Why Auto Accident Cases Rarely Go to Trial

Chances are, your car accident case won't be resolved in court. Here's why.

Here’s a question: What does a defense attorney call it when an auto injury case makes it to trial? Answer: A big mistake. Switch out “defense attorney” for “plaintiff’s attorney” and you will almost certainly get the same punch line -- even if that answer doesn’t necessarily gel with the tough-talking persona some lawyers like to cultivate. Car accident attorneys and insurance carriers see a court trial as a dicey last resort, and they’ll usually do anything it takes to avoid putting their case in front of a judge or jury. This article explains why.

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What Will the Jury Do?

The fact of the matter is that neither side wants to go to trial if they can help it. The reason is simple. You can never be sure what a jury will do. Sometimes a jury will act the way you think they might, but they can also be incredibly unpredictable, capricious, and swayed by the most inane things. Maybe some jurors have heard too many stories like the one about the woman getting burnt by hot coffee and suing McDonald’s, and they think that any plaintiff is a money-grubbing opportunist. Perhaps some jurors believe that it is their solemn duty to undo a perceived trend in runaway damage awards. Other jurors may be perfectly happy to throw someone else’s money at a plaintiff, no matter how transparently exaggerated the plaintiff’s claims may be.

Give the same facts to different juries -- especially those in different cities, counties, or states -- and you’ll come out with very different results. While jury selection is a trial attorney’s job, that attorney still must work with the jury pool that’s available, and sometimes it’s necessary to make pyrrhic decisions (“If I can only strike one more person, do I choose the doctor, who could second guess my theories, or the insurance adjuster, who will have had plenty of bad experiences with plaintiffs?”). Juries represent a remarkable unknown. If you do think you'll go to court, make sure you're prepared for the pre trial process.

Most Attorneys and Insurers Know What a Case is Worth

Another main reason attorneys and insurers want to avoid trial -- assuming they have been in the business for some time -- is that they can pretty comfortably determine the value of an injury case. Someone with experience will know what a separated shoulder is worth or how much to expect for a sprained meniscus. While soft-tissue injuries (whiplash), pain disorders (fibromyalgia) and certain treatments (especially chiropractic) can make things more difficult, professional attorneys and insurance adjusters should generally be able to come up with a reasonable value for an injury.

The Cost of Going to Trial Doesn’t Always Add Up

Money is another reason why the vast majority of car accident cases never go to trial. Trial is an expensive proposition, especially when experts get involved, and costs can easily run away from the control of even a veteran attorney. By settling, both parties have more control over their destiny. It’s a trade-off though; there is no need for the investment and cost of a trial, but at the same time it also closes the door on the potential for a huge payout. Still, most attorneys and adjusters are happy to forgo the gamble.

It Comes Down to Dissent

Going to trial is only necessary when one person can’t come to an agreement with the others. If a claims adjuster is unwilling or unable to get approval on a large enough payout, it doesn’t matter if the defense attorney thinks that settlement is the right thing; there will be no settlement. If the defense attorney thinks the plaintiff’s side is being unreasonable or blowing smoke, there will be no settlement. If the plaintiff’s attorney thinks that the defense is not offering enough or is not taking the plaintiff seriously, he or she will do what he can to dissuade the plaintiff from accepting the settlement. Finally, if the plaintiff feels entitled to more money than is realistic -- or just has a fiery determination to go to trial -- an attorney can’t stop the plaintiff from turning down an offer, just as the attorney cannot force the plaintiff to make or accept an offer. If these people can’t come to an agreement, the case will go to trial.

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