the monetary amount of damages you are seeking, supplies a legal argument in support of that demand, and includes any supporting documentation.
- The defendant’s lawyer responds, usually in the form of a counteroffer.
- The settlement negotiation begins. This is often a lot of back-and-forth phone calls, emails, and Zoom meetings between the lawyers. It also constitutes some exchange of initial discovery and possibly some pre-trial hearings that will help resolve minor issues and whittle down the scope of a trial, if one does take place.
Often, attorneys from either side are able to reach an agreement. This will involve some payment and signing away of future liabilities (meaning you cannot sue again later).
Benefits of a Fort Myers Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlement
A settlement is often a preferable option because it can lead to a faster resolution. Claimants may, possibly, be looking at a matter of months as opposed to the years it will likely take before a case can go to trial.
There is also the fact that if you go to trial, you are taking your chances. The BJS reports that plaintiffs win about 55 percent of all tort claims that go to trial. A settlement gives you some degree of control over the outcome, and you are at least guaranteed some recovery – even if it is somewhat less than what you may have won at trial. Trials themselves are expensive, and especially the longer litigation goes on.
Many times, courts will encourage those involved to do all they can to settle the dispute privately, including sometimes participate in mediation. Otherwise, the courts would be overwhelmed with backlogged cases.
Finally, Florida law creates an incentive for plaintiffs to accept reasonable settlement offers. F.S. §768.79 holds that in any civil action if a defendant files an offer to settle that is not accepted and then later, the judgment at trial is either one of no liability or at least 25 percent less than that offer, the court must offset the defendant’s costs and attorney’s fees against the award. That can substantially reduce the amount you are compensated for. If the defendant’s costs and attorney’s fees are higher than the damages awarded at trial, the court will enter a judgment for the defendant against the plaintiff for the amount of those costs and fees, less the amount of the damage award.
The decision to accept a settlement or take your case to trial is not one you should take lightly. Your South Florida injury lawyer should explain to you the cost-benefit analysis of both options.
If you are injured in the greater South Florida area, contact our injury attorneys at Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Tort Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, November 2009, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics
More Blog Entries:
Understanding the Florida Impact Rule for Emotional Distress Claims, March 24, 2020, Naples Personal Injury Lawyer Blog