I was involved in a case that stemmed from a terrible act of negligence by a doctor. It was obvious when the case started that the doctor screwed up and there was no apparent defense. The family of the patient lost a great person who was loved by many. They weren’t looking for a lottery ticket, but wanted compensation for their loss and to ensure that measures were put in to place to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
The case took almost four years and right before the trial was about to start, the first settlement offer was made. Previously the insurance company said that no offer would be made. The first offer wasn’t good enough, neither was the second. But after a little back and forth the parties settled for a fair sum. Each side spent thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands in legal costs to get to this point. Nothing really changed from day one and the amount that was settled for was basically the bottom line from when this tragic accident happened.
So why do so many cases settle right before trial?
There are actually a lot of reasons. In no particular order:
– While the insurance company/defendant may know they are at fault, they don’t know who will be suing them. By making you give a deposition, they may learn that you’d make a terrible witness at trial or that your loved one was a terrible person. Maybe they’ll learn that you didn’t have much of a relationship with them or that you are a drug addict or convicted child molester. Most of these things aren’t probable, but before you give away millions, you want to find out.
– You or whoever is bringing the lawsuit could die. That would potentially reduce the value of the case. If a man dies and leaves behind a wife, but no kids, if she passes away, the impact of the loss isn’t as great. Sounds morbid, but this is how insurance companies think.
– They earn interest on the money they aren’t paying you.
– New facts could emerge that make what seems like a slam dunk case turn in to just a so-so case. They are looking for any reason to deny your claim and if they don’t go through the discovery process they’ll never know what defense they could have had. We were involved with a case of a woman who was rear-ended by a semi truck driver. Seems like a sure thing, right? Well their expert alleged that her break lights weren’t working and since this happened at night, it created a possible defense.
– People who are scared of trial might jump at a low ball offer. If your case is worth $10 million and they offer you $4 million a year before trial, you won’t feel as anxious because there is plenty of time to negotiate. On the other hand, if opening statements are tomorrow morning and then you have to testify, you might want that sure thing and avoid the agony of being on a witness stand. At least that’s their theory.
– The insurance company doesn’t want people to think these cases are easy. If they don’t make the plaintiff’s attorneys spend their own money and have something at risk then they will bring every possible lawsuit that they can.
Of course there are plenty of other reasons too and not every case takes this long. Just know that if it happens to you, you are not alone or experiencing anything unique. To you it’s rightfully a serious matter. To the insurance people it’s a game or about risk analysis.