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What is the Difference Between Settlements and Verdicts?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Settlements and verdicts are two possible outcomes of a legal dispute. At the most basic level, settlements and verdicts both set out to correctly dispense justice in a dispute, but while a verdict is handed down by a jury, a settlement is a mutual agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant. It is important to note that, in most regions, terms of a settlement must be accepted by a court as just in order for it to be a valid outcome of a legal case.

Verdict comes from an ancient Greek term meaning “to tell the truth.” In a trial, a jury is charged with listening to the facts of a case, then making the best decision possible for the court. In some cases, a plaintiff or defendant unhappy with the verdict can appeal the decision, which may then be taken to a higher-level court for another trial. Jury verdicts are often used in criminal cases, but may also be used in civil action as well. In a criminal case, the verdict deals primarily with the guilt or innocence of the defendant, while in a civil case the verdict may also include the amount of monetary damages to be paid.

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Settlements in civil trials are akin to plea bargains in criminal trials; they are usually an attempt to avoid the stress and expense of a lengthy trial by reaching a mutually agreed upon decision. Settlements may be hammered out by lawyers or, in some cases, the parties themselves. Once a settlement is reached, most jurisdictions require that the judge be notified and presented with the agreement signed by both parties. In some regions, a judge can freely modify or refuse to accept a settlement he or she feels is unjust.

The difference between settlements and verdicts lies primarily with the deciding party. People unable to reach any sort of mutual agreement will generally stick with a trial until a verdict is reached. It is important to note that the longer a trial lasts, the more money both parties generally lose by paying attorneys or missing work. Often, some of the biggest differences between settlements and verdicts is the money and time spent to achieve a final decision.

In a situation where a settlement cannot be reached due to one party simply refusing to consider a mutual agreement, a verdict may incur more penalties. Some juries will force the losing party to pay the winner's legal fees if it is clear that fair settlements were offered and rejected. In situations where a settlement is offered, it is often considered wise to consult an attorney to determine if the offer is fair and should be accepted. Settlements and verdicts can both be beneficial depending on the circumstances of the case and the applicable laws, so seeking expert advice is often crucial to making a good decision.

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