Every person who commences a personal injury claim after a motor vehicle accident will at some point be faced with an important choice: should I settle my case or go to trial? It is important to understand the pros and cons of each option.
How Personal Injury Claims Work
While a personal injury claim officially begins with the commencement of a lawsuit, it can unofficially begin much earlier. ICBC may be interested in settling your claim from the very outset, even before you have hired a lawyer. It is important to obtain legal advice from an experienced personal injury lawyer before engaging in negotiations with ICBC.
Once a lawsuit is commenced on your behalf, the court process begins. This process can be time-consuming and involves a number of steps. When you hire an accident lawyer, he or she will tell you what to expect. Broadly speaking, the first step involves gathering documents and exchanging them with ICBC. This can be a lengthy process, particularly in cases involving significant injuries where medical records are often voluminous. Usually, the next step is examinations for discovery, where each side’s lawyer gets the opportunity to question the other side under oath. At this point you may also attend medical and occupational assessments to gather recommendations about your future treatment or abilities. ICBC may request that you attend an independent medical examination or a functional capacity assessment. The last official step of a lawsuit is preparation for and attendance at trial.
Opportunities to Settle
Throughout the court process there will be ongoing opportunities to engage in settlement negotiations with ICBC. Often, this occurs during a mediation, which is a meeting between you, your lawyer, the ICBC representative and ICBC’s lawyer, during which a mediator attempts to facilitate a resolution. Settlement can occur outside of a mediation as well, through discussions and correspondence between lawyers. A case can be settled at any time, right up to the night before the trial is set to begin.
While there are often many opportunities to settle, it is important not to do so too soon. An early settlement may be attractive, but if your injuries are significant, it is recommended to wait until you have either made a full recovery or your condition has plateaued. Otherwise, you may not seek adequate compensation for your ongoing injuries.
Advantages of Settling
Certainty is the single most important advantage to settling your motor vehicle accident claim. If you settle before trial, you will know how much money you will receive from ICBC. You will not have the uncertainty of wondering how the judge or jury will react to your case. You will not have to worry that you will lose at trial and end up paying ICBC’s legal costs. You will not have to endure the lengthy wait for a trial date. You will not undergo the stress of attending a trial and testifying in court. You will not have to worry that even if you win, the other side may decide to launch an appeal.
Advantages of Going to Trial
Clearly, there are many advantages to settling, and this is why approximately 99 percent of claims against ICBC settle before trial. However, in a small percentage of cases, the advantages of going to trial outweigh the disadvantages. This may occur where you have a good case on liability but ICBC refuses to accept that the defendant may be at fault. It may also occur where you have strong medical evidence of injuries but ICBC fails to acknowledge the extent of your damages. In these circumstances, your accident lawyer may advise you that the opportunity for a good result at trial outweighs the risk that you might not be successful.
How to Make the Choice
Often, there is no easy answer to whether you should settle or go to trial. An experienced Vancouver accident lawyer at Bronson Jones & Company LLP can help you make this difficult choice. With over three decades of experience in representing plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits, our lawyers are in a good position to help you navigate the decision-making process.
We will provide advice to you on the specific strengths and weaknesses of your case, as well as the risks and opportunities involved in going to trial. We recognize that this is an important and personal decision, and that it is ultimately yours to make. We are here to give you the relevant information and advice so that you are able to make the most informed choice.