Why Can’t The Jury Hear About Settlement Offers or Negotiations in Florida Personal Injury Cases?
Despite the best attempts of an excellent mediator and countless telephone calls in between your attorney and the defense attorney for the motorist who injured you, your case simply cannot be settled before trial starts. Immediately before the first day of trial, your lawyer tells you that, whatever you do, you cannot mention that either side made any settlement offers or anything that you may have learned during the settlement discussions that happened between the parties. If you do, the judge will likely declare a mistrial (meaning the whole trial must occur over again, from picking a jury, to opening arguments, to presenting witnesses). Somewhat surprised, you follow his instructions, but you cannot help but wonder why this is so important.
Many people involved in a personal injury lawsuit for the first time are surprised at how much the civil justice system incentivizes the parties to civil lawsuits to settle their cases instead of taking the case all the way through to a jury rendering a verdict. While there are many reasons for this, the simplest reason is that the law does not want to penalize parties from attempting to reach a resolution of a dispute before it ends up before a jury. Another reason is more practical: if every personal injury lawsuit that were filed ended up in a trial, the system would shut down. There are not enough juries or jurors (even before Covid-19 threw a monkey-wrench into the whole system) for every case to be tried before a jury. In addition, in many cases, it simply may not be in your best interest or that of the other side to have your case end up in a trial. Trials are expensive and there are many cases in which it makes more sense to save the costs associated with taking a case all the way through to the end of a long, risky, expensive trial and instead to settle the case earlier on. Therefore, for all these reasons, the law is that a jury cannot hear about any settlement offers made between the parties at trial in any type of case in Florida.
Settlement Discussions Are Privileged under Florida Law
Florida law provides that “Evidence of an offer to compromise a claim which was disputed as to validity or amount, as well as any relevant conduct or statements made in negotiations concerning a compromise, is inadmissible to prove liability or absence of liability for the claim or its value.” This means in plain English that if your attorney offers to resolve your case for $250,000 and in doing so says “We have a great case on liability, but the injuries are not significant enough to take this case to trial,” the defense attorney would not be able to introduce this settlement offer or your attorney’s accompanying statement as evidence that your injuries really are not that serious. Similarly, if the defense attorney or insurance carrier says “We have a real weak spot” as to a certain issue and offers $150,000 to resolve your case, the jury is not permitted to hear that at trial.
Why Is It So Important That Any Settlement Offers Not Be Heard by the Jury?
Many times, an insurance company, which is in the business of managing risk, will make a business decision that is not worth fighting a particular case due to the potential that it may end up paying more by taking the case to trial than by settling it early. After all, the insurance carrier would not only be on the hook for whatever verdict the jury reaches if it finds for the plaintiff, but the insurer would also be responsible for paying the attorney’s fees of the defense lawyer for the negligent motorist that injured you. Therefore, the insurer should not be penalized for attempting to resolve your case at an earlier juncture.
On the flip side, even in a scenario where the injured person may have a slam dunk case as to liability against the negligent motorist, sometimes the potential financial upside may not be worth the costs involved in taking the case all the way through to the end of a trial from a pure dollars and sense perspective. After all, every dollar that is spent in pursuing the negligent party will come out of the victim’s ultimate recovery. For example, if you were injured in a rear-end collision in which the negligent motorist caused you to suffer a severe case of whiplash that resolved after several months of treatment without any permanent injuries, then it likely may not be worth your while to take your case all the way to a jury verdict. The expense involved in getting to the verdict may leave you with a much smaller net recovery than if you settle the case for less money earlier on. Or, if the motorist that hit you has no personal assets and limited insurance coverage and the insurer is offering the full amount of that insurance coverage early on before your attorney has incurred much in the way of expenses in pursuing your case, then it likely makes sense to take a sure thing rather than go to trial, in the process risking possibly eating up every dollar of the available insurance.
Why Does This Rule Exist?
This rule exists for the very reason that parties should not be penalized for trying to reach a resolution of a case outside of having it tried in front of a jury. It also reflects the understanding that jurors, who may not be familiar with how the civil legal system works, may not understand how often cases are settled or settlement is discussed between the attorneys. A jury, perhaps never having been involved in a court case before, may not understand that settlement offers are made in virtually every case. The jurors thus may think that one side or the other having made a settlement offer is a sign of weakness or a lack of confidence in that side’s case. For instance, a juror that hears an injured person has made a settlement offer may think the person is not confident in his or her case and may be less likely to be fair and impartial when it comes down to the jury’s deliberations at the end of the case if the juror feels like the plaintiff is not confident in his or her case.
Contact Schwed Adams & McGinley
At Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A., our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of combined legal practice representing victims of motor vehicle or pedestrian accidents, slip and fall incidents and other personal injury scenarios in Florida. While we have tried hundreds of cases to verdict, we will also be straight with our clients in assessing whether their case is one that we recommend trying to a verdict or not given the issues in their case and their likely recovery if they take a case to trial versus settling it before the jury renders its verdict. Therefore, if you, a family member, or a loved one have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, slip and fall incident or any other situation caused by someone else’s negligence in Florida, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A today at 877-694-6079 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation.