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Monday, November 23, 2015

Injury settlements sometimes more insightful than trial results

By Brandon K. Scott - Beaumont Enterprise

In the court of public opinion, personal injury lawsuits can be viewed negatively, with all the parties appearing focused on one thing - money.

Increasingly, though, plaintiffs' takeaways can be found in the small type, not the big numbers, of out-of-court settlements, attorneys say.

In recent years, non-monetary requirements - ranging from moments of silence to physical memorials - have become more common in final agreements.

"We encourage our clients to think outside the box and to talk about resolution processes that make them feel better about it," said Beaumont attorney Brent Coon, who recently handled a high-profile case whose settlement included such riders.

"It's not just about money. It's about some other remedy or agreement that creates a greater good or legacy for the loss of the loved one," Coon said.

As a practical matter, such conditions can help get settlements completed, especially when emotions run high.

"I think it's kind of cutting edge, and I think you're going to see a lot more of that," said Tommy L. Yeates, an attorney with Moore Landrey in Beaumont.

If plant worker Crystle Wise had received a large sum of money during her lifetime, her family believes she would have donated some of it to help animals.

So as part of the settlement with DuPont in the gas leak that killed Wise and three other people last November, the company agreed to make a $100,000 contribution to the American Humane Society, as well as observe a moment of silence on the anniversary of the incident for the next 10 years at DuPont facilities nationwide.

As long as the chemical company honors the conditions, the settlement remains confidential.

David Crump, a University of Houston law professor and civil trial lawyer, said many people who file lawsuits are looking to make a point, not just a buck.

"You'd be surprised at how many clients just want to put the defendant out of business," Crump said. "If it makes the plaintiff more satisfied, but doesn't cost the company any money, it's simply a decent thing to do and it can also result in settling the case."

Settling out of court is often the best option for plaintiffs - who studies show more than 60 percent of the time receive less at trial than they were offered beforehand - and saves defendants trials costs, legal experts say.

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