For centuries, plaintiffs have relied on jury trials to affirm their rights. Even today, our court systems rely on trials to offer a forum where plaintiffs can take legal action against defendants to seek compensation. Unfortunately, despite how long trials have been around, not everyone fully understands trials, how they work, and the entire process from start to finish. By knowing the purpose of trials, how they are beneficial to injured individuals, and what to expect, you can better understand the process.
Immediately After an Accident
Before a lawsuit even becomes a possibility, there will be numerous discussions between the injury victim and the defendant/insurance company. This is often part of what everyone should know: reporting the accident. However, during the initial talks, it is common for the defendant to offer a settlement instead of filing a lawsuit. This is often a much lower offer than what the victim would receive if going through a trial. Victims have the right to refuse the settlement and pursue a lawsuit.
Filing a Complaint
Once you have decided to seek compensation and justice from the negligent party, you must file a claim. Your lawyer will help you serve the negligent party with a notification of the complaint. The complaint will consist of the claim, why you are entitled to seek compensation, and type of relief you are seeking.
Typically, relief comes in three different principal forms:
- Injunction: An injunction can prevent the defendant from participating in the specific act.
- Declaratory Judgment: This is the decision of the court that determines each party’s rights. There is no order for anything to be done and no compensation.
- Monetary Relief: This is the most common form of relief in personal injury law because it seeks compensation for the wrongdoing of the defendant to cover specific damages.
The plaintiff can also decide the venue in which the complaint is filed, which determines the location where the case will be overseen.
Motions That Can Be Made Against the Complaint
After the complaint has been filed, the defendant has the chance to file various motions that can delay the trial process. For instance, the defendant can file a motion to have the complaint dismissed before they file a response.
The motion to dismiss may claim that there was a defect in the service of process or other procedural issues with the initial complaint. The defendant can also file a motion to change forum or venue. There are benefits to this, especially if the plaintiff is facing financial hardships and the pressure to accept a settlement is time-sensitive.
Once the defendant files their motion, a pretrial conference will be held with a schedule for discovery. If the judge decides that there is no need for a hearing and the issue can be resolved as such, they will work out possible solutions and move forward.
The discovery process allows both sides to gather the necessary evidence in the case that they intend to use for their respective clients. This can include talking to each party about the incident, speaking with any possible witnesses to the event, gathering documents such as an accident report or medical records, and collecting all necessary evidence.
Once everything has been collected, the parties can either move to trial or a settlement may be possible depending on the factors involved. Typically, the discovery process provides both sides with the strengths in their cases and allows each side to get a better overall idea of what happened.
How a Case Can End Before Trial
One potential way that a case can end before trial is if the judge decides to dismiss it after the motion to dismiss from the defendant. There are numerous reasons this may happen, but most commonly, motions to dismiss would be granted if there is no sufficient evidence to continue with the lawsuit or if the judge determines there are holes in the plaintiff’s complaint.
Another potential way to end a case before trial is through a settlement. Typically, settlements are offers from the defendant that would provide the plaintiff with some monetary relief, but it may not be as much as they can receive through a verdict. Defendants often delay trials in hopes of the plaintiff needing the money as soon as possible and agreeing to the settlement just to be done with the process.
In some cases, however, the settlement offer may be adequate after the discovery process. For instance, if discovery uncovers some evidence that the defendant was initially unaware of, they may agree to settle for the amount the plaintiff is requesting because they know they would lose in trial.
Settlements are often the avenue the defendants want to go because it not only allows them to avoid extensive fees in the courts, but it keeps their negligence from the public eye, and it keeps the size of the compensation from being determined by a jury.
The trial will begin, and each party will formally make its claims to the court. The court considers the evidence and requested compensation before making a decision. It is important to know that the court can award both economic and non-economic damages depending on the injury, severity, and the actions of the defendant.
Economic damages cover those with a monetary value such as medical bills and lost income, while non-economic damages are used to compensate for pain and suffering—damages sustained that may not have a concrete cost attached to them.
Because defendants are always looking out for their bottom line, they often try to delay the plaintiff receiving compensation for as long as possible. This can also be achieved through appeals following the decision of the court.
For instance, if the court awards the plaintiff compensation for both economic and non-economic damages, the defendant can file an appeal to seek an alteration to the amount awarded or to seek a dismissal of the judgment.
What happens after an appeal depends on the ruling. It is important to know that this is an extensive and time-consuming process, and it may be some time before the victim can recover damages for the injuries they have sustained. Defendants (often insurers) use this tactic to pressure plaintiffs into settling for a smaller payout.
Hiring a Lawyer Can Protect Your Rights Throughout the Process
Many view trials as a money game, designed to recover compensation, but it is more than that. It allows victims of negligence to recover and have peace of mind. It also forces the liable parties to accept responsibility. It inspires change. It inspires those in the wrong to correct their actions and answer for them.
At Handler, Henning & Rosenberg LLC, our Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers understand how to guide our clients through a trial, making it as easy as we can on them. After sustaining an injury and enduring one of the most challenging seasons in your life, we do not want you to feel as though you are struggling at every turn.
Our team works around-the-clock because we know you need compensation and you need justice. You deserve to hold the negligent party accountable for their actions. You need someone on your side who cares about you, your needs, and your peace of mind.