After you've filed a personal injury claim and begun negotiating, you're likely looking forward to the end of the settlement process.
There are two ways that you may be awarded your compensation, injury settlement or injury judgment, and each process is starkly different from the other.
So, what exactly is the difference?
Before we begin discussing the difference between a settlement and a judgment, we need to take a look at the basic structure of the claims process.
It all begins with your injury. You may file a personal injury claim if you feel that your injury was directly caused by the negligence of someone else and wish to be compensated for your expenses.
Once you've contacted an attorney and touched base with the defendant's insurance provider, it's time to begin gathering evidence from your accident. This will give both sides valuable information about your injuries and why you deserve your compensation.
After you present this information to the defendant's insurance provider, along with a demand letter detailing your desired compensation, they should provide you an offer for settlement. This is where it is decided whether you will reach an injury settlement or an injury judgment.
An injury settlement is the most common of these two options.
Basically, an injury settlement is the decision of both parties involved in a lawsuit to reach an agreement on compensation outside of the court system. This is an attractive option since court costs tend to be high and time and resources are often stretched beyond desirable limits.
There are several ways that you can reach an injury settlement and avoid court:
You may negotiate with the defendant's insurance provider until you feel you have reached a settlement amount that is fair for both parties.
If you don't feel that the defendant's insurance provider is giving you a fair deal, and you are having trouble reaching a settlement, you may solicit the services of a mediator. A mediator serves as a go-between for both parties and encourages settlement and compromise on both sides to make a final decision. A mediator cannot issue a settlement, however. It is still up to the parties to decide.
Arbitration is similar to mediation; however, an arbitrator makes decisions concerning settlement, and those decisions could be binding. In short, an arbitrator, like a mediator, sits down with both parties to hear their sides. After this, unlike a mediator, the arbitrator then makes a decision on how they feel compensation should be awarded.
Sometimes, an arbitrator's decision can be binding. If so, both the plaintiff and the defendant will have to accept the decision and abide by it.
Overall, an injury settlement is reached by “settling” with the defendant outside of the courtroom.
In contrast to injury settlement, injury judgment is where you require the services of a judge/jury to reach a settlement in your personal injury case.
Negotiating, mediators, and arbitrators can all lead to dead ends in some cases, and it can make reaching a final decision seem impossible. In this situation, taking your personal injury case to court may be your last option.
If you do decide to go to court, you can pursue compensation in either small claims court or civil court. Small claims courts are for smaller compensation amounts, and most states have limits. If you are seeking more compensation, civil court is the way to go. Nolo offers a useful table for checking out your state's small claims court limit.
A judge will hear both sides and issue an injury judgment that is legally binding. Whatever the judge decides, the plaintiff and defendant must abide by that judgment.
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