Are you the victim of a crime? Have you been in an accident or become injured due to no fault of your own? Your first step should be to contact an attorney with knowledge of your local court system and expertise in helping clients in similar situations to get the justice they deserve. Once you do, an important question may arise as you discuss your individual concerns: Should you go to trial or settle your case out of court. Recognizing the definitions, advantages and disadvantages of each of these scenarios will help you come to the best decision.
Understanding the terminology being bandied about by your legal representative is important. To that end, the following are some terms with which you should become familiar:
- Trial. This is an examination performed by a judicial body that occurs when two parties are involved in a conflicting issue. Both parties have the opportunity to present their case, after which the judge or jury uses due process to determine the verdict and any damages to which the plaintiff (complainant) is entitled.
- Settlement. This usually occurs after your attorney and the opposing side’s representation analyze the complete body of evidence in your case. At that time, all parties may decide to come to an agreement to end the dispute once and for all, leading to the dismissal of any related litigation.
The Pros and Cons of Taking Your Case To Trial
A court trial is a public procedure. As such, the defendant is held accountable for their actions for all the world to see. Ideally, this high degree of visibility might also serve to prevent that person from engaging in similar, injurious actions in the future.
Additionally, many trials employ the services of a jury, a body of men and women who are empowered to look at the facts in a case and render a verdict. In many cases involving accident or injury, the sympathy of the jury can result in substantial damages being granted to the victim that might well be greater than those obtained in a settlement.
In spite of these benefits, trials have inherent pitfalls. For one thing, you can never predict with absolute certainty what the outcome will be. This unpredictability remains even if your information is extremely compelling. That’s because you may not have a complete understanding of what details the defendant will present or of how they go about making their case. You also have only limited information on the jury and may be blindsided by the verdict they hand down based on their perception of the information in the case.
There is also the potential that the judge will dismiss your case midway through. This happens when they determine that there is a lack of substantial evidence or grounds for a lawsuit. When a dismissal occurs, you are left with no resolution and no award and will have wasted time and money. Although you may be able to appeal the dismissal, additional time and financial resources will be involved.
The Pros and Cons of Settlement
A settlement can be reached before a trial begins or even agreed upon during the course of the proceedings. In both instances, taking this action save everyone involved a great deal of time and money. Once this agreement has been reached, there is no need for an expensive and protracted court trial. In addition, the victim often receives their compensation much more quickly.
Being able to get your hands on the compensation you deserve is not the only benefit. Settlement will also save you the often substantial court and legal fees that are associated with a judge or jury trial.
Settlement also is more discreet because the details are not publicized. This helps you to maintain the confidentiality of the personal details involved in your case. In fact, the compensation agreed to in many settlements remains known only to the affected parties.
In spite of these benefits, settlements also come with downsides. The one that is most concerning to victims is that a defendant can settle without actually admitting any wrongdoing. This lack of accountability means that the victim often does not receive the closure they believe they deserve.
As we stated above, settlement amounts can be unpredictable. You may be awarded less than you would have if you had gone to trial. On the other hand, you may be granted more; it’s impossible to say.
The Bottom Line
After reviewing the pluses and minuses of trying your case in court versus settling, you still may be unsure of which path to pursue. The better option will depend, to a great extent, on your own individual case. You may opt for a court trial, for instance, if your insurance company refuses to accept liability or is under-valuing the amount to be compensated. Furthermore, the public forum of a trial will help to give your situation and the underlying issues a higher degree of visibility. On the other hand, settlements are more predictable, less stressful and can occur faster at lower financial cost to you.
In the end, you and your attorney should thoroughly discuss all aspects of your case, including your priorities and expectations and the estimated likelihood that you will eventually obtain compensation for your injuries. The importance of this discussion cannot be overstated. Taking the time to obtain legal representation from an experienced, trustworthy professional is the first and most important step you need to take.