What Determines if a Case Will Settle or go to Trial?

What Determines if a Case Will Settle or go to Trial?

What Determines if a Case Will Settle or go to Trial?

Figures maintained by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts found that just over 1% of civil cases processed in the Commonwealth’s Courts of Common Pleas in 2021 were resolved by trial, either to a jury or to a judge.  These statistics are in line with numbers nationwide, as most estimates indicate that well over 90% of civil lawsuits are resolved without a trial.

While a case can be dismissed for other reasons such as insufficient evidence or the wishes of the plaintiff who filed it, a substantial percentage of civil cases filed are resolved by settlement.  What factors lead to a settlement of a lawsuit, and what can make it more likely that a case goes to trial?

Any trial involves risk.  While the jury system is a vital safeguard against abuse of power that is fundamental to a free society, submitting a case to a jury or a judge involves giving up control over the final decision on resolution.  On the other hand, an agreed settlement allows both sides of a dispute to exercise decision making control and manage the risk of a trial.

The strength of each side’s evidence and legal positions are important factors in whether a case resolves through settlement, but because people can have different opinions on the how strong their own cases are, other factors also come into play.  For instance, some people may be more willing to accept the risk of a trial for several reasons.

Naturally, if the case involves a claim for money damages, the amount of money at stake is important.  A party to a lawsuit may need the money from a possible settlement, making resolution more appealing.  On the other side, a party may be better able to afford paying a judgment, so that the risk is less intimidating and settlement less attractive.

However, not all the reasons someone might decide to settle or go to trial are financial.  A party to a lawsuit may feel strongly about making a point through his or her case or may even want to use the case to create a legal precedent that will affect other cases in the future.  A person who feels wronged might simply want to have his or her day in court and be heard publicly rather than resolving the case by agreement.

Conversely, someone might want closure to a difficult situation that led to litigation in the first place or might decide that committing substantial time and energy to a lawsuit does not make sense.  Some people may value privacy over a potential positive verdict, making settlement a better option for achieving their goals.  In some cases, the risk of trial might just seem too great to reject the certainty of a settlement.

Overall, a person’s goals and expectations going into a lawsuit can go a long way toward determining whether the case goes all the way to trial.  If a litigant has a solid understanding of the legal process and its possible outcomes, surprise and frustration are less likely to create barriers to resolution.  This is one of the many reasons why the help of an experienced lawyer is so important, whether it is with evaluating the strength of a case, negotiating a settlement, or being willing and able to try the case if necessary.