You’ve been injured in an automobile accident that was not your fault. If you hire a personal injury lawyer, does that mean you’re going to be involved in a court trial?
Probably not. Chances are, at some point the other driver’s insurance company is going to propose a settlement offer before you ever get to the point of going to a trial.
Still, if settlement negotiations become deadlocked, there is a chance your case might result in a lawsuit. The next step might be preparing for a trial if:
- The claims adjuster can’t get approval for a large enough payout to reasonably cover your damages
- A settlement has been offered, but you and your attorney believe the offer is not fair and reasonable
Truth is, when it comes to a personal injury accident, going to a trial with a jury is not something either side really wants. In fact, the vast majority of car accident cases never go to trial. And, even when a car accident lawsuit is filed, most of the time the case is resolved before the trial actually takes place. One of the reasons is that trials can be expensive, especially when expert witness and court reporter fees are involved. By reaching a settlement, both sides tend to have more control over costs.
What Actually Happens in Court?
In Indiana, as in most states, a jury (rather than a judge) makes the decision in a car accident lawsuit.
After the jury is selected, the attorneys for each party make opening statements. As the plaintiff, your attorney would present your case first by calling witnesses, including you if you are able to testify. The individuals called to testify might have witnessed the accident. Your doctors might be asked to testify about the treatments you’ve received, about future treatment that will be necessary, and about your chances for a full recovery from your injuries.
The defendant (usually the insurance company for the at-fault driver) might call witnesses who saw the accident, perhaps in order to contradict your side’s version of what happened. The defendant might also present other doctors or healthcare professionals who treated you and who have an opinion different from the doctor your attorney called as a witness.
Two Categories of Personal Injury Claims
“Soft Tissue” Injuries
The majority of personal injury claims in the United States are of the soft tissue type and typically result from:
These are more serious, and often more complex cases, resulting from:
- Semi truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Wrongful death
- Brain or spinal cord trauma
- Severe burns
- Medical malpractice
- Any permanent injury
While the majority of motor vehicle accidents result in soft tissue injuries, hard injuries may also be the result of car accidents.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Don’t Want to Go to Trial?
Whether you have a “soft tissue” injury or a “hard” injury may not be immediately apparent at the time of the accident. Without expert help in evaluating a settlement offer, you might be giving up rights to future claims. You might miss out on receiving payment, not only for damage to your car and your medical bills, but also for pain and suffering. In order for you to claim full compensation, there will be witnesses to interview and evidence to gather. After an accident, you’re hardly in a condition to navigate the complex insurance and legal systems.
An attorney can help by:
- Communicating with the other driver’s insurance company
- Obtaining evidence of liability
- Organizing medical records and bills
And, whether or not your case actually ends up in court, legal expertise is needed in order to:
- Gather and evaluate evidence (including witness statements, policy reports, and medical reports)
- Research case law
- Draft pleadings and motions
- Interview witnesses
- Prepare for trial
(Even if a trial never happens, the very fact that your attorney is preparing to take your case to court often serves as an incentive for the other side to improve their offer of a settlement.)
Regardless of whether you hire an attorney, you have the legal right to recover compensation when you are injured as a result of someone else’s carelessness or negligence. You may receive compensation by accepting a settlement offered by an insurance adjuster, either before or after filing a lawsuit. If the insurance company does not make a reasonable offer for settlement, you may decide to take your case to trial.
Whichever of these paths you ultimately choose, the expertise of an experienced personal injury lawyer has the potential to make a positive difference in the outcome. The main goal of tort law (the area of the legal system that deals in private and civil wrongs and injuries) is to make you, as the injured party, whole and to discourage others from committing the same offense. The main goal of the personal injury attorney who accepts your case is to protect your interests.
Does It Always Take a Trial to Get What I Deserve?
No. Experienced lawyers can often get you a fair settlement before trial. But a trial may be what it takes to get fair compensation for:
- The cost of medical treatments – and transportation to and from those appointments
- Pain and suffering from your injuries
- Loss of work time
- Loss of business
- Cost of a rental car and of repairing your car
- Cost for psychological counseling caused by stress or physical injury
It’s important to have counsel who isn’t afraid to keep fighting—all the way to court if need be.