A lawsuit does not have to go to trial if both parties agree on a fair settlement outside of court. In civil cases, the defendant (at-fault party) can pay the plaintiff (victim) a certain amount of money to settle.
This article explains the merits of settling out of court and why most lawsuits go down this road.
What Are the Odds of a Case Going to Trial?
In civil court, the percentage of cases that settle before trial has been climbing steadily throughout the years. Take a look at the number of civil cases in the U.S. resolved by trial:
- In 1938, when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were established, roughly 20% of cases were resolved by trial.
- In 1962, roughly 12% of cases were resolved by trial.
- In 2002, less than 2% of cases were resolved by trial, despite significant growth in the total number of cases filed.
- In 2017, roughly 1% of cases were resolved by trial. The jury trial rate was roughly around 0.7%, and the bench trial rate was even lower.
In 2022, that number is even lower. In Florida, out of the 158,226 cases resolved in the fiscal year 2020-2021, only 198 were resolved through a jury trial. When converted into a percentage, it hovers around 0.1%, the lowest rate compared to the other disposition types:
- 0.8% of cases were resolved by a bench or judge trial.
- 8.6% of cases were resolved by a default judgment or other method (e.g., combined into a primary case, transferred to a different court, etc.).
- 14.0% of cases were resolved by a judge, with no trial.
- 76.3% of cases were dismissed.
The odds of your case going to trial are astonishingly low. However, it is still important to be prepared for the possibility. Even a 0.1% chance is still a non-zero chance. The defendant may not want to negotiate a fair settlement in some cases. In others, the circumstances may be too complicated to determine liability accurately.
Having a great lawyer by your side is crucial in situations like these. They can counsel you when it makes sense to settle and when you should commit to having your day in court.
When It Makes Sense To Settle
Before you even begin a lawsuit, your lawyer will likely discuss the possibility of a settlement with you. They will help you calculate your financial and non-financial damages and determine the minimum settlement you will accept. This minimum should consider the defendant’s insurance coverage and the money you will have to spend on representation during a trial.
Aside from the settlement, your lawyer may also want to discuss the strength of your claim, including:
- The strength of the defendant’s evidence
- The strength of your own evidence
- Possible complications in the case
- The outcome of similar cases in past trials
The points above can affect your chances of winning a trial. If your case is strong, you can hold out for a good settlement. If your case is weak, your lawyer may recommend accepting a lower settlement instead of risking a trial.
Immediately after you file a lawsuit and the defendant files an answer to your complaint, the discovery stage begins. This stage lasts up until the trial. It is also the stage where most lawsuits are resolved since the discovery stage focuses on exchanging information between the two parties through documents, depositions, and interrogatories.
During this stage, it often becomes clear which side is truly at fault. As a result, both parties are incentivized to negotiate an out-of-court settlement. However, it requires a significant amount of time and money to go to trial. Lawyers have to spend hours building a strong case to present. Legal fees, paperwork costs, jury fees, experts, and so on can hike up the time and money it takes to win.
Why You Might Want To Avoid a Trial
Aside from costs, there are several other reasons why it is in everyone’s best interest to avoid trial. Some examples are:
- Trials carry a lot of uncertainty: Inviting others to decide your case may increase your chances of a fair judgment, but it also introduces uncertainty. You cannot predict how a judge or jury would react to your case.
- The amount won at a trial could be less than a settlement: The added costs of a trial can chip away at your compensation, leaving you with less than the original settlement. In addition, the defendant may not want to risk attorney fee-shifting. Therefore, if the judgment is less than 25% of their settlement offer, they will be required to pay all your attorney fees.
- Appeals can take a long time: Even when the judge or jury decides in your favor, the defendant still has the right to file an appeal. The appeals process can take months or even years, and you will not receive compensation until it is over.
- Settling keeps your affairs private: Civil trials are in the public domain, which means that everything you present to the court (evidence, testimonies, etc.) will become public knowledge.
Settle Your Case With a Personal Injury Lawyer
Civil disputes do not have to end in expensive, dragged-out trials. With the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer, you will be in a better position to negotiate with the at-fault party and reach a fair settlement.