percentage of personal injury cases that go to trial

What Percentage of Personal Injury Cases Go to Trial?

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 10 minutes

What Percentage of Personal Injury Cases Go to Trial?

If you’ve been injured in an accident (whether it’s a car accident or a slip and fall accident or anything else), then you could be entitled to sue the defendant for damages under the law. The prospect of moving forward with a lawsuit can be intimidating and overwhelming for many people, however, especially first-time plaintiffs. But the reality is that most personal injury disputes are not handled in a courtroom trial setting — what percentage of personal injury cases that go to trial is extremely high.

Insurance companies often play a significant role in personal injury cases, as they are typically involved in settlement negotiations and can influence whether a case goes to trial.

So, the fact that what percentage of personal injury cases go to trial is not widely known can impact the stresses felt by injury victims. They don’t realize that most of these personal injury claims are handled in informal settlement negotiations, and often early, well before trial litigation for the personal injury case.

There’s really nothing to be overwhelmed by when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. When you work with an experienced personal injury lawyer, they will handle all aspects of the case on your behalf — and they will not push forward to a high-conflict trial for the personal injury claim unless you demand it, or unless it is absolutely necessary to secure the maximum compensation for you. An experienced personal injury attorney will understand this, and that’s why the percentage of personal injury cases that go to trial is so high.

If you’d like to learn more about “what percentage of personal injury cases go to trial” and “why,” then read on! We’ll explore some of the basics of personal injuries and related disputes, and why it’s so rare to go to trial.

What percentage of cases are settled before trial?

There are no exact numbers, as settlement agreements for personal injury claims are — by their very nature — privately handled, and so the data on how many cases go to trial is not publicly available. That being said, legal industry experts have estimated that as much as 95 percent of personal injury disputes are settled before trial! This is an enormous percentage and tracks with the real-life experiences of most personal injury attorneys.

The fact that the vast majority of cases are resolved through settlement often surprises those who are unfamiliar with litigation — and for good reason. Popular media sells us the image of legal representation as deeply conflict-oriented, aggressive, and institutional. The image of an attorney fiercely and relentlessly advocating in a courtroom setting is the most prominent one in American popular media. To go to trial is deeply “American” in the media. But it’s not the norm in reality.

The process of reaching a personal injury settlement often involves negotiations where both parties assess the strength of the case and agree on a fair compensation amount. This is managed by a personal injury attorney.

It’s not that this image is false. The reality, however, is that most legal representation is oriented toward finding negotiated solutions that are efficient and effective — it is not obsessed with pushing full steam ahead to trial. That being said, skilled accident attorneys understand that the way to most effectively handle a settlement negotiation process is to be fully prepared for trial. Not every attorney is willing to invest the resources and time into preparing themselves for the possibility of trial litigation, so make sure that you address this with whoever you decide to work with.

Why do people settle instead of going to trial?

It’s true that — on the whole — most parties in personal injury cases prefer to settle their accident dispute as opposed to go to trial. There are a number of different reasons for this, but generally speaking, trial litigation comes with negative aspects that parties want to avoid.

Personal injury trials can be particularly daunting due to the extensive preparation and the unpredictability of jury decisions.

These negative aspects include the following:

  • Uncertainty
  • Resource-intensive
  • Exhausting and distracting
  • Publicity
  • And more

For now, we’ll address two of the issues: uncertainty and publicity.

Uncertainty is innate to litigation. Should your case proceed to trial, there is no guarantee that you will a) win your case, and b) even if you win, that the court will award you the claimed damages in full. This inherent uncertainty can be bothersome for many parties. For the defendant, it can be extremely intimidating, as they lose hundreds of thousands of dollars (or even millions) following an unexpected court decision.

Given these risks, the large majority of parties prefer to negotiate a settlement that’s based on their shared understanding of the “strength” of the case. For example, if both parties agree that you (the injured plaintiff) have a 70 percent likelihood of winning the case and receiving your damages in full, then your $100,000 damage claim could reasonably result in a $70,000 settlement compromise. It’s ultimately a win-win for both parties, as it avoids the hassle and cost of litigation while ensuring that the agreed-upon number matches the perceived strength of the case.

Publicity is another aspect of litigation that many people don’t realize. Litigation is a matter of public interest — your case can be looked up by anyone, and the details revealed. This isn’t as much of a problem for the injured plaintiff, but for a defendant who has caused the injury to you, the negative publicity could be substantial (i.e., brand damage, reputational harm). Some business brands don’t recover from particularly bad personal injury disputes, especially if their brand is tied in some way to safety.

Settlement negotiations can occur privately, however, and the details of settlement may also remain private. As such, this is vastly preferable for many business defendants. Best of all, it gives you — the injury victim — a great deal of leverage in settlement negotiations, enough to pressure the defendant into offering you a more favorable agreement.

How close to trial do cases settle?

A personal injury claim can settle anytime before the trial is complete. In fact, a personal injury dispute can settle in the middle of a trial! So it may not be too late for your dispute to be resolved through a settlement compromise. Even if a personal injury trial has already begun, parties can still reach a settlement agreement to avoid further litigation. That being said, most cases settle before the trial litigation process begins.

Note: it’s irrelevant to the settlement itself when it occurs. Of course, the deeper into the litigation process that a case settles, the more supportive evidence there may be for your various claims, which can help to validate your settlement request.

Why do lawyers drag out cases?

Plaintiffs’-side attorneys generally do not drag out personal injury lawsuits — in fact, they are incentivized to try and efficiently handle cases, as they usually work on contingency. That means that they only get paid if (and when) you get paid. As such, the longer they work on a case, the more costs they take on.

Defense attorneys, on the other hand, are typically paid on an hourly basis. They are therefore incentivized to drag out a case as long as possible so that they can get paid more by their own client (the defendant). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however — the defendant’s costs for longer litigation are much higher than yours (the plaintiff), and as such, it’s easier to pressure them into an early settlement compromise.

How much should I ask for settlement?

What is considered a “fair settlement offer” depends on the circumstances of your case, and more specifically, the likelihood that you will succeed in receiving the compensation that you’re claiming, should the case proceed to trial. As such, you’ll have to evaluate a range of different factors that contribute to your likelihood of success and the defendant’s willingness to settle the dispute.

Understanding personal injury law is crucial in evaluating these factors and determining a fair settlement amount.

These factors include:

  • The hostility of the defendant
  • The willingness of the defendant to settle
  • Business cost dynamics that incentivize the defendant to engage in complex litigation (to discourage others from suing)
  • The strength of the evidence in support of your liability claim
  • The strength of the evidence in support of your damages claim
  • How sympathetic and/or relatable a plaintiff you are to the court
  • The potential brand/reputational damage that the defendant will face should they allow the case to proceed to trial litigation
  • And more

For example, suppose that you’re injured in a car accident with a commercial driver who works for a local delivery company — due to vicarious liability principles, you can sue the delivery company directly. The delivery company is concerned about brand damage should the case be litigated further, as local media will pick up on the case and report on it. This could create a lot of negative publicity for the company, and they are reliant on their reputation for safety and good drivers.

Even if your case is not as “strong” as you might ideally want, the delivery company may still choose to offer you a favorable early settlement just to avoid potential brand damage. This is an important aspect of litigation — strategic leverage goes beyond the courtroom, after all.

Attorneys don’t necessarily cost anything upfront

Many people mistakenly believe that you have to be “rich” to hire an attorney to handle their personal injury lawsuit — in reality, you don’t need any money to get started, so long as the attorney offers their services on a contingency basis.

Well, even if you have no money in your account, you’re in luck — that’s because most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis.  How do contingency fee dynamics work?

When you hire an attorney on a contingency fee basis, you don’t pay anything upfront or out-of-pocket.  Instead, the attorney will take a percentage cut of whatever compensation they’re able to secure on your behalf — this can vary anywhere from 25 percent to 40 percent or more at the high end.

In other words: the attorney only gets paid if you get paid.

Contingency fees not only lower the barrier to entry for working with an attorney, but they also make it so that the attorney is incentivized to maximize your compensation amount.  After all, the more you get paid, the more they get paid.

If you’ve been injured in an accident that was not your fault, then you could be entitled to sue for damages.  Navigating a personal injury lawsuit isn’t always straightforward, however, as there are a number of unique challenges and opportunities that you’re likely to encounter as you move forward through the litigation process.  That’s why it’s so important to work with an experienced team of personal injury lawyers.

Contact 1-800-THE-LAW2 for a free legal consultation with a qualified personal injury lawyer in your area.  During this initial consultation, you’ll be able to discuss the details of your case and learn more about your strategic options.  If you decide that you’d rather not move forward with your case (or with the network attorney), there’s no obligation to continue — as such, there’s really no downside to calling in for a consultation today.

We look forward to assisting you.

Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we can assist you no matter when your accident occurs.

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