It may seem to be common knowledge that most cases in Texas settle without going to trial. This is true for both criminal and civil cases. When a high-profile case settles, people often wonder about the motivations behind settling instead of going to trial. There are legitimate reasons you and your attorney may prefer to settle instead of going through a contested proceeding in front of a judge and/or jury.
Pros and Cons of Settling Your Case
Here are some general pros and cons of settling that apply to civil cases:
If you go to trial, you may be able to get more money. However, you are also taking the chance that you will receive nothing.
Once you accept a settlement offer, you cannot ask for more money or different terms, even if you discover new evidence or injuries. At least if you go to trial you have the right to appeal the judgment.
Trials are open to the public, so the person who caused the accident can be held publicly accountable.
Going to trial can take a long time, even years. While a settlement may take many months, getting all the way to a trial may take twice as long – if not longer. This can make a big difference if you have bills you need to pay or if you just want to move on with your life.
Once you accept the settlement, you will receive the money fairly quickly, usually within 30 days. It may take much longer after a trial.
Whatever you pay for the trial will come out of the money you receive. If you go to trial, case expenses may include additional amounts needed to pay for expert witnesses and other litigation costs.
A settlement is private. You never need to share the circumstances of your injury or accident, and you will not be compelled to share your settlement award.
Going to trial is much more stressful than negotiating a settlement. You spend several additional months with the uncertainty of the outcome, ending in a contested hearing where you will publicly share private details of your life.
Whatever you decide, these are simply factors you can discuss with your personal injury attorney while you are making your decision.
Elements of a Personal Injury Claim in Texas
When deciding whether to settle or go to trial, you need to ask yourself first whether you even have a claim and, if so, how strong your claim is. Here are the elements you will need to prove to prevail in a personal injury action in Texas:
The existence of a legal duty owed by one party to another to protect the latter from injury. Sometimes this duty is presumed, and at other times, local and federal laws offer guidelines regarding the duty of care. For example, the public safety laws require all those operating a vehicle upon any Texas road to follow certain rules and regulations. Drivers must maintain their vehicles in good working order and follow rules regarding speed limits, signs, and traffic signals. Store owners must make their premises safe for customers.
The person with a duty to protect must then breach that duty. This breach may be just momentary, taking only the seconds it takes to drop a cell phone and reach down to pick it up.
That breach of duty must be the cause in fact of the accident.
The action (or inaction) must also be proximate cause (or legal cause) of the accident. Was this breach of duty something that could reasonably be foreseen to cause the injury?
Every personal injury claim must have compensable damages. You cannot sue because someone ran a stop sign and frightened you, but you can sue if there was contact and there were damages.
If you can meet all these requirements, you may be able to recover your damages in a Texas civil lawsuit. However, Texas is also a modified comparative fault state and your award may be reduced if you were found even partly at fault in the accident.
What Kinds of Damages Can You Recover?
While you cannot recover purely for emotional damage, you can recover for different kinds of emotional and psychological damage if there were also physical damages.
You can ask for medical bills, including your ambulance ride, hospital bills, ongoing therapy, and medicine prescribed as part of the treatment from your injury.
You can ask to be reimbursed for lost wages from the accident itself and from missing work for later treatment. If your injuries have caused you to be unable to continue at your former employment, or if you are unable to work as much, you can also sue for future earnings.
The negligent party is responsible for any property damage, including rental car reimbursement and the cost of repairing your vehicle.
Did the accident cause you to miss a prepaid vacation or another important event? You can ask for compensation for other money you have lost as long as it is reasonably tied to the accident.
If you have medical injuries, you can also ask for related emotional and psychological damages. For instance, you can sue for pain and suffering related to the injuries. Loss of consortium refers to the damage caused when you are unable to enjoy the benefits of married life, such as parenting, showing affection, and sexual relations.
Speak to your personal injury attorney if you have any questions about what kinds of expenses may qualify for compensation.
How Long Does a Personal Injury Trial Take?
Immediately after the accident, you will not have a clear idea about the true value of your claim. There is no sure way to know if you will have long-term injuries or how much eventual treatment will cost. It is important to keep all receipts and records in a safe place.
For the most part, you have two years to file a civil lawsuit in Texas. (*Always speak directly to an attorney to understand all of the deadlines that apply to your claims(s).) If you fail to make a timely filing, your ability to sue will be barred by law. Once you file a lawsuit, there are other timelines based on filings. For instance, the opposing party may file pleadings demanding answers from you. If you fail to respond in a timely fashion, you may be defaulted. You could lose any chance of winning if the Court finds against you in those cases, and the Court will hold you to the standards of an attorney even if you do not have one.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, do not wait to learn your rights. You need someone on your side who can give you an honest assessment of your situation. Call the accident and injury law office of Terry Bryant now at (713) 973-8888 or toll-free 1 (800) 444-5000.
Terry Bryant is Board Certified in personal injury trial law, which means his extensive knowledge of the law has been recognized by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, setting him apart from many other injury attorneys. The 22 years he spent as a Municipal Judge, Spring Valley Village, TX also provides him keen insight into the Texas court system. That experience also helps shape his perspective on personal injury cases and how they might resolve. This unique insight benefits his clients. [ Attorney Bio ]