Why Do Cases Go To Trial? (Instead of Settling)

There are tons of reasons why cases go on to trial.

As a trial lawyer, I was in the hot seat in many of these.

In the article that follows, I’ll cover some of the main reasons a case goes to trial.

Why Do Cases Go To Trial?


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The Parties Are Too Far Apart

Some cases just need to be decided by someone else, such as a judge or a jury.

This happens most often was the positions of the parties, either in a civil or criminal case, are too far apart.

For example, let’s say that both parties want to settle the case.

The plaintiff wants $250,000 to settle the claims.

The defendant can only offer $50,000 to settle the claims.

The middle ground between them is too wide to bridge in a mediation, if neither party can be moved from their position.

In these cases, a trial is required to determine who deserves what and how much.

The Principle Of The Thing

Sometimes the case is not about the money or the injury.

Sometimes the parties are entrenched in their positions because of principle.

Maybe someone’s feelings were hurt.

Maybe someone’s pride was bruised.

Maybe the actions of one or both of the parties weren’t right.

When a client has decided that he’ll take the case to trial no matter what, because that is what is right, there’s almost nothing you can do to settle the case.

One Side Is Convinced He’ll Sweep The Table

Sometimes one of the parties is in a stronger position than the other.

Maybe the evidence just is better for the plaintiff than the defendant, or vice versa.

That party will not want to settle for anything less than what he demanded in his pleadings, because he believes in his heart that he’ll get it if he goes to trial.

Maybe he does have the evidence, and maybe he doesn’t.

But it’s the belief that he can prevail (meaning he doesn’t feel compelled to settle for a guaranteed outcome because of risks) that prevents any meaningful settlement discussions from happening.

Splitting The Baby

Sometimes there is no middle ground.

This happens often in family law cases.

The parties both want custody of the children, and only one parent can have full custody.

When there isn’t a way to meet in the middle, a trial is required to make the decision.

Lack Of Client Control

Attorneys have a lot of power to help cases settle.

We talk to our clients and give them an honest assessment of the chances at trial.

Hopefully, over a period of weeks, months, or even years, we’ve developed a relationship and rapport with a client.

Hopefully, when it’s time for the client to trust us, he’ll listen.

Like if we say, the odds are not good that we’ll win, he’ll take that as a sign that he should be more reasonable.

But if we have not developed that rapport (or the client is resistant to guidance), it won’t matter that the case is bad and the attorney is telling the client the truth, the client will do what he wants.

We talk about ‘client’ control a lot.

Sometimes the client is not very rational.

Sometimes the client doesn’t understand very well what is happening.

Sometimes the client is not a very good person.

Over time, attorneys vet clients more carefully to make sure that they people they work with are the kinds of people they can guide and develop a rapport with.

And they avoid the people they cannot, or they withdraw from the case when they see that they are struggling with the client.

Sometimes cases go to trial because the lawyer just can’t make his client understand that going to trial is a bad idea.

Trial Is Where The Money Is

It sounds mercenary, but lawyers earn more money for trial prep and trial than they do when they only work on the case .1 here and .1 there.

Some attorneys have no desire to try and settle the case, because they need or want to earn the legal fees.

Cases go to trial sometimes because lawyers make money when cases go to trial.

The Client Has A Right To The Trial

In the United States, a defendant in a criminal case has the right to a fair trial, and the right to have the government prove the case against him or her.

Sometimes cases go to trial simply because the client wants to exercise his or her rights as provided to them as an American.

Certainly, it would be cheaper and more efficient for the client to simply accept a plea deal and move on with his life.

But sometimes trial is what happens.

Trial Takes A Long Time

It takes a long time for a case to work its way through to trial, especially if it is a jury trial.

In the meantime, the client (civil or criminal) can continue with his or her life if they are not in custody.

This means extra months of working to earn money, to see the kids play baseball, and to do whatever they want.

Wrap Up

Not sure if you should take your case to try or settle it?

Talk to your lawyer.

If your lawyer hasn’t answered all of your questions or provided you with confidence in his or her recommendations, consider a different lawyer.

Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?

Browse our free legal library guides for more information.

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