In a personal injury case that is settled during the course of a pretrial conference, is it required to put the settlement on the record, in open court.
Do You need to Put Settlement on the Record?
To answer if it is required, no it is not required. However, is it considered a best practice to do this? Yes, it is. Why is that? It is to make sure that the client understands that the case is over, once he agrees to settle it. It is to make sure the client is making this decision under his own volition and without any outside coercion. The settlement has to be put on record so that the client clearly understands and recognizes that this case is finished.
How is it done?
Here is an example. The lawyers are trying to settle a personal injury case during a pretrial conference, where the plaintiff or victim is present. The judge is also present on the bench, and a court reporter is taking down all the information. The victim will take the stand, and his lawyer will ask him a series of questions, which will typically be questions of this nature:
- Do you recognize that by settling this case you cannot come back and reopen it?
- Are you doing this settlement of your own free will?
- Has anyone coerced you or forced you to enter into this settlement agreement?
- Are you taking any medications today that might impair your ability to go ahead and settle this case today?
The judge then will ask a series of questions to the plaintiff, and one of them will be:
- Are you satisfied by the legal representation by your attorney?
Why is it done?
The point of putting all this information about settlement on the record means the court reporter is recording all the questions, all the answers, and the idea is to get the plaintiff or victim to recognize and fully understand that this ends the case once and for all. The court, the defense attorney, and the victim and his lawyer will recognize that the case is over. Once this is done, nobody can come at a later time and try to reopen the case and start a ruckus about how they are unhappy with how this case was concluded.
Therefore, putting a settlement on the record is not a legal requirement. However, it is prudent to rule out any misunderstanding or for the victim to be under some mistaken understanding. Once the victim has agreed to a settlement, it is important for him to know that he will no longer be able to pursue this case. An official settlement marks the end of the case, and the victim has to understand that the particular amount he has settled for is all that he is ever going to receive.
Putting a settlement on the record could also reveal if there is anybody threatening the victim to settle, or if he is under some type of duress. The victim will declaring in open court under oath that he is accepting this settlement of his own free will and there was no one forcing him to open this door and walk through it.