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Settlement vs. Trial: Which Path to Choose for Your San Fernando Valley Car Accident Case?

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Settlement vs. Trial: Which Path to Choose for Your San Fernando Valley Car Accident Case?

After a serious car accident, it’s as if everything got turned upside down and shaken. You’re dealing with significant damage to your health, your car, and the life you used to lead. You need someone to make this right—and if it’s bad enough, you want justice, too.

But the world won’t stop for you to catch up, and your bills are mounting. What can you do—and what should you do—after a car accident in California?

Trials and Recovery for Personal Injuries

The center of our legal system is the jury trial. And yet, when it comes to personal injury cases, jury trials become less common every year. Today, most civil cases are settled—especially most auto accident cases.

Under California law, someone who has a claim for damages from an accident can still recover compensation if they are partly at fault for that accident. But their claim is reduced by the percentage of fault that a court determines that they had. For example, if a driver with an injury claim is found to be 40% at fault for their accident, they may still recover 60% of their damages claim.

Auto insurance companies are, in theory, set up to provide quick resolutions for accidents through determinations of fault and damage estimates. Even when insurance companies are not particularly quick or do not resolve very much, people feel financial pressure to accept settlements.

The Settlement Process

After an insurance company learns of a car accident, the insurance adjuster begins an investigation. They visit the site or the vehicle, then review accident reports, photos, any statements that are available, and other information in order to produce a report. The company’s accident report apportions fault between the parties involved and produces an estimate of costs. This report will form the basis of any settlement they offer.

Settlements have definite advantages. Most importantly, they can be arranged quickly. In California, regulations require insurance companies to make a decision on a claim within 40 days of receiving proof and to pay a settlement within 30 days of making it. Trials, on the other hand, can take months, if not years. And once they are made, settlement offers are certain, unlike jury verdicts from trials. Although a lawyer may be able to assess a likely total for a jury award, it is never possible to predict what a jury will actually do. And settlements do not require the heavy legal fees and costs that trials involve.

Yet, settlements are only sometimes the right choice or even a possible choice. When you settle, you agree to drop all your claims against a party in exchange for the payment you receive. You will have no legal basis for any further compensation for those claims. This can be disastrous if you have undiagnosed injuries that only become apparent later, which is a common result of a car accident. Settlements are generally much smaller than possible jury verdicts.

In any case, you can only take a settlement if it is offered. Some insurance companies may deny coverage entirely based on their adjuster’s report on the accident scene. That report is not legally binding. The insurance company has every incentive to come to a conclusion that will cost them less money, either by denying a claim or offering a sliver of its worth. They know that time is on their side and that delays work in their favor.

However, you can protect yourself by working with an auto accident attorney as soon as possible—even before speaking to your insurance company. Industry studies have shown that claimants represented by attorneys are more likely to receive settlements larger on average than those who are not represented.

Going to Trial

Even so, a complicated auto accident or a severe, disabling set of injuries may result in a situation where no satisfactory settlement is offered. In any case where an insurance company made a low-quality investigation and determination of fault, they may refuse to offer a reasonable settlement. Accidents like these may end in a trial.

Very few people ever want to go to trial. Trials are preceded by months of discovery (fact-finding) and filings, all of which cost legal fees. But the possibility of a significant jury award, perhaps in the millions of dollars, motivates plaintiffs and makes defendants nervous. The publicity and the hope of justice also drive many plaintiffs. Settlements can be reached during or even just after a trial, once defendants perceive the strength of the plaintiff’s case and the mood of the jury.

Nonetheless, the expense and long delays of a trial will bear more heavily on the person bringing the claim for damages than on the insurance company defending it. After all, the company has resources and is not suffering from injuries or losses. And the emotional cost of a trial can be vast, especially when testimony is needed.

How to Find Guidance

The earlier you speak with an attorney in the aftermath of an auto accident, the more they can help you. An experienced auto accident attorney understands how to handle their local insurance companies and negotiate for a fair settlement. When no one will step up to offer the compensation you need, your attorney can defend your rights at trial.

Let us find out how we can help you. If you have been injured in an auto accident or truck accident in the San Fernando Valley, call us today at 818-369-3270 to schedule a free consultation in our Encino offices.

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