What’s the Difference Between a Verdict and a Settlement in Florida?
A verdict is when a jury, or in some cases a judge, decides the outcome of a case that is in litigation. In personal injury cases the injured person, the Plaintiff, files suit against a Defendant and sometimes even against several Defendants. After discovery is completed the case gets placed on a trial docket in order that the trial can be held. In most cases the trial is decided by a jury and not by the judge. In cases where the judge is the decision-maker that is known as a “bench trial”.
On the other hand a settlement occurs prior to a jury announcing a verdict. The Plaintiff and Defendant agree to a value of the case and make a deal to end the case. Settlements can occur prior to litigation and also during litigation. In most cases settling a case does save the costs of litigation—which requires taking depositions, paying court reporters, paying for transcripts of depositions, paying expert witnesses to work on one’s case, trial exhibits, etc.
In some cases an adverse fact or an adverse ruling by a judge can influence one party’s willingness to get a case settled prior to allowing the jury to decide the outcome. For instance, if a judge strikes a party’s expert witness from testifying, that can be a major blow to that party’s case. Equally, if an independent eye witness is located, that can cause one party to want to get a case settled as opposed to taking a chance of an adverse ruling by a jury.
One Problem With Constant Settlement of Cases
One problem with constant settlement of cases is that insurers lose their fear (i.e., respect) for the law firm that always settles the case and never takes a case into the courthouse to have a jury decide it. This is the knock against large advertising law firms that they never–or almost never–have a jury determine the outcome of a case, but rather just take the best offer the insurance company will give them. Insurance companies learn who will take a case into trial and who will not. This means the insurance company can devalue your case because they know the big advertiser law firms are not likely to do anything about an under-valued offer of settlement. The business of insurance is one of numbers. Insurance companies keep actuarial data—the numbers—on risk to them. When an insurer sees a law firm that never or almost never will step into the courtroom, the insurer has the numbers to demonstrate the weakness of that law firm. (See our July 5th, 2022 announcement of our $945,000.00 jury verdict in Orlando, Florida, just last week.)
Insurance companies mostly do not like jury trials—especially if the case is against the insurance company—because they know juries can be unpredictable and could award several times over the amount the insurer could have settled the case. But to achieve fair value the law firm handling your case must push the insurance company—even to trial–to do what insurers do not want to do: pay money to you.
How Do I Know if I Am Getting Fair Value for My Personal Injury Case in Florida?
We are constantly surprised to hear clients that come from other law firms say they are not kept up to date on what is going on with their case. This is the number one reason that clients leave a law firm and seek a new law firm like us at FightingForFamilies. One other thing that is prominent is that the prior law firm has never had a discussion about how the value of a personal injury is calculated. The advertising law firms make it seem like it is a matter of the size of the law firm or how many airplanes they own, but it really comes down to hard work on the individual case AND the math. Despite all the commercials and all the suggestions that there is some magic those advertising law firms have over insurance companies the value of a personal injury case is decided by two major elements.
- What Is the Liability in My Case.
- What Are the Damages in My Case.
First, “Liability” is the question of who is at-fault for my injury. This is true regardless of whether the case is an automobile accident, a falldown case in a store, a medical malpractice case, or even a boating accident. The first question a jury would consider on the verdict form is:
Is the Defendant Responsible for the Injuries of the Plaintiff?
If the answer by the jury to that question is “NO”, then the Plaintiff recovers nothing from the Defendant—and in that event damages of the Plaintiff are not even considered. Some assume that just because they fell in for instance, Wal-Mart, that this means Wal-Mart owes them money. That is not the law in the State of Florida. Wal-Mart would first have to be at-fault for the injury. Liability cannot be left off the valuation of what a person’s case is worth. When a claimant is hurt in an accident—but a jury says there is no liability on the part of the Defendant—the claimant does not recover anything. Some claimants have a problem in overlooking the “Liability” question and they want to believe that just because they were hurt it automatically means they are going to recover from another person or company. This is where the attorney has to be 100% candid with the client when the facts of the incident are not on the side of the client—or the facts are subject to being decided adversely by a jury. Insurance companies pay very close attention to whether a claimant can prove their insured person or insured company was at fault for the incident that produced the Plaintiff’s injuries. “Liability” is one of the factors used by an insurance company to gauge their risk, and to gauge the value of a claimant’ case. The liability question cannot be ignored.
The second factor in arriving at the worth of a personal injury case is: what are the damages. This is where many claimants lose their perspective when trying to determine the worth of their case. Damages are based upon 3 major categories.
Medical Bills—Past + Future
Lost Wages—Past + Future
Injury/Pain and Suffering—Past + Future
The first two categories for damages are about math only. A person can incur medical bills from, for instance, an auto accident, and they may need medical treatment into the future. Also a person may have lost wages from being out of work, and they may lose wages (or earning capacity) into the future. So, the math on these is rather easy to calculate.
The third category is more subjective and this is because the extent of the physical injury and the pain and suffering are not based on a schedule of dollar amounts. (i.e., like medical bills or lost wages are) This third category is decided by a jury when a case goes to trial. What we have viewed in the more than 25 years doing trials is that the amount of pain + suffering awarded generally is influenced by the amount of medical bills the claimant accrued from the treatment for the injuries (and including any future medical bills that will accrue). So for instance, a jury is more likely to award a large pain + suffering amount to a claimant who has $100,000 in medical bills than to a claimant with only $500 in medical bills. Yes of course the extent of the claimant’s injuries plays a large part in the jury’s calculation of damages.
So ask yourself two questions. 1. Do the advertising law firms on TV ever tell you how a judge or jury will arrive at a damages calculation on your case? No. We have never seen one explain that honest truth about how the law calculates the value of a personal injury case. 2. Why do you believe the advertising law firms on TV never tell you how a judge or jury will make a damages calculation on your case? Could it be that they want to put on the image that they alone have some sort of secret formula or secret weapon they use to get the best results of any law firm for every single case? It’s advertising. Advertising never won a case in court.
There are some things we can promise you.
- We will always be honest with you. Just as you would want your doctor to be 100% honest with you, we will always be honest with you.
- We will always know you by your name. We will not assign a number to your case.
- We don’t want to be one of the biggest law firms. We are simply interested in doing the best for our clients—using the laws of Florida, not some imaginary magic dust.
- We recognize that the better your recovery, the better we do.
- You will be involved in the critical decisions in your case–we work for you—not the other way around.
FightingForFamilies is a 25-year law firm that represents injured people throughout all of Florida. We have never once represented an insurance company. We are ready to help you now.
Call Us Now At 727-399-2222 To Get Started on Your Case.