According to Zavodnick/Zavodnick& Lasky, car accident attorneys in Philadelphia, no two car accidents are the same. That’s very true, and that similarly means that in instances of personal injury cases, no two outcomes are necessarily the same either.
For the most part, the goal of a personal injury lawsuit is to settle with an insurance company rather than going to trial, but what if that doesn’t happen?
The following are key things to know if your personal injury case ends up going to trial rather than a settlement being reached.
The Personal Injury Process
If you’re injured in an accident, and it’s the result of another person’s negligence, you might file a personal injury claim. To begin the process, it’s almost always best to hire a lawyer experienced in personal injury.
There is a statute of limitations that restricts how long you have to file a lawsuit following your injury. Once that’s up, you can’t file a claim.
The personal injury claim is a formal process by which the injured person, who is the plaintiff, seeks compensation from another party. That liable party is the defendant.
The process starts with a demand letter. In a demand letter, a plaintiff is formally asking for payment for damages. When an insurance company doesn’t pay, or there’s not a compromise that can be reached, the case then moves toward the lawsuit stage.
When you file a complaint, you’re providing formal notice to the defendant and the court that you’re filing a lawsuit. Then, there’s a discovery process which is when evidence is gathered.
Following discovery, around 95% of all personal injury cases are settled before a trial. Most are done in mediation, which is just a time for structured negotiation.
A settlement indicates there’s an agreement between both involved parties to end the case based on certain terms.
There’s a dollar amount that’s agreed on, and then the contract may also have other stipulations. For example, if you’re the plaintiff, the contract may say you can’t seek any money in the future.
What If Your Case is One of the 5% That Go To Trial?
If a settlement isn’t reached then the case goes to trial. During the trial, a judge and/or jury hears arguments from both sides; then they decide if the defendant is liable for the plaintiff’s injuries. If there’s a liability, there’s a decision on how much is owed.
If a defendant isn’t found liable, the case is dismissed.
Going to trial is expensive and time-consuming, so settling usually benefits both sides.
Why Would Your Case Go to Trial?
With a small minority of cases going to trial, why might yours?
There are a few common reasons a personal injury case might go to trial.
- If a determination of fault can’t be made in a personal injury case, then it might go to trial. The defendant might say they have no liability for the injuries of the plaintiff, and the defendant may believe that available evidence supports that. During the trial, the evidence is presented which determines who’s at fault.
- If an insurance company believes the plaintiff’s injuries aren’t as severe as is being claimed, or they think the injuries are the result of a pre-existing condition, they might not settle. Then, the plaintiff has to prove the severity of their injuries or maybe that their injuries aren’t related to something pre-existing.
- Another reason to go to trial is if there isn’t an agreement on proposed compensation. It’s in the best interest of an insurance company to offer as little compensation as possible.
What to Expect If You Go to Trial
If you do go to trial, then a judge or jury looks at all of the evidence, and a determination is made based on what’s called a preponderance of the evidence whether or not the defendant is legally responsible for the harm and injuries claimed by the plaintiff.
There are six general phases of a personal injury trial.
Some cases go before only a judge, but in many cases, there is a jury. One of the first steps of the actual trial process is a selection of the jury. Potential jurors are asked different questions by the judge as well as the attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant.
After a jury is selected, there may be opening statements. Both attorneys present dialogue, and there aren’t any witnesses or evidence used.
The plaintiff might use their opening statement to go over the facts surrounding the accident and injury, as well as the role they claim the defendant had in that.
The defendant will then outline their interpretation of the facts.
The next phase of the trial process may be witness testimony and cross-examination.
A plaintiff will present their evidence, and along with expert witnesses, the plaintiff might also show their physical evidence during this time.
Once a plaintiff has presented their case and evidence, and the other side challenges it, then no more evidence is presented.
Closing arguments are made, which is a summary of the case.
The jury receives instruction on legal standards and then deliberates to reach a verdict.
In most states in the instance of a personal injury case, the jury has to be unanimous in their findings, but some states allow for a majority.
For car accident jury trials, it usually takes a few days to reach a verdict, from the selection of the jury to the decision, but it can vary.
Regardless of whether a case is settled or goes to trial, it’s important to have an experienced lawyer in your corner. There are a lot of complexities in personal injury cases that a lawyer will understand.
Your lawyer is also likely to work to settle because going to trial is the last option for the majority of cases, and it’s not favorable in personal injury.