What’s the Difference between a Verdict, Award or Settlement?


You’ll usually see personal injury lawyers post million-dollar verdicts, awards and settlements on their website. Many lawyers display badges on their websites like the Million Dollar Trial Lawyers Award™ or the Multi Million Dollar Trial Lawyers™ Award. But what does this really mean and what is the difference?


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What is a Verdict?

A verdict is the decision of a jury in a trial or a judge in a bench trial. A verdict in a civil case is the amount of money awarded to the plaintiff either by a jury at trial or by a judge at a bench trial. A trial is only held after a lawsuit has been started.


If the plaintiff and defendant elect not to have a trial by jury, the trial will be held by a judge. This is called a bench trial. The most common type of case decided by a bench trial are commercial lawsuits, while virtually all personal injury trials are jury trials.


After a jury trial, the defense will often file an appeal or threaten to file an appeal in an effort to negotiate a settlement for less than the verdict amount. In my law practice, we do not negotiate settlements after a trial and will let it go to appeal. On appeal, the verdict will not be issued by another jury but will be reviewed, usually, by three judges.


Appellate courts are known for reducing jury verdicts. Consequently, the plaintiff may not get the verdict amount but may get a smaller amount. If the case goes through the appeal process, it usually ends there.

What is an Award?

An award is the amount of money issued to the injured plaintiff by an arbitrator after an arbitration.


An arbitration is like a bench trial but is a more informal, shorter (usually 1-2 hours) and less expensive proceeding. Arbitrations are sometimes held a year or two before the case would ever get to trial. Arbitrations are conducted by an arbitrator who is either a lawyer, retired judge, or court referee.


Arbitrations may be conducted by the court or a private arbitration company. Arbitrations conducted by the court are usually not binding while arbitrations conducted by private companies are usually binding.


Arbitrations may be either binding or nonbinding. The amount of money issued at a binding arbitration is final and usually not appealable. Thus, there is no settlement of a binding arbitration decision.


The amount of money awarded at a non-binding arbitration is merely a recommendation. This is similar to a mediation. The purpose of non-binding arbitration or mediation is to hopefully lead to a settlement of the case by focusing the demands of the parties closer to a particular amount.

What is a Settlement?

A settlement is a negotiated agreement between the parties to settle the case. A settlement is final.

What Is Included in a Trial Verdict or Arbitration Award?

The amount of money included in a trial verdict or arbitration award to compensate the plaintiff in a personal injury case includes the following:

  • Past pain and suffering
  • Future pain and suffering
  • Past lost wages
  • Future lost wages
  • Past medical bills
  • Future medical bills

Why Is Money Given to an Injured Plaintiff for Pain and Suffering

The only way an injured plaintiff can be compensated for pain-and-suffering is with money. While pain can be treated, it cannot be removed and the plaintiff cannot be medically made whole again. The only way to attempt that is with money.


As noted above, money is also given to the injured plaintiff to compensate for the actual cost of medical bills and lost wages.


Philip L. Franckel, Esq.

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