Very rarely does anyone enter into a lawsuit by choice. For the majority of people, it is the last resort when they have suffered an injury and the responsible parties or their insurance companies refuse to pay what is justly theirs.
For the uninitiated, entering the legal system can be a frightening prospect. Everything is very formal, and it has its own rules of etiquette. Even the language spoken can be unfamiliar. The purpose of these articles is to help you understand what is happening from the time you first contact a lawyer to when your case is finished.
In this last post, we will pick up where we left off with the mediation process. If you haven’t read the first two installments in this series, I strongly recommend that you do.
Going to Trial
If an agreement can’t be reached during the mediation process, the case will proceed to trial. At trial, your attorney will present the facts of your case to either a jury of six, along with one to three alternates, or just to a judge. The attorney will have the opportunity to put forward any evidence you have and to call any witnesses to support your claim.
The defense in the case will be given the opportunity to cross-examine your witnesses and to likewise present their case. Then, either the judge or jury will render a verdict and award damages or rule in favor of the defense.
This entire process can take anywhere from a few hours to months to accomplish. It is governed by a very precise set of rules and is an expensive undertaking for all concerned.
This expense and the uncertainty associated with how the judge or jury will rule are two of the major reasons most cases get settled in mediation.
If you are not happy with the court’s decision, you may have the opportunity to appeal the case. Be aware, though, that disagreeing with the verdict is not grounds for an appeal. There must be some legal basis for you to contest the court’s decision. Generally, this means either a material or procedural error that precluded you receiving a fair trial.
You should also understand that an appeal is not a retrial. The purpose of the trial is to determine the facts of the case. The appellate court is looking at whether there were procedural mistakes and/or errors in the trial judge’s interpretation of the law.
If serious enough errors are found, they can reverse the lower court’s decision, but this happens very rarely. Usually, they find the appeal unfounded or send it back to the trial court with instructions to:
Retry the case
Modify their judgment
Reconsider the case or additional evidence bearing in mind the appellate court’s decision
The appeal process can take years to complete, and sadly, many times an insurance company will use this process to further delay having to pay your claim. The longer they keep your money, the more opportunity they have to earn from its investment.
This completes our series on the anatomy of a personal injury case in Florida. As you can see, personal injury cases are very rarely simple, and they are not something that anyone should try to handle without the help of a qualified personal injury attorney.