Many South Carolina personal injury cases are settled without the need for a trial. While not every lawsuit can be settled, it is frequently in the best interests of all of the parties involved to resolve the matter outside of court. It is therefore important to understand how settlements work and why there are still many personal injury cases that end up going to trial.
Saving Time and Money
The biggest incentive to settle a personal injury lawsuit is money. Even if a defendant wins at trial, he or she may still owe thousands of dollars in legal fees and related costs. And while many Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyers who represent accident victims work on contingency—that is, they receive a pre-determined percentage of any final award or settlement—any litigation costs are may be deducted from the plaintiff’s share. Therefore, the quicker that a personal injury case can be settled, the fewer costs that are incurred by all sides.
In addition to money there is also the consideration of a person’s time. Trials are not one-day affairs. Even in a relatively straightforward personal injury lawsuit there may be several months of pre-trial discovery. During this time, the parties may have to appear at multiple depositions to give testimony. This can be an extremely stressful situation, especially for an accident victim who is still recovering from their injuries.
And while trials in South Carolina may only last a few days, the case usually does not end with the verdict. If the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff and awards damages, the defendant can appeal. This can delay a victim’s receipt of a damages award by months or even years. In contrast, when the parties agree to a pre-trial settlement, the victim can receive a check within a few days or weeks.
How Insurance May Play a Role
In some personal injury cases, the defendant may actually be represented by an insurance company. If you have been seriously injured in a car accident, for example, the negligent driver’s insurance carrier may pay for his legal defense. This can often work to the benefit of the victim, since insurers are likely to settle a case when the defendant’s liability is apparent and the plaintiff is willing to accept the limits of the policy as compensation.
Keeping Your Case Private
Depending on the nature of the personal injury claim, the parties may have strong privacy incentives to settle. A jury verdict is a matter of public record. The terms of a settlement, in contrast, are usually kept private. Obviously the defendant wants to avoid a public declaration that he or she is liable for the victim’s injuries.
But the victim may also wish to settle and not get drawn into a lengthy public trial. South Carolina follows a “modified comparative fault” rule in personal injury cases. This means that if the defendant can prove the plaintiff was partially responsible for the underlying accident, any damage award is reduced accordingly. And if the plaintiff is found at least 51 percent responsible for the accident, he or she may not recover any damages, even if the defendant is held 49 percent liable.
Why Some Defendants (and Plaintiffs) Will Not Compromise
So if there are so many good reasons to settle a personal injury case, why does any lawsuit ever go to trial? There can be many reasons. First, the defendant may simply not wish to compromise. Even if offered a settlement where there is no admission of liability, the defendant may still consider any payment to the victim unacceptable. Some defendants may value a potential “moral victory” at trial more than the actual money.
Second, the defendant (or their insurance company) may feel the victim’s case is weak. Even if there is still a risk of losing at trial, the defendant may decide it is worth taking a chance with the jury. Additionally, the defendant may think that “forcing” the plaintiff to go to trial will weaken their resolve and possibly lead to them dropping the lawsuit outright.
Of course, the victim may have similar reasons to not settle as well. In a case where the defendant has engaged in an especially reckless or negligent act, the victim may feel personally invested in securing a jury verdict, even if it means risking defeat. And if the victim’s case is especially strong, a premature settlement may represent leaving money on the table, especially if there is a possibility of seeking punitive damages.
It should also be noted that a settlement can come at any point during a case. Typically a defendant will not immediately extend a settlement offer just because a lawsuit has been filed. The defendant will take time to review the lawsuit and assess the potential strength of the plaintiff’s case. And if and when a settlement offer is made, this may just represent the “opening bid.” The attorneys for both sides may spend weeks or months negotiating a deal, even as the preparations for a trial continue in the event they fail to reach an agreement.
A Myrtle Beach Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Ultimately, the decision to settle a personal injury claim belongs to you, not your attorney. But you will put yourself in a much weaker position if you are not prepared to litigate a case through trial. An experienced Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyer can assist you with all phases of your case, including settlement negotiations, and failing that, trial and appeal.
Remember, if you have been seriously injured due to someone else’s negligence, you are already dealing with the enormous physical, emotional, and financial consequences. You do not need to take the legal burden on yourself as well. If you live in the Beaufort, Charleston, Clinton, Columbia, Conway, Florence, Mount Pleasant, Myrtle Beach, North Charleston, Orangeburg, Summerville, Walterboro, Horry, Laurens, Lexington, or Richland County areas, please contact the Joye Law Firm today at (888) 324-3100, to schedule a free consultation to discuss your personal injury claim.