When a personal injury results in a lawsuit, the litigant – along with counsel – has a decision to make: Is it better to settle or go to trial? Sometimes, the decision is clear-cut, as only one of the two options is on the table. However, when a choice exists, settling is the best bet, according to a noted legal expert.
Speaking at the Combined Claims Conference in Orange County, California, Nicole Whyte, founding partner at the law firm Bremer White Brown & O’Meara, indicated that opting for a trial by jury in lieu of a settlement is ultimately a roll of the dice.
“The real danger is that once you are in the hands of a jury, it’s somewhat of a crapshoot … as to what the jury is going to award,” Whyte told Claims Journal at the 2017 Combined Claims Conference.
Assuming settling is a viable option, Whyte noted the negotiation process allows for more leverage of what the monetary sum will ultimately be, not to mention the terms of the financial arrangement. The same can’t be said for leaving a case’s resolution up to a jury.
Another potential drawback is how long trials can last, mainly because courts are backed up as it is. According to Center for Jury Studies, approximately 149,000 jury trials take place in state courts every year. That’s the equivalent of 59 for every 100,000 people in a given state.
What do studies say?
Several studies regarding which of the two options is preferable have supported Whyte’s stance. One of them appeared in the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies in 2008. This study of nearly 2,100 cases that went to trial between 2002 and 2005 found defendants were wrong to go trial in 24 percent of cases and that plaintiffs were incorrect 61 percent of the time, according to The New York Times. In just 15 percent of the cases analyzed did the parties make the proper move in going to trial. What defines “proper”? According to the study’s principal investigators’ definition of the term, the defendant paid less than the plaintiff desired but more than the defendant offered.
What if a trial is a certainty?