Just like with criminal cases, the vast majority of civil actions end up being settled out of court instead of via trial. Even so, defendants and plaintiffs alike sometimes agree to settlements that are later discovered to be less than optimal. That can leave some wondering whether it might be possible to reopen the case so as to strive for a more satisfying resolution to the matter.
Most Legal Settlements are Binding and Final
In the average case, the terms of the settlement will have been negotiated so as to make sure that neither party will be able to raise the same issues again. The point of an out-of-court settlement, after all, is to permanently free both the defendant and the plaintiff from confronting the delays and expenses associated with formal trials.
As such, most settlement agreements will include terms that restrict both parties from making the same sorts of claims against one another in the future. At the very least, once a settlement agreement has been signed and countersigned those causes of action specifically addressed within it will normally be considered obsolete.
There Are Still Times When Cases Can be Reopened
In many cases, opting for a settlement makes sense for both parties, as a study summarized in the New York Times made quite clear. Despite that, people and organizations that agree to settlements fairly regularly end up pursuing similar or related claims later on. While it will not normally be legally justified to reopen a particular case after accepting a binding, properly formulated settlement agreement, issues like the following can tip the scales:
- Multiple parties at fault. A legal agreement can only ever obligate those who sign on to it and who receive some sort of consideration for doing so. In some cases, the situation that led to a settlement will include faults by parties other than those who have agreed to it. Should two drivers have been at fault in an accident that caused harm to a third, for instance, it will sometimes be possible for the injured party to pursue compensation after having agreed to a settlement with one of them.
- Legally defective settlement agreements. Not all settlement agreements are as legally sound and binding as they are meant to be, either. Should problems with a settlement agreement be discovered after it has been signed by both parties, it will sometimes be possible to reopen the case in light of that fact. Determining whether such faults might exist will always require the counsel of lawyers like those at Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, as such technical issues will hardly ever be apparent to laypeople.
Better to Sign Only When Sure, but Other Options Sometimes Exist
With somewhere around 97 percent of all civil cases were settled or dismissed without a verdict being issued in court, questions about reopening cases after settlements have been reached are quite common. It will always be best to agree to a settlement only after having considered the issue very carefully and comprehensively.
At the same time, there will also sometimes be situations where it will be possible to continue ahead with a particular case despite a settlement having been signed previously. Whether because additional information has been learned or because of a problem with the agreement itself, getting in touch with an attorney in such cases can easily pay off.