The vast majority of civil lawsuits and personal injury disputes are resolved by way of a settlement agreement signed by all the parties to the dispute or lawsuit. If a settlement agreement can be reached, the victim is often paid quicker than he or she would have been if the case had proceeded to trial and judgment. Despite their prevalence, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about settlement agreements.
So Do I Have to Go to Court for My Settlement?
The short answer is, “It depends.” A settlement agreement may be reached by the parties any time before a judge or jury renders a verdict in the lawsuit. There have been settlements that have been reached on the day of trial and even while the jury is out deliberating the case. In those situations, then yes, you would technically be in court when you reach a settlement with the other party. In most other cases, though, the answer is “no.”
Why Doesn’t the Court Need to Be Involved?
A settlement agreement is a private contract between the parties that resolves the dispute between them. Typically, in exchange for payment of some amount of money by the alleged at-fault party (the defendant) the injury victim (the plaintiff) agrees not to pursue any other legal rights or remedies the plaintiff may have against the defendant. The parties may also agree to other terms and conditions, such as a confidentiality clause that keeps the terms of the settlement secret or a clause in which the defendant does not admit any fault in causing the plaintiff’s injuries.
Because it is a private contract between parties, courts do not want to get involved so as to influence the terms of the agreement or interfere with the parties’ right and ability to reach an agreement of their choosing.
Can the Court Enforce an Agreement It Has Not Seen?
Courts are frequently called upon to interpret private contracts and enforce the terms thereof, and settlement agreements are no different. If a dispute arises between the parties after the settlement has been signed – for example, if the defendant does not pay the amount he or she agreed to pay under the terms of the settlement – the court will apply legal principles and rules applicable to contracts to determine each parties’ rights and responsibilities pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement. The court does not need to have seen the settlement agreement prior to being called upon to interpret it.
Do I Need to Go To Court to Get Paid Pursuant to the Settlement?
Again, the answer is most likely “no.” The settlement itself will clearly set out how much the defendant is supposed to pay the plaintiff and how and when the payment is to be made. If the defendant fails to make payment pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement, then it may become necessary to obtain the assistance of the courts. If the court finds the settlement agreement is a valid and enforceable contract, but the defendant still refuses to pay, the plaintiff is able to take one of several enforcement actions against the defendant to obtain payment of the amounts owed. In this sense, the court may become involved in helping the plaintiff get paid what he or she is owed under the terms of the settlement agreement.
In the majority of settlement cases, however, you will not have to set foot in a courtroom to complete the settlement process or to obtain payment pursuant to the settlement.
If you need help with this question and others, then give our experienced team of Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyers a FREE call today.