Study on Settling vs. Going to Trial
This New York Times article raises some interesting questions about a litigant's decision to settle or go to trial. The article summarizes findings from a new study on civil lawsuits, showing that most people who refuse a settlement offer end up recovering less at trial. From the article:
Defendants made the wrong decision by proceeding to trial far less often, in 24 percent of cases, according to the study; plaintiffs were wrong in 61 percent of cases. In just 15 percent of cases, both sides were right to go to trial — meaning that the defendant paid less than the plaintiff had wanted but the plaintiff got more than the defendant had offered.
The article goes on to consider what wrong decisions--decisions that lead to greater costs to a defendant or smaller recovery to a plaintiff than would have resulted from settling--are based upon, including the role of the lawyer in providing a clear picture about the likely outcome of going to trial, and the role of the client in assessing the risks.
But what it didn't consider were the non-monetary aspects of the decision to go to trial, and whether these sometimes prevail over financial incentives. For example, what about plaintiffs who believe it more important to get the information they are seeking, which they wouldn't obtain without a trial? What about those motivated by a desire to publicly expose a harmful practice that would continue if they settled?
Is it accurate to say that a person who recovered less money, but achieved a non-financial goal, made the "wrong" decision by not settling? I look forward to reading the study (to be published in September) and seeing whether that issue is explored. In the mean time it would be nice to hear folks weigh in.