To most Americans, the legal process is limited to what they’ve seen portrayed on television or in the movies. While some depictions are accurate, it can seem completely foreign once you are the one directly involved in a lawsuit. Trials have many stages, but few civil cases progress that far. Rather, the majority of personal injury actions end in pre-trial settlement with as many as 95 percent of pending lawsuits settled out of court.
Plaintiffs should consider starting settlement negotiations on their terms by issuing a demand letter. Back-and-forth discussions can then continue until all aspects of the claim are settled, but plaintiffs must be mindful not to exceed the applicable limitations period. Although the majority of personal injury claims are resolved by settlement, there are instances where trial is preferable.
Why do so many personal injury cases settle? One reason is because insurance companies are commonly the defendants, and while they expect to have to pay out some claims, they are risk averse by nature. Making settlement offers allows them to keep some control over costs – control that is forfeited in a trial where the outcome is decided by a judge or jury. Settlements also help defendants save legal costs and can be structured to require confidentiality, thereby avoiding unwelcome publicity. Settlements favor plaintiffs by ensuring a positive result and resolving the conflict quickly. For some plaintiffs, the promise of swift financial relief is preferable to a protracted trial with an unknown conclusion.
Pre-trial settlements can be a good thing, but not every case is a candidate. There are situations where plaintiffs are left without any avenue to recovery other than court. Some defendants won’t engage in negotiations, while others won’t make a reasonable offer. Plaintiffs may also have unreasonable expectations or simply may wish to have their day in court. If punitive damages are a possibility, then trial is preferable since awards are generally larger than defendants will agree to. Punitive damages come into play when a defendant’s behavior is especially reprehensible and deserves to be punished.
In a standard negligence case, the plaintiff has to prove duty, breach, causation, and damages. The defendant may admit fault, but that is not the same as admitting causation of the plaintiff’s injuries. Even where the defendant does admit these three elements, the last one is the hardest to negotiate. Actual damages measured in economic and non-economic terms is the real crux of any case.
Settlement negotiations can be made any time after a potential claim arises, including before a lawsuit is filed, once a trial has begun, and even during jury deliberations. As long as a verdict has not been returned, the parties are free to enter into a settlement. If attempts at settling the conflict do not succeed, then a trial is necessary. Plaintiffs must be aware that there are time limitations for filing a personal injury action, so if negotiations are prolonged, filing suit may be the best idea in order to prevent the claim from being barred.
The best way to successfully resolve a personal injury case is to speak with a Florida personal injury lawyer who can represent your interests and make the process go as smoothly as possible. If you have any questions about this topic, you can find out more by discussing it with one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski & Funt, P.A. For 45 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families. We also work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. To learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a case evaluation form.