The 4 Major Stages Of A Personal Injury Case
When you’ve suffered a significant injury or property damage, you deserve some compensation from the party or parties at fault. In a lot of cases the facts are obvious and everyone involved can agree to a fair settlement, but often enough the evidence isn’t easy to pin down and one side or another will get stubborn about what they think they owe. Sometimes the case will go to court, and a few cases will go through one appeal after another until they reach the highest levels of the judicial branch.
It can be a long journey, and it can feel like there’s no end in sight even when you’ve only just begun and there’s no court case to speak of. That’s why it can help to understand the major milestones or stages that a personal injury case typically goes through.
After the incident that caused the personal injury and after you get the immediate treatment and repairs you need, the first stage of a personal injury case is negotiations with the party or parties you believe are responsible. Very often you won’t speak directly to the party at fault, you’ll speak with the insurance company that covers these situations. This is certainly true if you get in an auto accident with someone else who carries the proper insurance.
Many people don’t need to hire a lawyer for this stage, but it can help to have an expert negotiator in your corner since you’ll be up against one when you file your claim. Very often you can get a better deal with a lawyer present, one big enough to more than make up for the commission a personal injury lawyer takes based on the size of the settlement.
Filing And Discovery
If the parties involved can’t agree to a settlement amount, it’s time to go to court. There are limits to how long you can wait to file a lawsuit, so keep that fact in mind if the negotiations seem to drag on. You should also keep in mind that a personal injury lawyer’s commission percentage goes up if a case goes to trial, because the number of things they need to do goes up a lot.
However, it can take a year or more to have your day in court after you file a lawsuit. Instead, you’ll enter what’s called the discovery phase, a time when both sides of a case do research and demand paperwork and evidence from each other. You might think of discovery as the court case happening in slow motion since both sides can see each other’s arguments and prepare counterarguments to match. Also, it’s not too late to settle out of court if one side finds a conclusive piece of evidence.
Jury Selection And Trial
If negotiations still fail, the plaintiff and defendant sides will both get a chance to select jurors, and then the trial will begin. As a civil case in Florida, you can expect to see six jurors instead of the 12 used in felony criminal cases. Both sides will present their case to the judge and jury over the course of a day, a week, or however long it takes, and once they’re done the jury will deliberate and then come back with a decision. If the plaintiff wins, the jury will also decide how much to award based on the claim, the damages, and exactly how much fault each party bears.
Civil trials in Florida take place in county courts or circuit courts depending on how serious the case is. If you disagree with the court’s decision, you can appeal a county case to a circuit court, and you can appeal a circuit court decision to one of the five District Courts of Appeal.
You have a decent chance of having your appeal heard at this level, but if they rule against you the next step up is the Florida Supreme Court. The Supreme Court turns down most appeals that reach it, so unless your case challenges a state law or the state constitution you should think of the District Court as your last chance for an appeal.
Each of these stages has a few subsections of their own, but this is the outline for a personal injury case that makes it to trial and beyond. The odds are good that your case will end in a settlement long before your trial date comes up, but even so it can help to know what can happen.