If you have been hurt by the negligent actions of another person or entity, you may consider filing a personal injury lawsuit.
But have you ever considered that the outcome of the case could become public?
Or maybe it won’t?
The answer to whether a personal injury settlement is public record or not is answered within the nature of the settlement.
Whether confidential, or open to the public, depends exclusively on the settlement deal negotiated between the two parties involved in the case.
Whatever state in which the personal injury case occurs, if it goes to trial the outcome will nearly always be public.
There are exceptions to this rule, but the 1978 landmark case Nixon v. Warner Communications established the general concept that public trial details are matters of public record.
If a case settles out of court, it will almost always be confidential.
The nature, or specific terms of a confidentiality agreement, can vary from case to case depending on how each party wishes to structure the settlement. Settlements with major car insurance companies are generally not confidential, but again, this depends on the specific case.
In a limited number of instances, a judge can unseal or open the terms of a confidential settlement, but this is typically only relevant in cases involving a dispute where the public’s safety may be in question.
Settling out of court – pluses and minuses
There are many things to consider about settling:
Less expense: Personal injury trials involve lawyers, paid expert witnesses, long depositions during discovery, travel costs, etc. While an experienced Dallas car accident lawyer may accept contingency payment, there may be other fees you are responsible for.
Privacy: As mentioned earlier, public trials are public record. Details of a civil lawsuit can be kept private if they are settled out of court. Most of the sensitive details about the case will be kept out of the court documents. There are many settlement agreements that have a confidentiality clause as well.
Money: You will be paid much sooner if you settle out of court.
Predictable: You can never tell what a jury will do. On the other side, you can dictate the terms of a settlement. Or, you may at least work with the other party to come up with an amicable agreement.
Final: A settlement cannot be appealed. It is final. A court judgment can be appealed, drawing the case out much longer.
Going to trial – pluses and minuses
There are some cases that are difficult to settle out of court. Some personal injury cases are more problematic and the chances of going to trial are higher. These cases usually involve two factors:
Liability: This is whether the other party was negligent in a way that contributed to your injuries. If the defendant argues they are not liable – or you are partially liable for your injuries – the case may go to trial.
Causation: Did the conduct of the defendant, even if very negligent, legally cause your injuries? This can happen if you had a pre-existing condition. Or, perhaps you have been in several car accidents in the last year. The defense may argue that your injuries were due to another accident.
If there are questions about either of those items, it may be difficult to settle the case out of court, but not impossible.
Going to trial also has the benefit of giving the plaintiff their day in court and to be judged by a jury. Some plaintiffs do prefer to be judged by a jury rather than settling.
In the end, both plaintiffs and defendants must weigh the pluses and minuses of going to trial.
To gain more insight about your specific car accident case, the only reliable and definitive method of ascertaining whether your car accident case should settle out of court or go to trial it so consult with an experienced auto accident lawyer.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from the Reyes Browne Reilley Law Firm for their insight into personal injury settlements.