Most car accident and personal injury cases are resolved through settlement negotiations with the at-fault party or their insurance company. However, some cases cannot be settled through negotiations. If that happens, you can file a personal injury lawsuit.
Even if you file a lawsuit, it does not mean your case will go to trial. Your attorney will continue to work to settle out of court by negotiating with the defense lawyer for a fair settlement amount. However, if the settlement offered by the at-fault party is not a fair amount of money to compensate you for your damages, your attorney will be prepared to argue at trial.
If your case goes to trial, the following steps are what you can expect.
Filing Pleadings & Discovery
A personal injury lawsuit begins by filing a complaint. The injured party is the plaintiff, and the party who caused the injury is the defendant. The complaint outlines why the defendant should compensate the plaintiff for damages and losses.
Examples of the types of damages you can receive include:
- Reimbursement for the costs of medical treatment, including medical bills for doctors, hospitals, and therapists
- Reimbursement for loss of income and benefits while you were out of work
- Pain and suffering caused by physical injuries, mental anguish, and emotional distress
- Decrease in your quality of life and loss of enjoyment of life
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Permanent disabilities and impairments
- Diminished earning capacity and future lost wages
- Scarring and disfigurement
Some cases may involve punitive damages. The jury must decide that the defendant’s conduct met the requirements for punitive damages before awarding the plaintiff these damages.
The defendant has a specific deadline to file a response or an answer to the allegations in the complaint. The defendant’s insurance company may hire a lawyer to respond to the complaint.
Each party can participate in discovery. During this phase, the parties exchange information and evidence. If the lawsuit settles before going to trial, it is usually after the parties complete discovery. However, the case proceeds to trial if the parties cannot agree to a settlement amount.
Selecting a Jury
A judge or jury can decide the case. However, most personal injury cases are jury trials. The judge presides over the case and decides matters related to the law.
Jurors hear the evidence presented by each party. The jury members must then determine if the plaintiff proved their case by a preponderance of the evidence.
This burden of proof requires the party to convince the jurors that the allegations against the defendant are more likely to be true than untrue. In other words, there is more than a 50% chance that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Each side can make an opening statement during which the attorneys tell the jurors about the case. The opening statements outline how the parties intend to prove they are in the right.
The plaintiff is the first party to present evidence in a jury trial.
Evidence can include:
- Testimony from the injured party
- Physical evidence
- Documentary evidence, such as medical records, maintenance records, information gathered from a vehicle’s recording devices, etc.
- Expert witness testimony
- Eyewitness testimony
The defendant presents their case after the plaintiff. The defense lawyers might use several defenses to convince the jury that you are not entitled to compensation or that the amount you claim should be reduced.
For example, the defense might argue contributory fault or failure to mitigate damages. They might present testimony and evidence that refutes your allegations of how the accident or injury occurred. They may also challenge the legal grounds for holding the defendant liable for damages.
Closing Arguments & Jury Deliberation
After both parties present their case, the attorneys have one last chance to convince jurors to rule in their favor during the closing arguments. The closing arguments wrap up the case by explaining how the evidence presented during the trial proves the party’s allegations.
The jurors then deliberate before issuing a jury verdict. The jurors must decide what evidence they believe is factual.
They must also decide if the plaintiff met the burden of proof to hold the defendant liable for damages. If so, the jurors will determine how much money the defendant should pay the plaintiff for damages.
Jurors may take as long as they need to decide the case. Deliberations are confidential, so the parties only know the outcome of the deliberations.
If the jury rules in the plaintiff’s favor, the insurance company is liable for the damages up to the policy limits. If the amount exceeds the policy limits, the defendant would be personally liable for that amount.
However, either party may file an appeal if they believe they have legal grounds for overturning the jury verdict. Appeals are based on legal arguments instead of the evidence presented during the trial. For example, an appeal might argue that a judge allowed evidence that should have been inadmissible.
Why Do Personal Injury Cases Go to Trial?
There is a chance that any case could go to trial. However, going to trial is expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, both parties have an incentive to settle the case out of court.
Circumstances that could result in filing a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Multiple parties share liability for damages and cannot agree on how to divide liability
- The plaintiff is seeking a high amount of damages
- There are multiple injured parties (class action lawsuit)
- The insurance company refuses to negotiate in good faith
- The statute of limitations (deadline) for filing a lawsuit is about to expire
- The claim involves a complicated area of law such as product liability, premises liability, medical malpractice, or wrongful death
An experienced personal injury lawyer will explain the pros and cons of going to court. They’ll give you legal advice based on their experience, but the decision of whether to accept a settlement or go to trial is ultimately up to you.
Contact Our Las Vegas Personal Injury Attorneys For a Free Consultation To Discuss Your Case
Our legal team understands the urgency of settling a personal injury claim. We’ll fight to get you the largest personal injury settlement amount available for your case. Our lawyers are skilled negotiators and aggressive trial lawyers.