Say “lawsuit,” and most people picture a courtroom. But the vast majority of lawsuits get settled out of court. In fact, less than 3 percent of cases actually go to trial. That’s usually good news for everybody involved.
Why? For starters, court cases are no walk in the park. Legal drama might be exciting when you’re watching it play out on the silver screen, but when that drama affects your life, the experience is stressful, not entertaining. Trials are also:
Time-consuming: At a minimum, going to trial means spending two to 10 days in court. These days are long and exhausting, and for most plaintiffs, taking time off from work is a considerable inconvenience.
Unpredictable: By going to trial, you run the risk that you might get less than you would have gotten if you settled. Although we conduct research to give our clients an advantage in the courtroom, no amount of preparation can predict how a judge or jury will respond when presented with evidence.
Expensive: Research and other costs of preparation come out of your final award, and those expenses add up quickly. Even if a jury awards you more than your initial settlement offer, you could lose money in the long run.
Going to trial could mean you get more or less than your settlement. No matter what, you’re spending time, money, and energy without knowing the outcome. Accepting or rejecting a settlement is a judgment call—and it’s not always an easy one to make—but trial data suggest it’s usually better for plaintiffs to settle. A 2008 study found that 61 percent of the time, plaintiffs who went to trial received less money than they would have gotten if they settled.
When You Might Want to Go to Trial
There are, of course, situations when we would advise a client to go to trial. If your attorney and the defendant’s attorney have wildly different ideas about how much the defendant should pay, it might make sense to go to trial. The same is true if neither party agrees about who is at fault.
Your attorney should walk you through likely scenarios and explain what variables might affect the outcome of your case. Ultimately, you are the only one who can decide whether to take a settlement or go to trial. Once you understand the risks and benefits of both choices, your attorney should let you make your own decision and then work hard to get you the best possible outcome.