Are you struggling after an accident? Are you worried about how you will pay your bills and focus on your recovery? Was the accident someone else’s fault? If so, you may have a personal injury case.
A personal injury claim can help you cover expenses resulting from an injury. Every state has different laws regarding personal injury matters, but generally, if your injuries result from someone else’s negligence, you have a right to pursue economic damages. If you choose to pursue a legal case, a personal injury lawyer can guide you through the process and help you negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement.
But what happens when you and the other party’s insurance disagree about what is reasonable?
Do personal injury lawyers go to court?
Most sources agree that upwards of 90 percent of personal injury cases settle outside of court. Trials can cost a lot of money and involve risks for both sides. Once you go to court, the final decision is up to a jury.
Further, while the statute of limitations restricts how long you have to file a lawsuit, there are no limits on how long the actual case can last. With complicated cases, litigation can extend months, if not years after the initial accident. For these reasons, both parties typically agree it is in their best interest to settle outside of court.
Other reasons your attorney may want to stay out of court include:
- There is a question of fault: The insurance company will try to reduce or eliminate their financial responsibility. This means they will look for ways to say you were responsible for the accident or that your actions contributed to it. If there is reason to believe your role in the accident may come into question, your attorney may decide it is best to settle out of court.
- A lack of evidence: Evidence is one of your strongest tools in a personal injury case. Accident pictures, medical records, and witness testimony all help recreate the events and can tell a story to the jury. If you don’t have much supporting evidence, there may not be a benefit to going to court.
- You are a bad witness: Unfortunately, no matter how strong your case is, if your attorney feels you are not a good witness, they will not want to go to court. Many things can make you a bad witness, including your credibility, your previous accident history, your legal claims history, and your criminal record.
You must prepare for court, so ask any lawyer you intend to work with about their litigation experience. Some lawyers prefer to settle out of court, and some have no trial experience. This does not make them a bad lawyer, but you need to know and feel comfortable with this before working with them.
3 Reasons why your lawyer may want to take your case to court
While you may want your attorney to keep your case out of court, your attorney may feel it is worth the risk. A good attorney will present your options throughout the case and give you their opinion based on the facts. With that, deciding whether to settle or go to court is ultimately yours.
Some of the reasons your attorney may want to go to court include:
- The insurance company is unwilling to be reasonable: In most cases, there will be several rounds of settlement negotiations. Generally, the parties can reach an agreement somewhere in the middle of both parties’ goals. However, insurance companies can be stubborn. And sometimes, they may never come to the table. If your attorney feels that your case is worth substantially more than the insurance company’s highest offer, it may make sense to proceed to court. In most cases, your attorney will not find it worth the risk if there is only a small difference between what you want and what the insurance company is willing to pay.
- You have compelling evidence: Just like insufficient evidence can hurt your case, compelling evidence can make it. Juries are reactive. If they see a shocking photo, they may be likely to award more. Do you have a compelling story? Juries want to see happy endings. Before going to court, your attorney will examine the quality of your evidence and determine whether it makes more sense to go in front of a jury.
- Your case includes punitive damages: The court can impose punitive damages against the at-fault party if they feel there was extreme negligence. Generally, only courts award punitive damages.
Will I get more if my case goes to court?
To evaluate whether it makes sense to go to court or take what the insurance company offered, you need a rough understanding of what your case is worth. Once you understand the value of your case, your attorney can help you decide whether you are more likely to get more or less if you proceed to court.
Several factors can influence the value of a case, so there is no way to come up with an exact amount. However, your attorney can look at the actual costs and help you develop a ballpark figure. This can help you establish the minimum amount you are willing to accept.
Possible costs in a personal injury case include:
- Medical bills: Medical treatment is expensive. Recent data shows the average hospital stay will cost you over $10,000. If you suffer a spinal cord injury, you can expect to pay $1 million in expenses during your life. Most of the time, your personal injury lawyer will fight to include all your medical costs.
- Lost wages: If you have to take time off from work to recover from your injuries, your attorney can request lost wages. Lost wages cover any time you miss as a direct result of the accident. This includes hospital stays, doctor visits, and rehabilitation. If you can't return to work, you may also receive future lost wages.
- Pain and suffering: If you are in pain after an accident, let your doctor and your attorney know. Your attorney can fight for pain and suffering costs. Pain and suffering can cover both physical pain and mental anguish. Common complaints included as pain and suffering include chronic pain, acute pain, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
- Wrongful death: Sadly, unintentional injuries are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Money won’t bring a loved one back, but it can help cover any outstanding costs and allow you the time and space to grieve. In most cases, the victim’s immediate family has a right to claim wrongful death. This generally includes the victim’s spouse, adult children, siblings, or parents if the victim was a child. Wrongful death claims may include pain and suffering, funeral and burial costs, lost wages, and outstanding medical costs.
Four questions you should ask your personal injury attorney
If you choose to take your case to court, your attorney will be your most valuable asset. So it goes without question that you want to choose someone who is not only qualified but also someone you can trust. Interview more than one attorney before you decide. You should always make a list of questions you want to ask each attorney.
Here are four questions that can help you decide if your attorney is equipped for court:
- Do you have trial experience?: While this is not a disqualifying question, if you sustained disabling injuries or your loved one died, you need an attorney with trial experience.
- What is your area of expertise?: Obviously, you don’t want to use a divorce attorney for a personal injury case. But deeper than that, get to know what cases the attorney specializes in. Do they have a lot of experience with car accidents? Do they have experience that makes them especially qualified to litigate medical malpractice claims? The more expertise your attorney has with your type of case, the better they will be able to determine the merits of your case.
- What are your past results?: It’s okay to ask attorneys about their past results. Don’t be afraid to ask what type of settlements they have achieved or their trial record.
- What kind of team do you have working with you?: Some attorneys are sole practitioners, while others work with teams. Get a feel for how invested your attorney will be in your case and what type of support system they have.
There is no way to predict whether your case will go to court or how it will turn out. But you can take steps to protect your rights and strengthen your case. A personal injury attorney can work with you to help you understand what to expect and support you as you move through this difficult time.
If you have questions or want to take the next steps, contact an experienced personal injury attorney near you.