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Auto Accident Injury Claims: Settle or Go to Court?



If you have an auto accident injury claim against another driver who has injured you in an accident, you may be wondering if you should take your claim all the way to trial. The answer depends on the circumstances of your case, as well as your tolerance to wait.

Your car accident attorney will best understand the law in your state, the facts of your case, and your chances of prevailing at trial. After your car accident, youll want an attorney or law firm experienced with personal injury claims (called torts in legalese) arising from traffic accidents.

This article assumes you were involved in an accident that you believe was at least partly, if not entirely, the other driver's fault; that youve suffered injuries and damage to your car that are higher than the other drivers insurance company will pay; and that youve sued the other driver to compensate you for your losses. In response to your auto accident injury claim, the other driver - through his or her insurance company, which often provides its clients with legal defense - has offered you a settlement. Should you take it?

Taking an Auto Accident Injury Claim All the Way to Trial

Taking an auto accident injury claim to court is a lengthy process. Once you file a personal injury lawsuit, it could be as little as six months, but more likely a year - or even years - until the date of the trial.

While the case is pending, your attorney and the other drivers insurance companys attorney will engage in a process called discovery. Discovery is the period in which the accident is researched by the obtaining of documents and witness accounts, and by other information-gathering. Both sides are required to share with the other what they have learned in discovery.

It is not uncommon for attorneys from the other side to try to wear down a plaintiff, the person who brought the suit, during discovery. This could be accomplished with the sharing of mountains of information to overwhelm you or by examining your personal affairs you may not want publicly disclosed at trial.

Even if youre successful in proving at trial that the other drivers negligence caused the accident, with various post-trial motions and a possible appeal, it could still be some time before you actually receive your award. An in-depth look at what it takes to prove an auto accident injury claim is available at Lawyers.com.

Litigation is Stressful and Expensive

Litigation itself is stressful. If you take your case to trial, the other drivers insurance companys attorney will put you on the witness stand and may try to trip you up. Just sitting in front of a judge and jury can be intimidating as well.

Litigation is also expensive. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means that they will collect their payment as a percentage of your award. This is also true with settlements. But you've probably run up a lot of expenses-including medical bill and the cost of car repairs-while waiting for a resolution to the case. Obviously, the longer your litigation is pending, the longer you'll have to wait before being reimbursed for those fees.

One obvious advantage to taking a case all the way to trial is the ability to appeal the decision. Settlement offers, if accepted, end the dispute entirely.

Settling an Auto Accident Injury Claim

Most lawsuits involving car accidents end in an injury settlement before going to trial, especially if the facts are not in dispute. The cases that make it to court typically involve claims over which there is much dispute.

In addition, in some states, if you were shown to have contributed to the car accident, even in a small way, you cannot collect from the other driver. In some other states, you can only collect a percentage of the award to the same extent the other driver contributed to the accident. Thus, if the other driver was 80 percent responsible for the accident, you can collect only 80 percent of your claim. Check with your attorney to understand your states precise laws.

It is true that jury-awarded compensation may be higher than the settlement offer. Insurance companies providing the defense for their clients offer to settle cases as a way of saving the costs of litigating a case and of a potentially high award juries sometimes give to the plaintiff.

So, part of the equation in deciding whether to settle or go to trial is your willingness to wait for a potentially higher award. You attorney will best advise you on whether such patience is likely to be rewarded. However, in the end, the decision to settle is yours, not your attorney's.