The term settlement has a number of meanings attributed respectively to the areas of law, finance, archaeology, and history. The legal definition generally refers to the act of settling a dispute or disagreement and reaching an agreement on the case, which then settles the claim. Often both sides of a lawsuit have a strong incentive to settle, chiefly to avoid costs. Courts can enforce settlements, and the party in default can be sued for breach of contract. In modern litigation, most suits are either withdrawn or settled, and settlements have become an important feature of the legal process. In rarer instances, the process of giving real estate, land, or some other heritage to someone is called a settlement, as is the respective document.
In finance the term generally describes the settling or payment of an account. More specifically, a settlement delivers securities or interests in securities to fulfill contractual obligations. This is usually preceded by trading and involves a purchase price. Before the introduction of the electronic settlement system in the 1990s, securities settlement was associated with a certain financial risk because it involved the physical movement of paper instruments, which were relatively easy to steal or forge. The transition from paper-based to electronic settlement is accomplished by immobilization, which means that securities are held by depositaries that are electronically linked to a settlement system. The ultimate goal is to dispense with paper instruments entirely (dematerialization).
The term settlement is also used to describe a specific human habitat that may include all sizes of human settlements, from hamlets to cities. More specifically, a settlement is the most rudimentary form of human habitation in a formerly uninhabited area. The term also refers to archaeological sites of human habitation. Settlement patterns and landscape approaches, which record material traces of human habitation, have become central for contemporary archaeology because they help explain long-term cultural and behavioral change. Thus archaeologists believe that the first European settlement in North America occurred around 1000 CE, when Viking explorers made their way to Vinland, which is probably modern Newfoundland.
For reasons unknown, European contact with the North American continent was interrupted until the sixteenth century, when the Spaniards reached Florida. In 1565 the Spaniards established the first permanent European settlement at Saint Augustine, a base for missionaries and (slave) traders. A few decades later rival European powers founded settlements along the east coast of the continent. Around 1600 the French assumed control over the Saint Lawrence Valley, founded the settlements of Quebec (1608) and Montreal (1642), and during the century succeeded in bringing a few hundred settlers to Louisiana. While the Dutch controlled the Hudson River valley for much of the seventeenth century, the major settlements of the English Crown were established in Jamestown (1607) and Plymouth (1620). At the same time the Spanish also started to settle in the Southwest of the continent; however, it took them over 150 years to establish outposts on the coast of the Pacific.
In the Southwest and West the Spanish eventually yielded to American settlers who claimed the territory during the nineteenth century, a claim that not only involved land but also expressed a belief in individual liberty and economic opportunity. The settlement of the West was hastened by the Homestead Act of 1862, which granted 160 acres to any family that lived on the land for five years. In the American West a small village or collection of houses was called a settlement.
In the antebellum South, the term settlement sometimes referred to the living quarters of the slaves on a plantation. In urban areas of the United States, the word settlement acquired a different meaning. The term social settlement originated in London’s East End, where Samuel Barnett and a group of Oxford students founded Toynbee Hall in 1884 by “settling” in a working-class area, not only to help their neighbors but to learn firsthand about the mounting problems of urbanization. Only two years later the first settlement house was founded in the United States, and the settlement movement grew rapidly, with Hull-House in Chicago, College Settlement in New York, and South End House in Boston becoming the most famous social settlements. Because settlements mainly worked for and among ethnically diverse urban populations, they became central to the reform efforts of the Progressive Era. The settlement idea also spread to western Europe, South Asia, and Japan; and the International Federation of Settlements and Neighborhood Centres was founded in 1926 as a worldwide association of national, regional, and local organizations working to strengthen communities in society.
SEE ALSO Agricultural Industry; Cities; Colonialism; Finance; Law; Peasantry; Plantation; Settlement, Negotiated; Settlement, Tobacco; Settlements; Slavery
Billman, Brian R., and Gary M. Feinman, eds. 1999. Settlement Pattern Studies in the Americas: Fifty Years since Virú. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Carson, Mina. 1990. Settlement Folk: Social Thought and the American Settlement Movement, 1885-1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Middleton, Richard. 2002. Colonial America: A History 1565-1776. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wahlgren, Erik. 1986. The Vikings and America. New York: Thames and Hudson.
The act of adjusting or determining the dealings or disputes between persons without pursuing the matter through a trial.
In civil lawsuits, settlement is an alternative to pursuing litigation through trial. Typically, it occurs when the defendant agrees to some or all of the plaintiff's claims and decides not to fight the matter in court. Usually, a settlement requires the defendant to pay the plaintiff some monetary amount. Popularly called settling out of court, a settlement agreement ends the litigation. Settlement is a popular option for several reasons, but a large number of cases are settled simply because defendants want to avoid the high cost of litigation. Settlement may occur before or during the early stages of a trial. In fact, simple settlements regularly take place before a lawsuit is even filed. In complex litigation, especially class action suits or cases involving multiple defendants, a settlement requires court approval.
Civil lawsuits originate when a claimant decides that another party has caused him or her injury and files suit. The plaintiff seeks to recover damages from the defendant. The defendant's attorney will evaluate the plaintiff's claim. If the plaintiff has a strong case and the attorney believes defendant is likely to lose, the attorney may recommend that the defendant settle the case. By settling, the defendant avoids the financial cost of litigating the case. Trials are often extremely expensive because of the amount of time required by attorneys, and even alternatives to trials, such as mediation and arbitration, can be costly. In deciding whether to settle a claim, attorneys act as intermediaries. The parties to the suit must decide whether to offer, accept, or decline a settlement.
The cost of litigation is only one factor that encourages settlement. Both plaintiffs and defendants are often motivated to settle for other reasons. For one thing litigation is frequently unpleasant. The process of discovery—in which both sides solicit information from each other—can cause embarrassment because considerable personal and financial information must be released. Litigation can also have a harmful impact on the public reputation of the parties. Employers, for example, sometimes settle sexual harassment claims in order to avoid unwanted media exposure or damage to employee morale.
Like litigation itself, settlement is a process. Generally, the easiest time to settle a dispute is before litigation begins, but many opportunities for settlement present themselves. As litigation advances toward trial, attorneys for both sides communicate with each other and with the court and gauge the relative strength of their cases. If either of the parties believes he is unlikely to prevail, he is likely to offer a settlement to the other party.
Litigation ends when a settlement is reached. The plaintiff typically agrees to forgo any future litigation against the defendant, and the defendant agrees to pay the plaintiff some monetary amount. Additionally, settlements can require the defendant to change a policy or stop some form of behavior.
Often, the exact terms of settlements are not disclosed publicly, particularly in high-profile cases where the defendant is seeking to protect a public reputation. In high-profile cases, settlements are often followed by a public statement by the defendant. It is not unusual for a large company to settle with a plaintiff for an undisclosed amount and then to issue a statement saying that the company did nothing wrong.
In some forms of litigation, settlement is more complex. In class actions, for example, attorneys represent a large group of plaintiffs, known as the class, who typically seek damages from a company or organization. Courts review the terms of a class action settlement for fairness. Complexities also arise in cases involving multiple defendants. In particular, when only some of the defendants agree to settle, the court must determine the share of liability that accrues to those defendants who choose to pursue litigation.
Practising Law Institute (PLI). 1996. Class Action Settlements, by Roberta D. Liebenberg, Ralph G. Wellington, and Sherrie R. Savett. Corporate Law and Practice Course Handbook series: Financial Services Litigation, PLI order no. B4-7153.
——. 1996. Settlement, by Norma Polizzi. Litigation and Administrative Practice Course Handbook Series: Litigation, PLI order no. H4-5247.
——. 1995. Damages and Settlements in Sex Harassment Cases, by Richard G. Moon. Litigation and Administrative Practice Course Handbook Series: Litigation, PLI order no. H4-5213.
set·tle·ment / ˈsetlmənt/ • n. 1. an official agreement intended to resolve a dispute or conflict: unions succeeded in reaching a pay settlement | the settlement of the Palestinian problem. ∎ a formal arrangement made between the parties to a lawsuit in order to resolve it, esp. out of court: the owner reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs.2. a place, typically one that has hitherto been uninhabited, where people establish a community: the little settlement of Buttermere. ∎ the process of settling in such a place: the early settlement of Queensland. ∎ the action of allowing or helping people to do this: Israel's settlement of immigrants in the occupied territories.3. Law an arrangement whereby property passes to a succession of people as dictated by the settlor. ∎ the amount or property given.4. the action or process of settling an account.5. subsidence of the ground or a structure built on it: a boundary wall, which has cracked due to settlement, is to be replaced.
1. Gradual subsidence of a structure, caused by the compression of soil below foundation level. Normally a uniform amount of settlement can be accepted but damage may occur when different parts settle disproportionately. See DIFFERENTIAL SETTLEMENT.
2. In mining, the lowering of overlying strata due to extraction of material.
1. Distortion or disruption of parts of a building caused by unequal compression of its foundation, or by shrinkage, or by undue weight placed upon them.
3. Group of buildings forming the nucleus of a new village or town.