If you’re injured due to someone else’s negligence or wrongdoing, you may have a personal injury claim. There are generally two ways to seek compensation for your injuries: 

  • Negotiate with the at-fault party to reach a settlement; or 
  • Take your case to court and present your evidence before a judge (and sometimes jury).

There are pros and cons to either approach. How do you determine which route to take to get the compensation you deserve, though? 

The short answer is that you should always consult a personal injury lawyer before deciding how best to manage your claim. However, here’s a look at the differences between settlements and trials so you have a better idea how you might proceed with your own case.     

How Do Personal Injury Claims Work?

Personal injury claims normally begin by notifying the defendant (or their insurance company) of the claim against them. This stage involves gathering evidence to build your case, such as:

  • Medical records
  • Photographs
  • Proof of financial loss 
  • Witness statements

Even if your case ends up at trial, most personal injury claims are negotiated at first. It’s often possible to get a settlement rather than go to trial, although a trial may be the only way to get you the most amount of damages.  

When you’re seeking personal injury compensation, it’s best to hire an attorney as soon as possible. The experienced personal injury attorneys at the May Firm will explain the strengths and weaknesses of your case so you can decide how to proceed.

Stethoscope on top of legal textbooks with gavel and Caduceus in background

How Long Do I Have to Make a Claim?

In California, under the Penal Code, you normally have two years from the accident date to make a personal injury claim. Whether you’re seeking a settlement or expecting to go to trial, the paperwork must be filed formally within the time limit. However, different time limits may apply if, for example, the claim is against a government agency. 

Now we’ve covered the basics, here’s a closer look at the differences between personal injury settlements and personal injury trials

What Is a Personal Injury Settlement?

A personal injury settlement is an out-of-court agreement reached between the victim and the defendant(s). Parties involved at this stage include:

  • You (the plaintiff)
  • The at-fault party (the defendant)
  • Your attorney
  • The defendant’s attorney
  • Insurance companies and loss adjusters

There may be multiple defendants and attorneys involved depending on the type of claim you have. For example, in a trucking accident, you may have a claim against a truck driver, their employer, and even the vehicle manufacturer. 

The personal injury settlement process involves back-and-forth discussions between the parties. The goals of a settlement are:

  • Have the defendant(s) admit fault; and
  • Receive a settlement offer which fairly compensates you for your injuries. 

How Long Does a Personal Injury Settlement Take?

Unfortunately, it’s hard to answer this question as every case is unique. The length of time it takes to reach a settlement depends on many factors including:

  • The complexity of your injuries
  • How many defendants are involved 
  • The level of damages you are seeking 

What Damages Should Be Included in a Personal Injury Settlement?

When we talk about personal injury damages, we’re referring to sums of money which compensate you for pain, suffering, and losses sustained due to the accident. In other words, damages make you “whole” again so far as possible following the incident. 

A personal injury settlement usually includes general damages and special damages.

General Damages

General damages are “non-economic” and cover the distress, pain, and suffering you experienced due to the accident. These are hard to quantify but your attorney can estimate what your case may be worth depending on the injuries. 

Special Damages

Special damages are your “economic” damages for financial losses. These special damages cover things like medical bills, long-term care costs, lost wages, and your out-of-pocket expenses. 

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for their wrongdoing. They’re usually only available if a defendant has been grossly negligent, and if the damages will deter them – or others – from behaving this way.  

Are There Average Personal Injury Settlement Amounts?

Every case is different, but your attorney can predict how much your case may be worth depending on the facts. It is impossible to say how much your case is worth until it has been properly valued – call us for a case evaluation.  

Pros and Cons of Settlements

Settlements are advantageous for a few reasons.

  • Settlements are informal and much less stressful than going to court. 
  • It’s quicker to settle than it is to go to court and prepare for trial. 
  • Settlements cost less because there aren’t so many attorney or court fees to cover.

There are downsides to settlements, though. 

  • Since there’s no trial date imminent, insurers may drag their heels and slow the case down. This is an attempt to encourage you to settle just to get the case over with. 
  • Insurers may offer less than your case is worth just to resolve matters quickly. 
  • If there is gross negligence, you can’t normally sue for punitive damages unless you go to court. 

Why Do Some Cases Go to Trial? 

It’s not possible to settle every personal injury case. Claims may go to trial if: 

  • The defendant(s) won’t accept liability for your injuries. 
  • Although they accept liability, the settlement offer is too low
  • Your injuries are especially complex. 
  • The defendant(s) fail to respond or communicate in a timely manner. 

Our attorneys will always act in your best interests, and if we can reach a settlement before trial, we will. 

Silver stethoscope and brown gavel on table

How Do Personal Injury Trials Work?

A trial takes place before a judge (and often a jury) in civil court. Attorneys for both parties present their evidence and make arguments to support their position. 

  • If it’s a bench trial, the judge alone makes a decision as to whether the defendant is liable for your injuries. 
  • If it’s a jury trial, the jury decides if the defendant is liable for your injuries. 

Once the decision is made, the judge will determine how much (if any) compensation you’re awarded. 

What Is the Average Personal Injury Trial Length?

There’s no set “average” since every case is a little different. In most cases, though, a trial only lasts a few days to a few weeks. However, it can take at least a year or two (if not more) to reach this stage, depending on your case. 

Will There Be a Jury Verdict? 

It depends. In California, you have the constitutional right to have a judge decide your case or a jury. However, if you want a jury trial, it will typically cost more and the process may take longer. You also need at least three-quarters of the jury to be in agreement. 

Pros and Cons of Trials

Trials have a few advantages over settlements.

  • Trials force defendants to be accountable for their actions. 
  • Courts may award higher damages than those offered by an insurance company. 
  • Having a neutral party decide liability can be beneficial for plaintiffs if the defendants refuse to engage in the process. 

There are, however, drawbacks. 

  • The court process is time-consuming. It can take a few years for cases to resolve if they go to trial. 
  • When we consider court fees and attorney costs, trials are more expensive than settling out-of-court. 
  • There’s always the chance that you could be awarded less than the settlement amount you’re offered. 
  • Trials are uncertain. If, for some reason, you lose the case, you will not receive compensation at all.

Trials are not without risks. Our attorneys will help you understand the best route to take.  

What Is the Difference Between Personal Injury Trials and Settlements?

To summarize:

  • A personal injury settlement is an agreement made in good faith between parties. It does not involve formal court appearances. 
  • A personal injury trial means all parties involved present their arguments – and evidence – in court. A judge or jury makes a decision to determine liability and compensation.

Which option is right for you depends on the facts of your case. 

Personal injury settlements take less time to resolve, they’re more predictable, and they cost less than trials. However, you might not get the best offer this way. 

Trials, on the other hand, are more time-consuming, cost more money, and the outcome is uncertain. There’s always the chance you will lose the case, or you might get less compensation than the amount you were originally offered. 

However, trials are the best way to secure maximum damages in some cases.  

The May Firm Wants to Help With Your Personal Injury Case

The personal injury settlement process is complex. However, the good news is that most cases can settle without a trial. 

No matter whether you wish to settle or you need to go to trial, one thing is certain: you will benefit from attorney representation. Our compassionate and experienced attorneys want to help you win your case. We will stand with you throughout the process and help you make informed decisions at every stage.

Contact a Personal Injury Attorney Today. 


The content in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not represent the current law in the recipient’s jurisdiction. The content and information should not be construed as professional legal advice from The May Firm or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. Any and all information included in, or accessible through, this article should not be used to act or refrain from acting without the appropriate legal or other professional advice from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s appropriate jurisdiction. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.