Verdicts and Settlements

All law firms that represent plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits will provide you with examples of their verdicts and settlements on their websites. They want to show you their “wins”. It is important that you understand, however, that each case depends on its facts and no two cases are identical.

Not everyone understands the difference between the two and what goes into deciding if your case will be won through a settlement or a verdict.

At Burns Cunningham and Mackey, we understand the importance of taking a case through trial, but are always willing to settle if it is in our client’s best interest. We have won millions of dollars before a judge and jury and settled for millions of dollars without ever stepping foot inside a courtroom.

What is a settlement?

A settlement is a mutual agreement between the two opposing parties before, sometimes during, and even after a trial to resolve the dispute. A settlement is always “on the table”, from the time we begin representing you until a resolution is reached.

What is a verdict?

A verdict is a decision or judgement rendered by a judge or jury in a civil lawsuit after a trial. In a trial, each party will give opening arguments, present their evidence, including testimony from witnesses and exhibits, and then give closing arguments. Then, a jury or judge will evaluate the facts, apply the law, and render a decision (the verdict). If the plaintiff recovers, the verdict may contain compensatory and/or punitive and damages. The verdict could also be in favor of the defense, or it may include less money in damages than the plaintiff was expecting.

Taking a case to trial to secure a verdict on your behalf has its own sets of risks and rewards. Experienced litigators, like Pete Mackey and Troy Schwant, advise their clients of these risks and rewards throughout the life of your case. If it is in your best interest to go to trial, they will let you know why. If it is in your best interest to settle the case, you will know why. In the end, however, the decision is yours and they respect that.

How does it progress?

A plaintiff’s attorney, who will be representing the injured person or business initiating the lawsuit, will contact the defendant with a letter specifying the damages incurred by their client and an amount that they believe will be fair compensation for their injuries. If the defendant and his attorney deny they are at fault or refuse to accept the damages, the plaintiff’s attorney will file a lawsuit seeking to recover those damages through the court system.

No one really wants to go to court, it’s expensive and very lengthy. In fact, by some estimates, roughly 95% of all civil cases settle without ever going to trial. But it is important to hire an attorney, like the attorneys of Burns Cunningham and Mackey, that are willing to go to court and fight for their clients.

Most Insurance companies and their attorneys know which lawyers that are willing to go to court and which are not. Those law firms that do not want to go to court usually receive smaller settlement offers than those attorneys who are willing to take their case before a judge and jury.

Keep in mind, negotiations are constantly underway as each side assesses their ongoing risk. If the two sides just cannot agree on a “settlement” amount, then the case will go to trial and a verdict will be awarded by a judge and jury.

Which one is better for your case – a settlement or a verdict?

There are certainly advantages to both and it is our job to give you the information you need to make an informed decision. Remember – it is your case, not ours. Whichever decision you make is the right one for you.

Why settle?

  1. Controlling the unknown. When a case goes to trial, it is almost impossible to predict how a judge or jury will impact your case. Also, cases do not always go as planned for one or the other. When you settle a case, you have control over the amount you will receive.
  2. Once a case enters the court system, everything seems to go at a much slower pace. If you have bills piling up and you need the money, it can wear on you. Keep in mind, defense lawyers know this as well and often try to drag out a case as long as possible to make you want to take a lower offer. A settlement ensures finality.
  3. A personal injury case will include costs for expert witnesses, depositions, investigators, court records, and subpoenas. These costs are paid upfront by the lawyer but are repaid when the case is settled. They can add up quickly.

The use of a mediator to settle a case.

Courts usually order mediation before trial using lawyers or retired judges specially trained and certified in mediation. Mediation is the process where the clients can meet a month or more before trial and try and work out the differences through a neutral third-party – the mediator. A good mediator will get each side to consider the high and low points in their case and view the case from their opponent’s point of view.

Why take a case to trial and wait for a verdict?

  1. The defense often undervalues the amount you and your lawyer believe is fair to compensate you for their wrongdoing and put your life back on track.
  2. Sometimes a jury verdict is the only way to bring closure.
  3. Jurors will often reach a verdict that is more than a client is asking for, as they seek what is fair.

In the end, deciding to take a settlement or try your case will depend on the strength of your case, the amount offered in settlement, the recommendation of your attorney, and ultimately, your choice.

If you feel like you have a case, contact one of our attorneys and discuss it with them. There is never a charge for a consultation, and they can give you possible options to move forward.