How Often Do Cases Go To Trial?

New York court case goes to trial in courtroom

When you think of filing a lawsuit, you might imagine a classic courtroom scene with a judge pounding a gavel and delivering a verdict.

However, there’s an entire legal process that takes before a case gets in front of a judge and jury.

Once a lawsuit is filed by a plaintiff, the defendant must answer the complaint; the discovery phase takes place, during which each party investigates, performs depositions, and gathers information; each side can file motions asking the court to take action or resolve procedural disputes—and that’s all before the trial phase even begins.

With all the complexities involved in legal disputes, it’s often advantageous for both parties to settle out of court. Many legal experts estimate that over 90% of all cases filed never go to trial and are instead resolved out of court, whether through settlements, plea bargains, or other methods, leaving only about 10% of cases that actually make their way before a jury.

Here are more specifics on the odds of your case making it to trial, whatever type of case you’re pursuing—and why settling out of court is often the better option.

Going to Trial vs. Settling

Many plaintiffs choose to settle out of court because of several advantages it presents.

Reaching a settlement generally takes significantly less time than a trial would, which also translates to fewer expenses to continue the legal process. For civil cases, a settlement takes an average of three to six months to complete, while a trial often takes twice as long.

When going through settlement proceedings, the plaintiff also has more control over the outcome than when the case is being decided by a judge and jury. You can choose whether to accept a settlement, as well as take your time negotiating a better deal. A skilled lawyer has a good chance of negotiating a strong settlement to the plaintiff’s advantage.

Another key factor that makes settling a favorable option is that defendants often want to avoid the publicity of a trial, especially if the plaintiff is particularly sympathetic. The court of public opinion gives plaintiffs strong leverage, as the threat of a public trial can be a good incentive for defendants to offer a higher settlement.

However, there can also be advantages to taking your case to trial: depending on the specifics of your case, you potentially may be able to receive higher compensation if you take your case to trial rather than settling. A settlement also precludes the option of filing a new case should the conditions of your case worsen, e.g., if your injuries worsen or cause other resultant conditions in a personal injury case.

In the end, the best option for your case depends on your specific circumstances.

Personal Injury Cases

Personal injury cases are settled out of court 95% of the time. Of those that do go to court, many are unsuccessful in winning their case.

For the plaintiff, settling a personal injury case may be worth it to avoid a long trial and the risk of losing. But in some cases, where you have very strong evidence, going to trial could be more beneficial, as they may be likely to award higher compensation for damages than the defendant’s insurance company would.

For defendants, settling a personal injury case out of court could be beneficial because it can help them avoid liability, as a guilty verdict assigns fault, while a settlement does not.

It could also be less expensive for a defendant to offer a settlement than to risk that the judge would award an even higher amount of money; however, if the defendant is confident that they will not be found guilty, they are unlikely to offer a settlement high enough that the plaintiff would accept.

Medical Malpractice Cases

According to one Harvard study, although 55% of medical malpractice claims do result in some form of litigation, the majority are dismissed, and three-fourths of the few that go to trial rule in the defendant’s favor.

These statistics give a strong argument for plaintiffs to accept a settlement in a medical malpractice case.

Auto Accidents

In the case of car accident claims, some of the time, an insurance claim is enough to resolve the issue before legislative action becomes necessary. But in cases where disputes of fault make legal assistance necessary, it is usually beneficial for both sides to settle.

Insurance companies want to minimize risk, including the financial risk they face if a case goes to court. Because of this, car accidents that get to the litigation stage usually end in a settlement; less than 10% go to trial.

Deciding Whether to Settle

An experienced lawyer will help you decide if and when to settle, as well as help you negotiate a higher settlement, based on the strength of your case, the minimum amount of compensation you’re seeking, and all other relevant factors to help you gain the maximum amount of compensation for your case.

Napoli Shkolnik’s skilled attorneys have helped our clients reach valuable settlements across a wide range of practice areas. Contact us today to receive a free case evaluation.