When most people think of a legal case, a jury trial in a courtroom probably comes to mind. However, the truth is most cases never go to trial. Instead, they are formally resolved beforehand during the settlement process. This is especially true for personal injury lawsuits that involve claims like slip-and-fall accidents, car accidents, bike accidents, or medical malpractice claims. In fact, according to U.S. government statistics, a very small percentage of personal injury cases ever go to trial. Some settlements even happening before a lawsuit is officially filed. This means that most cases are decided without a jury verdict. Almost every settlement results in the victim, or plaintiff, receiving some amount of money.
Why do many personal injury cases settle before going to court?
First, going to trial is considerably more expensive and time-consuming for both the plaintiff (victim or injured party) and the defendant. Trials can last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks. Still, most of the costs associated with taking a lawsuit to court involve preparing for the trial and other expenses like expert witnesses, court costs, and potentially even time away from work or travel.
Beyond costs, there are many other reasons why claims typically settle. It is widely known that there's much less risk involved for the plaintiff to take a settlement since personal injury trials can be unpredictable. Many personal injury lawsuits that do go to trial don't end with an outcome in favor of the plaintiff. Many defendants like insurance companies would also rather determine the costs of a settlement, especially if there is a stronger chance a judge or jury might award additional money to the plaintiff.
What does the settlement process look like?
A settlement generally involves having an attorney submit a demand letter to the defendant outlining the amount of damages demanded by the plaintiff, along with a legal argument and supporting documents to support the claim and demand amount. This might include police reports or documentation of medical expenses.
Once the plaintiff receives this, a defense attorney will respond to the demand letter and may make a counteroffer. If the process continues further, the two parties may continue to negotiate. This process can include meetings, correspondence, or even pre-trial hearings. Most of the time, the defendant and plaintiff will agree on a settlement amount before going to trial. Finally, the parties sign a settlement document that releases the plaintiff of any further liability related to the plaintiff's claim.
In the rare instance that this doesn't happen, a case will go to trial.
When do personal injury cases typically go to trial?
Sometimes, there are cases in which the plaintiff should go to trial. Settling may involve some compromise from both parties. For example, a personal injury claim typically goes to trial when the plaintiff and the defendant cannot agree regarding a reasonable settlement during settlement negotiations.
While settlements are quicker and less expensive upfront, it is also true that settlements are permanent and cannot be renegotiated if other medical conditions arise from an injury or your condition worsens. There is also the potential that judge or jury might award more money to a plaintiff in court than they might receive in an average settlement with an insurance company.
What can you expect if a personal injury lawsuit does go to trial?
If a personal injury case goes to trial, both parties will get the opportunity to argue their cases in court. Then either a judge or jury will decide whether or not to award damages to the plaintiff and how much they will receive. Typically, a jury will first be assembled before the trial begins. Attorneys for each party will give opening statements at the beginning of a trial, then call or cross-examine any witnesses. They will then give closing arguments before juries deliberate and deliver a verdict.
Finding an experienced lawyer is important.
Since it can be risky and time-consuming, it is important to seek the representation of an experienced attorney that will know what a fair settlement is for your case or if it is worth it to take a case to trial. It is also important to remember that since most cases don't go to court, not all personal injury attorneys have experience going to trial at all. That is why it is important to choose wisely and take the time to find an experienced personal injury lawyer to represent you if you ever do decide that you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit.
At Hagen Rosskopf Attorneys at Law, our attorneys have decades of experience representing personal injury clients, whether their claim is best settled or taken to court. If you think you may need to file a lawsuit and are looking for experienced representation that you can trust, contact us today for a free consultation.