In today's litigious society, more often than not cases end up being settled before going to court and getting a judgment. Settling means both parties resolve the issues outside of court without a trial.
Typically one offers a payment or award of some sort to the other, possibly less than the initial amount asked. Why do so many people choose to settle their cases instead of leaving their fate in the hands of a jury or judge? Is settling a case more beneficial?
Benefits of Settling a Case
There are many benefits to settlement rather than undergoing a full trial, for instance:
Expense. Trials involve attorneys, expert witnesses, extensive depositions during discovery, travel and time. If a case settles before going to trial, then most of these expenses can be reduced or eliminated
Stress. Settlement may reduce some stress that a trial creates. Sometimes it's hard for people to undergo the process of trial. They fear getting on the witness stand and telling their story to a judge and jury, then cross-examined
Privacy. Details of the case can be kept private when settled. When you take a case to trial, the court documents become a public record and anyone can look at them. When you settle a case, most of the details are kept out of the court documents, and aren't a public record. Many settlement agreements also have confidentiality agreements as part of the settlement, so the case won't be talked about in public
Predictability. A jury decision is very uncertain. A settlement is much more predictable than having to wait for a jury to reach a decision
Time. Many trials can last from 1-3 years, sometimes even longer if there's an appeal. Settlement shortens the time frame
Finality. The losing party can appeal a court (judge or jury) decision, dragging out the process even longer. Settlements can't be appealed and ensure the dispute is over
Flexibility. During trials, there are strict guidelines and rules about what can be said in court (for example, rules of evidence and procedural rules). When you settle a case, there's more flexibility during discussions and how topics are tackled. Furthermore, in a settlement, one party can even ask for an apology, which wouldn't be possible in court
No "Guilty" Verdict. In a trial, there's usually a "guilty" or "not guilty" verdict, but in a settlement the defendant, person or party on the defensive, may not want a record of guilt. Settling a case is a way to pay for a mistake, but not admit wrongdoing
When It Doesn't Make Sense to Settle
Sometimes lawsuits are filed to make an important point that affects society. For cases challenging Constitutional limitations or other rights, settling wouldn't be a good option because it doesn't create precedent and won't affect public policy.
Also, sometimes the settlement terms are so unfair to one side that settling isn't the better option.
When considering a settlement, lawyers need to examine if the settlement is actually in the client's best interest. Many times, a side offers settlement terms which don't fully compensate the other side's injuries and damages. However, lawyers seeking a quick finality to the case may pressure the client to accept it. The decision whether to settle or not belongs to the client.
Current Affairs: The Outback Settlement
You may have heard some talk of settlements in recent news. Outback Steakhouse has recently agreed to pay $19 million to settle a sex discrimination suit against it.
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) brought this suit against the restaurant chain back in 2006. They claimed female workers were denied favorable jobs which prevented them from advancing to profit-sharing management positions.
While refusing to acknowledge any wrongdoing, The Outback justified its settlement decision because the company decided it was better to settle than to spend time and money on litigation. The company also agreed to institute an online application system for managerial positions and hire a human resources executive.
It also agreed to hire a consultant to monitor its compliance with the settlement and report back to the EEOC on how it's doing every six months. The settlement terms offered the women both money and better working conditions.
Settling a case isn't always advantageous for both parties, and it may seem like an easy way out. However, it is an acceptable way to resolve a dispute.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Do I have to sign a settlement on the spot or do I have time to bring it to an attorney?
- I'm a female who was affected by the Outback's policies. How can I join the lawsuit against them?