After an auto accident, you have two paths to take. One is faster and the other involves more legal maneuvering. The path you decide depends on several factors, such as whether or not fault is clear or muddy. Trying to make major decisions after being hurt in an accident is unwise, so speaking to a personal injury lawyer is a smart move. In the meantime, take a look at a simplified summary of the two main methods of getting paid after an accident — settlement or judgment.

Settlements in a Nutshell

A settlement and a judgment both translate to money, but settlements may allow victims to be paid faster. Your lawyer won't need to take legal action for a settlement to be paid. Often, the lawyer will send the other side a demand letter that is sort of like a more casual version of a lawsuit. The demand letter is not a legal action, however. The letter contains certain facts of your case including an assertion that the other driver caused the accident, a list of evidence you intend to present if the case should come to trial, and a dollar amount you expect to receive in a settlement. In most cases, several weeks are spent with your lawyer negotiating a settlement. If a settlement is not going to happen, a lawsuit may be filed as the next step.

Major Differences in Settlements and Judgments

Besides the time factor — judgments can take several months to be over — settlements and judgments differ in several ways.

Courts Can Award More

Settlement money comes from the at-fault driver's insurance carrier. If they are not insured (or are under-insured), the money may need to come from the driver. Even drivers that don't appear to have the means to pay can be sued. The courts have the power to freeze the driver's assets, such as a bank account, until the case is decided. If you win the judgment, the driver's assets can be seized to pay the costs. That means real estate, vehicles, investment accounts, bank accounts, and more. Also, their wages can be garnished. Only by taking the driver to court can you take these actions.

Settlements Can Be Less Expensive

With a settlement, the only costs will be legal fees (often a percentage of the settlement). When you go to court, though, there are bound to be more fees. Not only does the court system charge fees for everything that occurs during the course of the lawsuit, but you may owe your attorney more money if a case has to be litigated.

In some cases, you won't have a choice but to file suit. Accepting a good offer, however, may be a smarter move. Speak to a car injury lawyer to find out more.