Many people have an image of their personal injury lawyer standing in front of a jury, arguing their case as to why they deserve money for their injury. They think that every personal injury case involves the courtroom, and their fear can keep them from pursuing their legal rights when someone else has injured them.
Although many personal injury lawsuits may include the court, lawyers do not often end up in courtrooms. Both you and the insurance company have reasons not to let the case go that far.
Your Attorney Will Help You Determine the Best Route to Compensation
First, your attorney will advise you about the best way to obtain financial compensation. You may choose to start at different points of your case. Some accident victims may begin with the insurance company and try to reach a settlement agreement.
Others may go directly to court and start with a lawsuit. Even if you go first to court, it does not rule out the possibility of a settlement. Some cases will even settle on the eve of trial after you have gone through all the pre-trial steps, including a lengthy discovery process. A very small share of cases can even settle after the jury has issued a verdict while an appeal is pending.
Some Claimants Try to Avoid Personal Injury Trials
While many people think going to court means a trial in front of a jury, it does not always work this way. Of course, going to court always starts with filing a legal complaint that begins the lawsuit process. It also means that you are progressing towards a trial, which will happen at some point if the case doesn’t settle then.
However, many personal injury cases will settle before they reach the point of a jury trial. Both you and the insurance company have motivations to settle a case.
From your standpoint, going to a jury trial means:
- It adds more time to your case
- You run the risk of getting nothing if the jury does not issue a verdict in your favor
- Even if you win, the defendant may appeal and add even more time to your case
When you need the money and need it sooner rather than later, you may be running some extra risks. However, never let those risks force you into an unfavorable settlement. Nonetheless, with the help of an attorney, you must always weigh your risks and the timeframe in each case. An experienced attorney can counsel you at all stages of the process and explain what you may be facing.
Insurance Companies Have a Motivation to Settle Claims
The insurance company knows that personal injury victims can make sympathetic plaintiffs in front of a jury. They do not want to risk that a jury will issue a substantial verdict that they might have avoided by settling.
Insurance companies will usually only let a case go all the way to trial when:
- They firmly believe that their policyholder was not responsible for the accident
- They think that you share responsibility for the accident, which means you should get less money
- They refuse to get in the same ballpark when it comes to the damages in the case
The above considerations do not apply to most cases. Even if they do, an insurance company may still try to settle the case to manage their own risk.
Insurance Companies Know When and How to Settle a Case
Insurance companies and their defense firms usually have an excellent idea about each case that comes from their decades of experience. They know which claims present perils and will do everything possible to manage their risks. Insurance companies are all about risk, and they do not want to have open-ended chances in a jury trial.
There are usually two times in the case when it is more likely to settle:
- After the defendant has unsuccessfully tried to get the case dismissed
- Once the discovery process has wrapped up, and the defendant realizes that you have built a strong case against them
Statistics about the number of personal injury cases that go to trial vary, but the general estimate is between 3 and 7 percent. In most cases, plaintiffs do not even go to court. They may settle their case after filing an insurance claim, avoiding the litigation process altogether. Every plaintiff who does not go to a jury trial has a reason for it.
Your Attorney Should Have Courtroom Experience No Matter What
Even though most personal injury cases do not go to court, you must hire an attorney with trial experience if you need to take your case to a jury. Insurance companies know who they are dealing with when they see an attorney on the other side of the table.
They know who has a track record of making them pay in court, and they will respect a tough attorney, even if they do not like them. Insurance companies deal with the same attorneys regularly, and each lawyer develops their reputation over time. Insurance companies know when they are up against a difficult lawyer.
Ask about a personal injury lawyer’s experience before you hire them. You need someone who can make your case to a jury if necessary. While settlements can be reasonable, you do not want an attorney who looks to settle every case because it can cost you money. Often, after an insurance company realizes that you are serious about the court, they get serious about a settlement.
The Prospect of a Lawsuit Can Pressure the Insurance Company
Even if the personal injury lawyer does not go to court in your case, a court verdict must present a credible threat if you choose to deal with an insurance company. An insurance company will hire a defense firm whenever you file a lawsuit.
They usually have agreements with firms that do nothing but insurance defense and pay them for each case. These are not expenses that an insurance company wants to pay. They have their own goals of both trying to pay you as little as possible and wanting to minimize their legal costs.
Each lawyer has different philosophies about whether and when to go to court. They should have no hard-and-fast rules, although some may be more likely to litigate than others. While many attorneys market themselves as being determined and aggressive (and those are helpful traits), they should also be pragmatic.
Not every case requires swinging for the fences right off the bat. There are times when you can work with the insurance company and reach a settlement agreement that suits your needs and pays for your damages. The best type of attorney can mix toughness with common sense and level-headedness to achieve your goals.
Your Attorney Should Be Flexible and Respond to the Circumstances
You do not want an attorney who takes every case to court as a personal rule, nor do you want one who will automatically try to settle everything. What you want is the flexibility to meet your needs. An attorney must provide you with the best representation based on your unique circumstances.
With a jury trial being a remote possibility, some people may question why they will need a lawyer in a personal injury case. The court is only one part of what a lawyer does.
Here is how a personal injury lawyer may help you:
- Assessing whether you should go to court or continue to deal with the insurance company
- Putting a dollar value on your case, so you know how much you can get for your damages
- Working to gather evidence that can prove liability, putting you in a position to receive financial compensation
- Negotiating with the insurance company to obtain the best possible settlement
The Threat of a Lawsuit Can Secure a Higher Settlement
The ability of a personal injury lawyer to go to court is what will force the insurance company’s hand in a settlement negotiation. Even when your case settles, it is against the backdrop of court. It is the jury who is the ultimate decision-maker in your case.
The insurance company is just an intermediary who defends its policyholder and pays for the damages that it caused. There is nothing that says that you have to settle the case. When you reject the insurance company’s settlement offer, in effect telling them to do better, they know that your next step can be to file a lawsuit. They will need to think carefully, knowing that you can persuade a jury to give you far more.
Besides, when insurance companies see that you do not have an experienced attorney to advise you and protect your legal rights, they will not take you seriously. They will doubt your ability to hold them accountable in court.
Therefore, they will stick to the tactics they invariably use to drive down the amount of your settlement if they even offer you money. The mere prospect of court hanging over their heads forces them to eventually be more reasonable after they tried to catch you unsuspectingly or wear you down.
What a Personal Injury Lawyer Does in Court
When your personal injury lawyer does go to court on your behalf, they will:
- Investigate your case to establish the facts that they will include in your legal complaint
- Draft the legal complaint that begins your case and serve it on the other party and file it with the court
- Respond when the defendant is trying to have your case dismissed
- Work vigorously for you in the discovery process to obtain all the evidence necessary to prove your case
- Continue to negotiate a possible settlement while your case is working its way toward trial
- Present your evidence in court if your case goes to trial and argue your position to the jury
The court can involve difficult and stressful processes for personal injury victims who know that their financial future is on the line. They may have to relive a traumatic experience they want to put behind them. However, a trial is a rare but necessary last resort needed to get the best financial outcome when the insurance company either denies your claim or will not make you a reasonable settlement offer.
If your lawyer advises you that you need to take your case to court, you should expect a longer process, but it may be the best option. Your lawyer’s job is to represent you and advise you on the best course of action.