Personal injury lawsuits can take weeks, months, years, or, in some rare cases, even decades to resolve. Given the time and effort these legal proceedings demand, it’s essential to know the potential outcomes before deciding to file a lawsuit.
A thorough understanding of the possible outcomes will not only guide your decision on whether to file a lawsuit, but it will allow you to be better prepared, set realistic expectations, and make strategic decisions throughout the lawsuit, from settlement negotiations to trial tactics.
What is a personal injury lawsuit?
Personal injury lawsuits are legal disputes that arise when an individual suffers harm from an incident for which someone else might be legally responsible. Personal injury lawsuits are typically, but not always, based on the tort of negligence.
Common situations from which personal injury lawsuits arise include:
The eight steps of a personal injury lawsuit
A personal injury lawsuit commences when an individual (called the “plaintiff”) files a complaint against another person or entity (called the “defendant”) seeking to be compensated for an injury allegedly caused by the defendant.
Every personal injury lawsuit is different. What’s more, each state has rules and standards that impact how a lawsuit proceeds. Nevertheless, there are eight steps that are common to almost all personal injury lawsuits:
- Summons and complaint
- Pre-trial negotiations
- Collecting the judgment
You can learn more about each step in a personal injury lawsuit in our article, "The Eight Basic Steps to Every Personal Injury Lawsuit"
Potential outcome one: settlement
The first potential outcome of a personal injury lawsuit is a settlement. Although movies and television shows may lead you to believe otherwise, the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits settle before they ever reach trial.
The exact percentage varies based on the type of personal injury case, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately 95 percent of personal injury cases end in a pre-trial settlement.
Settlements occur when the defendant or their insurance company agrees to pay the plaintiff a specified amount of money to drop the lawsuit.
Settling a personal injury case before trial has advantages and disadvantages for a plaintiff:
|Should I settle a personal injury lawsuit?|
Potential outcome two: going to trial and winning
If a settlement can’t be reached, the personal injury case proceeds to trial.
Winning a trial could result in the plaintiff being awarded extensive damages, but there is, of course, no guarantee that a plaintiff will receive as much compensation as they expected. Whether or not a plaintiff is successful at trial depends on many factors, including:
- The strength of the evidence
- The credibility of the witnesses
- The likeability of the parties
- The persuasiveness of the legal arguments
- The demographics of the jury
|Should I go to trial?|
Potential outcome three: going to trial and losing
Losing at trial means that the plaintiff receives no compensation. This outcome is obviously the least desirable outcome. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind that may soften the blow of losing a trial.
- Appeal: If you lose a personal injury trial, you have the right to appeal to a higher court. However, you should temper your expectations. An appeal is not a new trial or a second chance to prove your case. Appellate courts rarely consider new evidence. Rather, appeals are based on information that’s already on the record, and the success of an appeal typically depends on proving that the lower court made some procedural error.
- Attorney fees: Personal injury attorneys typically handle cases on a contingency basis, meaning they only get paid if they’re successful in getting money for their clients. In other words, if you lose your trial, you likely won’t have to pay your attorney.
Learn more about attorney fees in personal injury cases.
Whether a personal injury lawsuit results in a settlement or a trial, the specific outcomes can vary significantly. An experienced personal injury attorney can prepare you for the legal journey ahead and help set realistic expectations.
Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
Download in PDF format