Why should I settle my personal injury case?

No lawyer who is afraid to try a case should be in the personal injury business. Even though more than 95% of personal injury cases settle (the percentage is lower for medical malpractice cases), sometimes a case has to be taken to trial. Insurance companies and their lawyers usually try cases when they think the plaintiff's case is weak or when the plaintiff rejects a settlement offer the insurer thinks is reasonable. Sometimes a case that should settle goes to trial because one side or the other miscalculates and over or under estimates its value.

Why should a client accept a settlement that is less than he wants or dreams of? Won't a jury empathize with his suffering, realize what a stand-up guy he is and how evil is the defendant? Maybe, but not according to the statistics, not by a long shot. The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly did a survey of personal injury verdicts throughout Massachusetts in 2009, nothing has changed since then. The results were ugly for plaintiffs. In the three major counties covering Boston and Metrowest, Suffolk, Middlesex, and Norfolk, the percentages of defendant verdicts were 75%, 73%, and 86% respectively. When only medical malpractice cases were considered, the percentages were worse for plaintiffs. In Norfolk County, twelve medical malpractice cases proceeded to jury verdict and in all twelve the juries sided with the defense.

No one can say for certain why Massachusetts jurors have so turned against plaintiffs. Part of the explanation is undoubtedly that when a plaintiff's attorney takes a strong case and prepares it well, insurers usually offer decent settlement amounts to avoid the uncertainty of trial. Insurance companies are not gamblers. The remaining cases often have problems that will make a plaintiff's jury verdict difficult to obtain. The poor economy has probably soured many jurors on the notion of giving a lot of money to someone else. The hardest cases for a plaintiff's lawyer are those in which the injured client endured suffering but in the end healed well. Juries tend not to award a lot of money for past anguish, taking a "we all have our cross to bear" attitude. I continue to believe that our fellow citizens when sitting on a jury, can empathize with someone who has become paralyzed, disfigured, rendered truly unemployable or lost a loved one because of another's negligence.

The lesson in the tale of stingy Massachusetts jurors is not to give up if you have been injured and you believe someone else was at fault. By all means, see an experienced personal injury attorney to assess your case. I always welcome a call from an injured person who wants their case evaluated, and I will not accept a case unless I believe that I can take it to trial with a decent chance of success. If someone else's negligence caused you a serious injury, the key is to work with a lawyer you trust to prepare your case thoroughly, and when the defense offers a good settlement, to be realistic in deciding whether to accept it or put your case in the hands of a jury.

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