Statistically, most personal injury cases never make it to trial. Upwards of 90 percent of all personal injury claims settle out of court. Nevertheless, the best way to stay out of court is to prepare to win in court. In some cases, however, a trial is either advantageous or unavoidable.
How You Get to Trial in a Personal Injury Case
The plaintiff (usually the injured victim) can force a trial by filing a formal lawsuit, paying the filing fee, and serving notice of the lawsuit on the defendant. The defendant, by contrast, can “force” a trial by refusing to settle your claim outside of court.
If you are determined to get your money, you will file a lawsuit when the defendant becomes too stubborn to offer a fair settlement.
Settlement: The Preferred Alternative
Typically, both sides would rather settle than go to trial. There are many reasons for this:
- Settlement is cheaper because it avoids litigation costs.
- Juries are unpredictable. A “runaway jury” might render an outrageous verdict based on emotion, not evidence.
- Trials are complicated. Imagine the difference between simply emailing the opposing party a copy of a police report and actually calling the responding officer to the witness stand to elicit the same facts through questioning.
- Settlement is usually quicker than courtroom litigation. The wheels of justice turn much more slowly in court. A judge might set your trial date months in advance.
- You can agree to keep the terms of your settlement confidential. This can be helpful for privacy reasons.
- You can avoid the pretrial discovery process, whereby each party demands evidence and testimony from the other. You might have a good reason for wanting to keep certain information confidential.
The advantages of settling rather than litigating might be the only issue where you and the opposing party agree.
Why You Might Prefer to Go to Trial
Most personal injury victims prefer settlement, but some prefer a trial. Following is a description of some of the reasons for this preference.
- Punitive damages are possible (they usually aren’t.) Juries may award punitive damages in rare cases.
- A jury might be likely to sympathize with the plaintiff.
- The defendant’s conduct was outrageous, and you want to hold them publicly accountable for their actions.
- You want to set a precedent to deter others from acting like the defendant did.
Remember that filing a lawsuit is not the same as holding a trial. You might file a lawsuit and still settle your case months after filing the lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit Doesn’t Prevent a Settlement
Following are some reasons why a settlement-minded accident victim might file a lawsuit:
- To break an impasse during settlement negotiations. Filing a lawsuit will show the opposing party you mean business, especially if your lawyer enjoys a strong reputation for winning in court.
- To satisfy the statute of limitations deadline for filing a lawsuit. Once you comply with the statute of limitations deadline, there is usually no further deadline for resolving your claim.
- The defendant holds critical evidence, and you don’t have enough evidence to win without obtaining it during discovery. The pretrial discovery process might yield enough evidence to put you in a favorable bargaining position if you decide to resume settlement negotiations.
If you decide to file a lawsuit, have your lawyer draft the relevant documents. Don’t try to draft them yourself.
Car Accident Lawsuits: Why Florida is Unique
Florida is one of about a dozen “no-fault” auto insurance states. The state expects you to file a claim with your own PIP insurance policy if you suffer a car accident. PIP covers only medical bills and lost earnings, not intangible losses such as pain and suffering. The maximum coverage is 80% of $10,000. In some cases, however, the upper limit sinks to as low as $2,500. Hopefully, your health insurance will cover any remainder.
You cannot sue the at-fault driver for bodily injury unless you suffer a “serious” injury under Florida law. Unfortunately, Florida does not require its drivers to purchase bodily injury liability insurance.
It might not be worth it to take the at-fault driver to court. No matter how much money a jury awards you, it does you no good if the at-fault party cannot pay the judgment. Remember that Florida does require its drivers to purchase $10,000 in property damage liability insurance. This requirement might be enough to justify a lawsuit if the opposing party refuses to settle.
What Happens at a Trial
Most trials proceed in the following manner:
- Jury selection: The opposing lawyers will select the jury by eliminating unsuitable candidates from the existing jury pool.
- Opening statements: Each side will state its case in general terms.
- The plaintiff’s case-in-chief. The plaintiff will call and question witnesses and submit evidence to prove their case.
- The defendant’s case-in-chief. The defendant will call and question witnesses and attempt to poke holes in the plaintiff’s case.
- Closing arguments: Each side states their case and reference evidence that they submitted during the trial.
- Jury instructions: The judge will instruct the jury on how to resolve the case under Florida personal injury law.
- Jury deliberation: The jury retires to a private chamber, discusses the case, and reaches a decision.
- The verdict: The jury announces its decision.
If one of the parties is dissatisfied with the verdict, they might appeal the decision to a higher court.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer in St. Petersburg
An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you win much more compensation at the settlement table or in court than you could likely win on your own. Contact Lopez Law Group for a free initial consultation in St. Petersburg, FL, or call us at (727) 353-5460.