Can I Still Sue After a Settlement?
Many civil claims never reach the trial phase. It is generally in the best interest of all parties to settle the matter as quickly as possible to avoid legal fees for lengthy litigation. A plaintiff may be willing to forego a bit of compensation in exchange for a speedier resolution to a claim. A defendant may be willing to part with a bit more than expected to clear up the situation as quickly as possible.
It is essential to understand how settlements work. When an injured party agrees to a settlement offer, accepting the settlement is almost always contingent upon signing a release of liability for the defendant. This means in exchange for accepting the defendant’s settlement offer, the plaintiff agrees to release the defendant from all future liability for the same event. Ultimately, settling a case means the plaintiff can no longer pursue any legal action against the same defendant for the same claim.
Backing Out of a Settlement
It is possible for a plaintiff to back out of settlement negotiations once they begin, as long as the plaintiff has not signed a release of liability and accepted the settlement offer. For example, a car accident claimant agrees to a settlement negotiation with the at-fault driver, but the two parties cannot come to mutually agreeable terms during negotiations. In this case, the plaintiff could back out of the settlement process and proceed with a trial. The procedure may vary depending on whether the plaintiff agreed to settle before or after filing suit.
Settling Prior to Filing Suit
If a plaintiff receives a settlement offer prior to filing suit, he or she will need an attorney to dispute the terms of the settlement. For example, an insurance adjuster will rarely adjust the terms of a settlement offer for a claimant who does not have legal representation. There is also no guarantee the adjuster will alter the terms of the settlement even after securing legal representation. At this point, the plaintiff can either accept the settlement offer and drop the issue or proceed with a suit and hope that a judge rules in the plaintiff’s favor and allows the plaintiff to back out of the settlement negotiation.
Settling During Suit
After a plaintiff files suit, then the defendant’s attorney and the plaintiff’s attorney may negotiate the terms of release to avoid a trial. If the two parties can come to a mutually agreeable solution, then the plaintiff’s attorney will likely recommend signing the release and accepting the defendant’s offer. If a mutually agreeable solution is not possible, then they will submit the issue to a judge and the judge will determine the validity and fairness of the release. The judge may also decide to cancel the settlement and move the issue to trial.
It is possible for a civil case to involve multiple defendants. In such a situation, settling with one defendant does not preclude settling with others or moving to trial against the others. It is very important for the plaintiff to read a proposed release very carefully to avoid signing away the right to file additional claims against other parties involved in the incident in question. Some insurers use generic language in their settlement offers that could effectively cancel a claimant’s right to pursue claims against other defendants, and the plaintiff’s attorney can help resolve these issues.
Ultimately, signing a release will almost always prevent the plaintiff from pursuing additional legal action except under specific circumstances. Even if an attorney gave a plaintiff bad advice concerning a settlement offer, signing and agreeing to the terms of the settlement essentially comes with the price of giving up the right to pursue damages for the same claim against the same defendant in the future.
If you have questions or believe your accident or injuries were due to another’s negligence, speak with a Phoenix injury attorney. At Begam, Marks, Traulsen P.A., our team of experienced and dedicated lawyers can make all the difference in your personal injury case. Contact us today.