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How Do You Go To Trial?

One of the worst experiences that can happen to a person is coming to harm due to another person’s carelessness. It’s one thing to get into a random, unexpected accident, but quite another when someone else’s negligent actions are a direct cause of harm.

When that negligence victimizes someone, even if it’s not your fault, this can have severe ramifications in the short term, such as requiring medical treatment and not being able to work in the meantime. In the worst cases, it can have long term, even permanent effects, such as a lifelong crippling injury, like paralysis.

In such a situation, because it’s not your fault, but someone else’s, you’d expect the ethical thing to do would be to take responsibility for these actions, try to make up for it. Sadly, this isn’t always the case, and when that happens, you may have to consider going to trial.

The First Step: Settlement

A trial in court, however, should always be the last resort. Before going that route, it’s essential to see if a reasonable agreement can be struck. This is commonly known as an out of court settlement or settling out of court.

In the best-case scenario, the person or group responsible has already admitted fault. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on the appropriate amounts of financial compensation required. It’s important to note that for settlements, there are legally binding contracts; in some cases, they may even be arbitrated by a neutral third party, but even without arbitration, it’s prudent to negotiate a settlement with a lawyer to ensure the contract is proper. Once it has been signed, there’s no going back.

Unfortunately, there can be problems even at this early stage. Even if the responsible party admits fault, the offer made for financial compensation may, for example, be too low for your needs. Suppose you’re unable to work for a few months, and the compensation is only offering enough for medical treatment. In that case, you still have to find a way to financially support yourself until you recover.

More distressing, however, is if the other party denies any responsibility at all. If they insist they are not at fault, then negotiations can’t even begin. If the amounts being offered aren’t sufficient, or there’s no common ground for taking responsibility at all, that leaves only one alternative, going to court and suing.

Finding A Lawyer

If you were already in the settlement phase and it didn’t resolve satisfactorily, you may already have a lawyer. However, if you didn’t make it to that phase because of outright denial from the responsible party at the beginning, now is the time to go looking.

A litigation trial accords you the right to handle the case yourself. However, while you are legally allowed to do this, it is often a bad idea to go this route unless you already have extensive legal and trial experience. Your better bet would be to find a personal injury attorney, preferably one with experience and specialization in your situation, such as car accidents, boating accidents, slip and falls on someone else’s property, or even wrongful death if that’s part of the equation.

An essential consideration for working with a personal injury lawyer is keeping legal fees in mind. Unlike other court cases, many personal injury lawyers, particularly reputable ones, will not charge any immediate legal fees if they agree to take on the case. They will only collect on the fees for handling the case if they deliver a successful verdict for the client. At that point, the contractually agreed-upon percentage of the total litigation amount will go to the law firm. Clients don’t have to worry about finances during this experience, or getting sent a notice with billable hours, or other financial commitments.

Investigating The Case

Once you’re committed to going to court, it’s time for the personal injury lawyer to get to work. Trials do not occur quickly. A trial date is set months, sometimes even years, in advance. Part of that is that the legal system is busy adjudicating in many cases, both criminal and civil. The other part is that you and the defendant’s side of the case will need time to investigate, gather evidence, work with witnesses and experts, and prepare arguments.

Part of this process is the “discovery” phase. In the modern legal system, the idea of surprise evidence or witnesses is scarce. Both sides are usually aware of what the other is doing, but this also guarantees all aspects of a case are a matter of public knowledge.

The Trial

When the trial itself finally takes place, it lasts, on average, about 4-5 working days. As with a criminal trial, there is a jury that must be convinced. Once the jury renders a verdict, the parties either abide by that decision or, in some cases, appeal.

Either way, this is a complex, elaborate process. It’s always best to work with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Stephen M. Fernandez developed a strong belief in justice and fairness in public policy while earning his Political Science degree prior to attending law school. Since joining the Florida Bar Association in 2004, Stephen Fernandez has combined his background in public policy, business administration and civil law to serve as a highly effective trial lawyer fighting for Florida's injured, working hard every day to make sure his clients get what they are owed.

How Do You Go To Trial?

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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