How does a settlement differ from a jury award for a given car accident case?

They're very different processes for resolving a car accident injury claim, and they typically produce very different results.

If you make an injury claim after a car accident, the two main potential paths for resolving that claim are settlement or lawsuit (assuming you don’t live in a no-fault car insurance state). The two aren’t mutually exclusive -- you can always settle your case at any point after the lawsuit is filed -- but the processes are pretty different, and they typically produce very different results. (You can learn about the differences between the two processes in our Car Accident Settlements and Car Accident Lawsuits topics.)

From a results standpoint, the main difference between a settlement and a lawsuit (assuming the lawsuit goes all the way through trial) has to do with control and predictability.

For the plaintiff (the injured person), the numbers show that if you’re successful at trial, the jury will award you more than you would stand to receive if you settle out of court.

For the defendant (the at-fault driver and his or her insurance carrier), it’s the same story. If the jury finds the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s damages, the defendant will typically be on the hook for much more than he or she would have been if a settlement agreement had been reached.     

So, by not agreeing to a car accident settlement, you’re giving up a significant amount of control over the outcome of the case. Going to trial and putting the case in the hands of a jury amounts to rolling the dice to a certain extent. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition for both sides of the claim.

If you’re the plaintiff, would you rather accept a $15,000 settlement or go through the time, expense, and uncertainty of a trial in the hope that the jury will award you $100,000? If you’re the defendant, would you rather pay that $15,000 now or potentially be ordered to pay $85,000 more?

Learn more about Why Auto Accident Cases Rarely Go to Trial.    

Talk to a Lawyer

Want to talk to an attorney? Start here.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
NOLO-web1:DRU1.6.12.2.20161011.41205