What Is a Settlement Conference?

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 What Is a Settlement Conference?

Settlement conferences occur in the course of personal injury settlements. In a claim for a personal injury, an injured party, known as a plaintiff, claims that they have sustained an injury due to an act or failure to act by a wrongdoer, known as a defendant. A court may award the plaintiff monetary damages for their personal injury if the plaintiff is successful in their personal injury claim.

Personal injury damages can include a plaintiff’s emotional health, physical health, or both. Examples of common mental health injuries include emotional distress sustained by an accident. Examples of common physical injuries include injuries to organs, limbs, broken bones, or injuries to other parts of the anatomy. Personal injuries can also be long-term, meaning that personal injury damages may address future damages.

A settlement conference is a formal meeting between all parties in a civil lawsuit in which all parties attempt to resolve their legal dispute(s) without a trial. All parties to a settlement conference will generally attempt to address any claimed damages and try to agree upon a fixed amount that the parties will exchange to resolve all disputes.

Examples of monetary damages that may be addressed in a settlement conference include:

  • Restitution: Restitution is damages that are meant to restore an injured party to the position they were before the injury occurred;
  • Liquidated Damages: Liquidated damages are a pre-set amount of monetary damages meant to reflect an estimate of the actual damages a party should receive, should a specified injury occur.
    • Liquidated damages clauses typically appear in contracts where the subject matter may complicate the process of predicting the amount of actual damages; and
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are damages that are issued when there is an incentive for a court to punish and deter the offending party from re-committing outrageous and offensive actions in the future.
    • It is important to note that punitive damages are not typically addressed in a settlement conference, as a court or jury majorly awards them.
    • Preventing punitive damages is often a reason to participate in a settlement conference.

Other resolutions not involving monetary damages are often reached in a settlement conference. For example, when another party fails to perform an act or service, the other party may resolve the dispute in a settlement conference by agreeing to perform the act or service. Additionally, when one party sues another for their continuous damages, an injunction may be agreed upon to have the defendant cease an action.

In some cases and jurisdictions, a settlement conference will be mandatory. Often, settlement conferences are mandatory to reduce the caseload on more active courts. However, a settlement does not have to be reached at the settlement conference. In such a case, the parties may proceed to trial.

What Happens at a Settlement Conference?

Once again, in a settlement conference, all parties to the civil lawsuit will typically address all damages claims and attempt to reach settlement terms; if the parties can reach a settlement agreement at a settlement conference, that will save all parties from the costs and uncertainty of going to trial.

In a settlement agreement, the plaintiff will agree to no longer pursue the civil lawsuit against the defendant(s) in exchange for payment of certain damages or a cessation of action by the defendant. Once again, one of the main motivators for all parties to a civil lawsuit to settle the case is to avoid the costs of going to trial.

The following is a list of matters that are typically addressed at a settlement conference:

  • The total amount that the defendant allegedly owes the plaintiff;
  • Whether or not the settlement will be paid in a single lump sum payment or structured with periodic payments;
  • Any counterclaims for damages that are being sought by the defendant against the plaintiff or other parties;
  • How and when the settlement payments are to be made, including the method of payment; and
  • Legal consequences for a breach of the settlement terms that are reached.

In a settlement conference, the parties are usually represented by separate attorneys. Then, if the parties can reach a settlement agreement at the conference, they may then formalize their agreement into a written settlement agreement. The settlement agreement can then be presented to the judge and converted into a more formal court order in a settlement meeting.

What If I Have a Dispute over an Injury Settlement?

If there are any legal disputes over an injury settlement, those disputes can be addressed before the conclusion of the conference or before the final order by the court. As mentioned above, when a settlement is reached at a settlement conference, it is often binding on both parties. There will be legal consequences if either party attempts to back out of the settlement agreement.

However, parties can still change the terms of the settlement agreement if it would be unjust for the settlement agreement to be enforced. For example, if one party was not in the right mental state, it can be argued that the parties never made a binding agreement.

Additionally, if a settlement agreement was reached contingent on some third party not being present at the settlement conference, the settlement may be thrown out. This is why all parties need to be present at the settlement conference. Empty chairs lead to ineffective settlement conferences.

If a legal dispute occurs after the court has already issued a final order, then the dispute may require additional legal proceedings. For example, if the defendant fails to pay the monthly amounts required under the settlement agreement, enforcement and collection proceedings may be necessary.

It is important to note that most settlements entered voluntarily by the parties generally cannot be revoked or changed. However, in the case of a judge-hosted settlement conference, there may be a reason for the settlement agreement that was reached to be thrown out. For example, if there was misconduct by the court, the settlement agreement may be thrown out, and the parties can either engage in further settlement talks or proceed to trial.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Settlement Conference?

As can be seen, numerous different strategies are necessary for negotiating a successful settlement in a settlement conference. As such, if you have been damaged by the actions or inactions of another party, or if another party and a settlement conference have civilly sued you, then it is in your best interests to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer.

An experienced personal injury attorney will assist you in gathering all of the documentation needed to successfully prepare for a settlement and in making a settlement demand. An attorney will also be able to initiate a civil lawsuit on your behalf and ensure that any settlement reached is legally enforceable and in writing. Finally, an attorney can also represent you in court should settlement negotiations fail.

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