Click to download (pdf) | By Attorney Susan M. Mooney
How does a case proceed?
The first stage of any Personal Injury case involves investigation. We will be investigating your case and after investigation we will determine the likelihood of success of your case. Our initial acceptance of a case may be based upon limited available information. What this means is that we have to obtain further information and/or verify facts in order to determine if your case has a reasonable likelihood of success and if our representation will continue. Occasionally, after investigation, we may determine that a case has little or no probability of success. If that is the case you will be notified that we do not recommend that you proceed with a case and therefore we will not represent you. In such a case we will suggest that you obtain a second legal opinion. If we will not continue our representation this does not mean that another Attorney will not accept your case and you should explore your other options. If our investigation establishes facts that support your case, our legal representation will continue and your case will proceed. In the case where your case continues, success of the case is not by any means guaranteed. There is always some probability of loss in any legal case, but if we have accepted your case then we believe there is a sufficient probability of success to warrant pursuit of your case.
If our representation continues beyond the initial investigation stage we will proceed to gather evidence in the case, including medical records and bills and witness statements, etc. Once you have reached a medical end result we may attempt to resolve your case by settlement. If no settlement is reached we will proceed to file suit in Court. There may be opportunities for settlement prior to trial even after suit is filed. The case will then proceed through the usual litigation process, first with the discovery stage, and then finally a trial before a Judge or Jury, if the case is not settled prior to trial. Sometimes, in certain cases, Mediation or Arbitration of a case may be an appropriate alternative to a trial.
What is my case worth?
The value of your case will be determined by many factors, such as the extent of your damages, the percent of fault attributed to you and the other side, the likelihood of success, the amount of your medical bills, lost wages and other expenses incurred, your diagnosis and prognosis, your end result medically, whether you will have permanent disability associated with the injury from the accident, the effect on you personally as an individual (for example, a broken foot to an NFL place kicker is worth more than a broken foot to the average person) and available insurance coverage. In short it could be months or even years before your case can be evaluated properly based upon all the available evidence, since a case cannot be properly and finally evaluated until you have reached a medical end result. The value of a case is not always tied solely to your damages. For example, you could have high damages, medical bills, lost wages, etc., but a low probability of success because it may be difficult to prove with sufficient evidence that your damages were caused by the fault of the person that you claim is responsible for your injury. In such a case, where a Defendant, or their insurance company, believes that no fault will be found against them, then there may be low settlement offers and sometimes it may be advisable to accept a low settlement offer where your liability case is weak. Further, even if your damages are significant and evidence is completely favorable in support of your claim, there may be little or no insurance coverage and no other source of recovery.
The amount of any settlement is by mutual agreement. The amount of any award at trial is decided by the Judge or Jury based on the evidence at trial. The Jury will not be aware of settlement offers.
Who makes the important decision on my case?
You do. Important decisions are made by the client with the advice, counsel and recommendations of their Attorney. Decisions such as whether to accept settlement or proceed with litigation will be made by you. We will give you recommendations based upon our best professional judgement and our knowledge of cases similar to yours. However, the final decision is always yours. You may decide to accept an offer that we recommend against, or you may reject an offer that we believe you should accept. In such a situation your decision controls and we will follow your instruction. Other major decisions on the case will also be made by you, such as whether or not to hire an expert to testify at trial. We will give you our recommendation.
Routine decisions, which occur during the course of your case and have little or no effect on the outcome of your case, will be made by us as your representative. If you have any objection to any action we take on your case you should let us know immediately.
How long will my case take to complete?
You should anticipate one (1) to five (5) years before a personal injury case is concluded. Occasionally a case settles before expiration of one (1) year, but this is unusual since frequently you do not achieve a medical end result from your injuries and conclude your medical treatment until six (6) months to one (1) year from the date of the accident. If your case does not settle then suit will be filed in Court. Depending on the Court calendar a trial will not be scheduled by the Court for one (1) to two (2) years from filing date and sometimes longer. We may not file suit until exploring settlement opportunities, since once suit is filed your expenses on the case increase (filing fees, sheriff’s fees, deposition transcripts, etc.). These expenses may be avoided if settlement of your case can be reached before filing suit, so it is generally advisable, in most cases, to explore settlement first to keep client’s costs to a minimum.