Your Case Probably Won’t Go To Trial (And That’s A Good Thing)
The vast majority of legal cases, both civil and criminal, never go before a jury. Instead, the two parties settle on a reasonable compromise that everyone can accept. In criminal law you can plea bargain: the defendant agrees to plead guilty for a lesser charge than the one they would go to trial for. In civil law you can agree to a settlement: the defendant pays the plaintiff a certain amount of money or does something else as compensation. Because of this process, most lawsuits end long before the trial begins, and that’s a good thing.
Discovery Can Establish Fault
Most lawsuits spend more time on discovery than on any other part of the case. This is because discovery is all about investigating the incident, collecting depositions from witnesses, finding and establishing evidence, and sharing all the information you collect with the other party. During this process, it often becomes obvious that one side or the other is clearly at fault and should pay a reasonable settlement as compensation. There’s no point in going to a trial you know you’ll lose, and so the two parties will settle up.
Trials Are Expensive
A lot of time and money goes into a legal case. There are court fees, legal fees, paperwork costs, and the list goes on and on. Almost every personal injury lawyer has a contingency payment, which means they get a percentage of your settlement as legal fees, but that percentage goes up if a case goes to trial because of all the extra costs that comes with. Defendants don’t like long trials either since they have to pay lawyers hourly, plus even a big corporation with a full-time legal team will have a lot of other cases that need attention.
Appeals Can Take Even Longer
When you settle a lawsuit, you agree to set aside your right to a trial in exchange for the settlement. A judge and jury will never rule on your case, and you can only appeal a decision made during a trial. Depending on the case, appeals can add months or even years to a lawsuit’s length (and this is also a reason why going to trial costs more). You could win a big settlement in a trial, but the defendant doesn’t have to pay it until after all the appeals end and the dust settles.
Settling Keeps Everything Private
Trials are a function of the government, and so almost every case is in the public domain. This means future plaintiffs and defendants can use your case as precedent, and it means all the evidence and all the testimony that goes before the court becomes public knowledge. In many cases this is no problem, and it can even help expose corporations that use underhanded tactics or illegal practices. However, it can also publicize information you’d rather keep private, things like medical conditions and embarrassing incidents in your love life. On the other hand, settlements are always private.
Trials Can Be Hard To Predict
There are a lot of random factors in trials. A judge may prefer a plaintiff over a defendant and overrule the defendant’s lawyer unfairly. The jury might think a defendant deserves compensation and then some, or they might think the plaintiff’s lawyer is more convincing and give you nothing. Settlement amounts can change based on how negotiations go and what evidence shows up, but they’re still much more predictable than a trial result.
Most lawsuits in the United States don’t go to trial because they don’t need to. Parties in civil cases can agree to a settlement at any time, and once they do that’s the end of the legal battle. It may not feel as satisfying as having your day in court, but by settling early you can keep a bigger portion of your settlement, you keep your affairs private, and you get your compensation much sooner. A trial may be necessary if the other party refuses to back down, but there’s nothing wrong with settling out of court.