Litigating Survival Actions: Settlements vs. Trials
Litigating survival actions is a complex process that allows surviving family members to seek justice and compensation when a loved one has suffered injuries or wrongful death due to the negligence or wrongful actions of others. One critical decision survivors face during this process is whether to pursue a settlement or proceed to trial. This comprehensive guide explores the considerations, advantages, and disadvantages of settling a survival action versus taking it to trial, helping individuals make informed decisions during this challenging time.
I. Understanding Survival Actions
Survival actions, also known as survival claims or wrongful death survival actions, are legal proceedings initiated on behalf of the deceased person’s estate. These actions enable surviving family members to seek compensation for the harm, pain and suffering, and losses endured by the deceased person from the time of the injury or incident until their death.
II. The Purpose of Survival Actions
Survival actions serve several crucial purposes:
Continuing the Deceased’s Legal Rights: By initiating survival actions, the legal claims that the deceased person could have pursued during their lifetime continue on their behalf. This includes claims for damages such as pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost wages.
Seeking Compensation for the Estate: Survival actions seek compensation for the harm suffered by the deceased person. The damages awarded become part of the deceased person’s estate and may be distributed to heirs or beneficiaries.
Holding Responsible Parties Accountable: Survival actions provide a means to hold responsible parties accountable for their negligence or wrongful actions, preventing similar incidents from occurring in the future.
III. Settlements in Survival Actions
A settlement in a survival action involves reaching an agreement between the plaintiff (surviving family members) and the defendant (the responsible party or their insurer) to resolve the case without going to trial. Settlements can occur at various stages of the litigation process, including before a lawsuit is filed, during pre-trial negotiations, or even during a trial.
Advantages of Settlements:
Certainty: Settlements provide certainty in terms of outcome and compensation. Survivors know what to expect, including the amount they will receive, which can help with financial planning.
Faster Resolution: Settlements typically result in quicker resolution compared to trials, which can be time-consuming and emotionally draining.
Privacy: Settlements are private agreements, and the details do not become part of the public record, preserving the family’s privacy.
Reduced Legal Costs: Settling a case often involves lower legal costs compared to the expenses incurred during a full trial.
Disadvantages of Settlements:
Potentially Lower Compensation: In some cases, settlements may result in lower compensation than what survivors could potentially receive if they prevailed at trial.
No Adjudication of Fault: Settlements do not provide an official determination of fault or liability on the part of the defendant, which may be important for some survivors seeking closure.
Loss of Control: Once a settlement is accepted, survivors have limited control over the outcome, as they must abide by the terms agreed upon.
IV. Trials in Survival Actions
Taking a survival action to trial involves presenting the case before a judge or jury, who will determine the outcome based on the evidence and arguments presented by both parties.
Advantages of Trials:
Full Adjudication: Trials provide survivors with the opportunity to have the case fully adjudicated, including a determination of fault and liability on the part of the defendant.
Potential for Higher Compensation: If successful at trial, survivors may receive a higher compensation amount than what was offered in a settlement.
Precedent: Trial outcomes can set legal precedent and influence future cases, potentially leading to safer practices and prevention of similar incidents.
Disadvantages of Trials:
Uncertainty: Trials carry an inherent level of uncertainty, as the outcome is determined by a judge or jury, and there is no guarantee of success.
Time-Consuming: Trials can be lengthy, often lasting several months or even years, adding emotional and financial strain to survivors.
Public Proceedings: Trials are public proceedings, and details of the case, including personal information, become part of the public record.
Higher Legal Costs: Litigating a case through trial can result in significantly higher legal costs due to the preparation, court appearances, and expert witness fees.
V. Considerations in Choosing Settlement or Trial
Survivors must carefully consider several factors when deciding between a settlement or trial:
Strength of the Case: Assess the strength of the evidence and arguments. A strong case may provide leverage during settlement negotiations.
Emotional Impact: Consider the emotional toll of a trial on survivors and their willingness to endure the process.
Financial Needs: Evaluate immediate and long-term financial needs. Settlements may provide quicker access to funds, which can be crucial for medical bills and other expenses.
Liability and Accountability: Consider whether a trial is necessary to establish liability and hold the responsible party accountable for their actions.
Legal Costs: Factor in the potential legal costs associated with taking the case to trial and whether the potential for higher compensation justifies these costs.
VI. Consultation with Legal Experts
Navigating the decision to settle or go to trial in a survival action requires consultation with experienced attorneys who specialize in personal injury and wrongful death law. Legal professionals can provide invaluable guidance, assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case, and help survivors make informed decisions aligned with their goals and needs.
VII. Conclusion: Balancing Justice and Closure
The decision to settle or go to trial in a survival action is a complex and deeply personal one. Survivors must weigh the advantages and disadvantages carefully, considering their emotional well-being, financial needs, and the pursuit of justice and accountability. Ultimately, the choice should reflect the survivor’s goals and priorities, as they navigate the challenging journey toward closure and compensation in the wake of a tragic loss.