What is the Difference Between a Settlement and a Verdict in a Personal Injury Case in NJ?
Personal injury lawsuits often result from devastating accidents. These accidents and the injuries they cause may arise from debilitating auto collisions, slip and falls at your apartment complex or local grocery store, or even being attacked by a dog. No matter the factual context of your personal injury lawsuit, your injuries may entitle you to compensation for pain and suffering, lost or reduced ability to earn a living, and medical expenses, among other categories of what are called “damages.” You can recover damages for personal injury through one of two primary methods: a verdict or a settlement. In this article, we explain the key distinctions between each type of damages recovery, how you can achieve a verdict or settlement, and considerations before deciding whether to take a settlement or pursue a favorable verdict for your injuries. To discuss your case with a knowledgeable New Jersey personal injury attorney who can help you understand how this may affect you and fight for the outcome that is in your best interests, contact us now at (732) 303-7857 or fill out our free case evaluation form.
How do You Get a Personal Injury Settlement in New Jersey?
A settlement results from an agreement between the parties in a personal injury case. The plaintiff, the party claiming to have been injured, and the defendant, the party or parties that the plaintiff claims to have injured them, generally have their own attorneys who prepare, engage in, and advise throughout the process. The plaintiff’s attorney will typically first approach the defendant or defendants prior to filing a lawsuit to request a settlement. The plaintiff will usually initiate this conversation by sending a “demand letter” to the defendant, explaining how the defendant injured the plaintiff and the amount of damages that the plaintiff believes they could win if they filed a lawsuit and won at trial. The demand letter essentially begins settlement negotiations between the parties.
A defendant and their lawyer may then evaluate this demand letter along with the facts of the case, estimate the costs of litigation, and respond with a counteroffer. A counteroffer is generally a lump sum of money offered in exchange for the plaintiff releasing all legal claims against the defendant. If this counteroffer, or an offer reached through subsequent negotiation, is acceptable to the plaintiff, the parties will enter into a contractual settlement agreement. Before taking a settlement, the plaintiff must weigh the potential settlement amount against the risk of losing at trial.
It is important to note that the settlement negotiation process does not always occur during the demand letter phase of an injury case. It can also take place after the plaintiff’s attorney has filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. For example, the defendant may reject an initial, pre-filing demand letter, but choose to settle the case once the plaintiff has filed a lawsuit in court. A settlement may also occur when the parties have exchanged “discovery” documents related to the case. Armed with this new discovery information, the defendant may reevaluate the strength of their position or the plaintiff may reduce the amount they initially requested in their demand letter.
At any point in the process of a personal injury case, the parties may enter into settlement negotiations prior to trial. They can also enlist a third-party mediator to help them resolve their case. The mediator, who is typically a retired judge, may listen to the arguments of both sides and counsel them on how much money the personal injury claim is worth and the likelihood that one side or the other might win at trial. This can encourage the parties to work out the case and settle the lawsuit without further litigation.
If a settlement is reached through any of these avenues, this serves to resolve the dispute between the parties. The defendant is then required to pay the agreed upon amount and typically, the settlement requires the plaintiff to release all claims against the other party.
What is the Process for Getting a Verdict in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
As opposed to a settlement, a verdict results when the plaintiff and the defendant are unable to amicably settle a personal injury case outside of the formal legal process. If the plaintiff argues that they are entitled to compensation, and the defendant responds that the plaintiff is entitled to nothing, a lawsuit may proceed all the way to trial. At this point, the two sides will typically present evidence in front of a jury, who will then determine if the defendant is liable to the plaintiff. If the defendant is found liable, the jury also arrives at an amount for damages, which can include money for medical bills, lost prior and future wages, pain and suffering, and other concerns relevant to the case.
After a jury makes its decision, they will enter a verdict for one side or the other. Jury verdicts, unlike settlements, are typically unpredictable and often may not be based on logic or reason. Going to trial is riskier than settling your case for an agreed upon amount. By the same token, jury verdicts can be very large or very harsh for the injured person. Adding a further layer of complication, in the case of very large sums awarded in jury verdicts against a defendant, the court may sometimes reduce the award based on constitutional due process grounds. However, an injured person with a very strong case can often recover significantly more in damages than was offered by the defendants before trial.
With so many factors influencing the outcome, not the least of which are the extent and impact of the victim’s specific injuries, it is essential to have an experienced personal injury attorney handling your claim through every phase of the legal process.
Am I Entitled to a Verdict or Settlement for my Injuries in New Jersey?
The best way to know if you are entitled to a personal injury verdict or settlement is to enlist knowledgeable legal counsel. Your attorney will learn the facts of your claim inside and out, gather and weigh all of the evidence, and advise you on how to pursue the best outcome. Of course, the final decision is always up to you.
For more information about verdicts and settlements, and to talk with a lawyer about your case, contact us today. Our accomplished team of New Jersey personal injury lawyers will investigate your case and determine your potential ability to obtain compensation for your injuries. If you enlist our help, our services are provided free of charge unless and until we obtain you a financial recovery through settlement or jury verdict.