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What Is the Difference Between a Settlement and a Judgement in a Car Accident Case?

The terms “car accident settlement” and “judgement” are often used when discussing personal injury cases. If you have never had to sue another driver before, you may wonder what these terms mean. In short, a settlement is a way to conclude a case outside of court, while a judgement is a determination that comes from a judge as the result of a trial. By speaking with a lawyer in Houston, TX, you can discuss how your case is likely to end.

What Is the Difference Between a Settlement and a Judgement in a Car Accident Case?

Most personal injury cases either end in a settlement or a judgement. A settlement is a negotiated agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant. In case you are unfamiliar with legal terms, the plaintiff is the party who is seeking compensation (you). You may also be referred to as the claimant when you are seeking compensation from an insurance company. The defendant is the party that could be found liable for damages.  

A judgement is a decision that is made by a judge at the conclusion of a trial. The judgement states whether or not the defendant is found responsible for causing the plaintiff’s injuries and providing compensation to cover the losses. A judgement is similar to a verdict, which is delivered by a jury as opposed to a judge.

Will My Case End in a Settlement or a Judgement?

Every case is different, and we cannot predict how your case will end until we speak with you personally. In Texas, only about 5% of personal injury cases go to trial, so it is likely that you and the defendant will be able to reach a settlement. Your lawyer will represent your interests during the negotiations.

In most cases, reaching a settlement is beneficial for all parties. Avoiding a trial can save both time and money. However, there are times when the claimant cannot walk away with the compensation they deserve without taking the defendant to court. If you find yourself unable to reach a settlement that you consider fair, your lawyer can counsel you on the pros and cons of going to court.

Be Careful Not to Accept a Low Settlement Offer

One of the most important things to understand about accepting a settlement offer is that once you have made the agreement official, you cannot reopen the case. In car accident cases, the defendant’s insurance company is usually responsible for providing the compensation according to their policy terms. While they may issue you a settlement offer very quickly after the crash, we urge you not to accept an offer before reviewing your case with a personal injury attorney.

Presenting the claimant with a low offer before they have had a chance to speak with an attorney is a manipulative tactic that insurance companies use to cut their losses. In most cases, the insurance company’s first offer is not their best. With some skilled negotiation, your attorney may be able to increase your compensation significantly. Unfortunately, many claimants accept low offers only to find that the money they receive is not sufficient to cover their medical expenses.

When Is It Beneficial to Seek a Judgement Instead of a Settlement?

If your case goes to trial, your legal expenses could go up significantly. Getting ready for a trial involves preparing evidence according to legal standards, hiring expert witnesses to testify, and paying a variety of court fees. Additionally, if the judge sides with the defendant, you will lose your ability to receive any compensation at all.

In general, the only time you should go to trial is when the defendant refuses to settle for a reasonable amount of money and your lawyer believes you have enough evidence to prevail in court. Your lawyer can help you review the strength of the evidence in your favor against the value of any settlement offers you have received.

How to Negotiate a High Car Accident Settlement

1. Go to the ER Immediately After the Accident

If you choose not to go the ER after a car accident, you miss out on a big opportunity to collect evidence in your favor. All of the test results, imaging, and doctors’ notes generated from an ER visit can help you negotiate your case with the defendant.

The ability to demonstrate the severity of your injuries increases your likelihood of reaching a settlement that is proportionate to your damages. Even if you do not feel injured after a car accident, deciding whether or not to go to the ER could make or break your case. If you did not go to the ER after the crash, try to visit your doctor as soon as possible.

2. Do Not Wait to Initiate Your Claim

In personal injury cases, the sooner you take action, the more likely you are to win. If you need to seek compensation from your own insurance company, you must abide by your policy terms. Some policies invalidate claims that are not initiated within 24 hours after an accident occurs.

If you are filing a personal injury case, you will need to observe the two-year statute of limitations. Regardless of whether your compensation should come from your own insurance company or the other driver, your recollection of the events will be clearer if you act quickly after the accident.

3. Calculate Your Damages Thoroughly

The liable party is not going to volunteer to compensate you for damages that are not listed on your claim. One of the biggest ways people miss out on compensation is by overlooking opportunities to increase the value of their claim. The average person is not likely to know what aspects of a personal injury merit compensation. Therefore, personal injury attorneys spend years becoming highly familiar with all of the eligible damages that could be used to maximize a claim.

When you are listing your losses, your attorney may suggest you include:

  • Your medical bills
  • Transportation to and from the hospital
  • Prescription medication
  • At-home medical equipment
  • Lost wages
  • Unearned benefits
  • Missed opportunities for career advancement
  • pain and suffering
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Disfigurement
  • Other noneconomic losses

4. Negotiate With Evidence

When negotiating with the defendant, your leverage comes from their belief that the evidence in your favor would hold up in court in the event that the case went to trial. Additionally, the defendant should understand that your attorney is willing and able to litigate skillfully on your behalf.

A good personal injury attorney will make sure that your case is backed with strong evidence such as video footage, medical records, witness statements, and photographs. Depending on the nature of your accident, drug test results or records of text messages may be available as well.

Visit Our Law Offices in Houston, TX

Our firm offers a full range of legal services to people who have been injured in car accidents. We will help you prepare your claim, investigate the case, gather evidence, and evaluate settlement offers. When negotiating with the defense, we will make it clear that you deserve full compensation for your losses. To set up a free consultation with us, call 713-597-2401.

The value of your car accident settlement will have a major impact on many aspects of your life after the accident. Whether you are recovering from minor injuries sustained in a fender-bender or anticipating a lifetime of medical treatments, you deserve to receive the maximum value of your claim. To speak with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney in Houston, TX, contact Houston Injury Lawyers, PLLC.

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