Settle a personal injury claim, or go to trial? This is the question. Since 95% of personal injury cases never go to trial, it’s apparently not hard to answer. The answer’s nearly always “settle.” The factors that decision’s based on are, bottom line, economic. That’s not to say emotion doesn’t play a role. It surely does, but generally, the numbers have the last word. And in most cases, probably should. So, why? Why settle?
Personal injury lawyers and their clients are on the same page, financially. These attorneys’ fees come from money they recover for clients. Their fees are contingent on recovery. The attorneys receive an agreed, contracted percentage of the money they recover. The Florida Bar sets the exact percentages. Thus, the more money an attorney recovers for a client, the more he or she receives for the case. Clients, of course, also collect more when their attorneys collect more.
The same relationship holds on the cost side. The longer a case drags on, the costlier it is for both. Not having the recovered money costs clients money ( and stress) and likely imposes other hardships. An open case means the attorney can’t take on a new one.
When a defendant offers a settlement, the economic calculation is familiar to attorneys but less so to clients. Clients often find the analysis a mystery. This only adds to their stress levels. In fact, it’s fairly straightforward. Given a settlement offer, a dollar amount, the question is how it compares with the most likely dollar result of going to trial. In other words, whether the settlement amount plus the costs of trial are more, or less, than the amount likely to result from a trial.
Experienced attorneys can estimate their outlays of time, and also court costs and other expenses, very accurately. Jury awards are famously unpredictable, though. Here, the two key factors are expert valuation of the plaintiff’s economic damages and the attorney’s judgment of the likely verdict. In a simple example, if the damages are $100,000 and similar cases are won 50% of the time, then the “expected” outcome of a trial is $50,000. If the attorneys have calculated their fees and costs for trial as $5,000, then the net expected recovery from a trial is $45,000.
WHY SETTLE FOR “LESS”?
This the scale on which to weigh a settlement offer. In this example, an offer of $50,000 might disappoint the client. After all, the experts valued the damages at $100,000! However, once the costs of trial plus the uncertainty of the outcome are considered, $50,000 looks much better. The savings in time further sweeten the offer. A bird in the hand, literally in this example, worth two in the bush.
Note that an attorney’s judgment of the likely outcome of trial strongly affects the dollar expectations for trial. Here, again, clients need to know that the contingent fee relationship joins their financial interests with their attorneys’. A client’s confidence is completed by the skilled estimates of trial outcomes made by Boca Raton personal injury lawyers with over 25 years of experience.