Being an aggrieved party to an indefensible physical tragedy is stressful enough. Will the negligent party be accountable? How long does this legal process take? These and many other questions are brought to personal injury lawyers every day.
While an attorney doesn’t have a quick reference guide or magic 8-ball, this brief guide will mollify the anxieties of persons wrongfully placed in this awful predicament. This guide is basic; some cases may require additional steps, while others may go through significantly fewer.
Investigating the Claim
After accepting a personal injury case, the investigation process will begin. During this phase, an attorney looks at the circumstances that caused the accident, whether avoidance was an option and which parties are complicit to the incident. In car accidents, an attorney may inspect the vehicles, poll witnesses and sift through police reports.
The goal here is making sure no holes can be punched into whatever case the personal injury attorney forms. Intelligent attorneys solidify and prepare all cases to head to trial, regardless if they make it past mediation.
The ‘Demand Letter’
Armed with piles of facts, reports, statements and whatever case-specific paperwork was collected during the investigation, it’s time to draft the demand letter. This letter doesn’t contain harsh obscenities, nor does it imply that an attorney wants to argue. In fact, this letter basically informs the insurer that an injured party is initiating a claim and opens the dialogue between their counsel and plaintiff’s attorney.
Well-crafted demand letters, backed by supporting evidence, could look like Hollywood movie scripts – hundreds of pages chock full of reports, statements, eyewitness accounts, medical expenses, etc. Each letter will contain complicated legalese describing what the law says are potential remedies for situations where an injured party seeks remuneration for another’s negligence, similar case laws, and Florida statutes related to the allegations. Somewhere in this letter will be an exact figure the attorney believes will make the victim whole.
Dialogue with Parties
After the ‘party’ (insurer, company, etc.) receives and reviews the attorney’s demand letter, the direction the case goes next depends on how the letter resonates with their counsel. The hope is this demand letter is favorable; often, one will find negotiations happen if an attorney’s demands are outside what insurer believes is feasible.
Demand letters can face rejection if insufficient supporting evidence accompanies the letter. Conversely, an attorney can have such an incredibly ironclad case that the demand letter is accepted immediately.
Checks aren’t normally cut without the victim having the final authority over the negotiated amount.
Filing a Lawsuit
Most personal injury lawyers prefer cases end with negotiating favorable settlements, and most victims will concur provided the settlement is indicative of the pain, suffering, loss of income and medical bills imposed upon them. Unfortunately, some insurers believe taking their chances in court is better than settling.
Filing a lawsuit is an option when dialogue hits the proverbial brick wall. That brick wall is the victim rejecting the insurer’s best offer and signifies the insurer’s unwillingness to increase the amount closer to what an attorney put into the demand letter.
In Florida, judges tend to order mediation in nearly all personal injury cases. Being ordered to mediation means the judge believes the dialogue process above could’ve been slightly better.
Mediators can be good attorneys or retired judges. Their task is simple: explore facts that surround the claim, what happened that made negotiations stall, and what figure would work comparatively better than before. The hope, again, is the insurer or responsible party will agree to settle, in which case the litigation process stops here.
If both parties remain miles apart, trial preparation ensues.
It’s Trial Time
Once the case hits trial, both parties will argue their case before six jurors and two to three alternates, or before the judge themselves. The exact duration of the trial is conducive to many factors such as how large the case is. During the litigation phase of many cases, the attorney may deem victims an appropriate witness provided they’re well enough to participate.
Nobody can predict the final outcome, which makes settling cases before the trial stage particular attractive. Trials are expensive propositions for both parties, adding additional pressure to settle prior to this point.
Appealing the Verdict
If either party disagrees with judge or jury decision, filing an appeal is an option. Unlike the trial when the goal was presenting facts to support an injured person’s demand for payment, appeals concentrate on potential defects in the judge’s ruling. Sometimes tainted jury pools, such as one juror who has intimate knowledge of the defendant or has a criminal record, can automatically send cases to retrial after appeal.
Appellate court rulings can take months. It makes settling claims attractive for victims considering what they stand to lose. Decisions can face reversal. If reversed completely, the entire trial process starts over.
This entire process has smaller steps that an attorney completes prior to advancing the case. With all personal injury matters, settling favorably well before trial is always the goal.
Most times negligent parties will agree to settle since the costs associated with trials and appeals gets expensive. Well-seasoned injury attorneys will always plan cases as if they’re going to trial.
Personal injury professionals at Burnetti, P.A. understand the anxieties that come with submitting your claim. Complete the form above, even check out our video library. There’s no fee until we collect, and our goal will always be making victims like yourself whole again.