There are several possible ways that a personal injury claim can be brought to a conclusion, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
A negotiated settlement in a personal injury case is the quickest way for the claim to be settled. You, your attorney and representatives for the defendant meet and work out a deal without actually involving the courts.
The advantages of a negotiated settlement are that they are normally reached very quickly and both parties avoid the uncertainty of taking the case to court. The disadvantage is that you might not realize as large of a settlement as a jury might have awarded. It is normally the best course of action in simple cases with limited damages.
Governed by Chapter 44 of the Florida Statutes mediation bridges the gap between negotiation and arbitration. Unlike negotiations, where the concerned parties deal directly with each other, a third-party mediator is brought in and tries to aid in reaching a settlement.
The biggest advantage that mediation brings is that a mediator helps remove the emotional energy from the process. This often helps find terms for an agreement that serve the best interest of all the parties concerned. The injured party receives damages, adequate to their case, in a timely manner, and the defendant avoids the vagaries of a jury trial.
Because there is nothing binding about the mediation process, this can give all those involved room to breathe without the stress that can often be found if a case proceeds past this point.
In the State of Florida, the arbitration process is governed by Chapter 682 of the Florida Statutes. It can be entered into either by mutual agreement or by order of the court which has jurisdiction over a case. It is very much like a trial and carries very the same weight. The biggest difference being that there is no jury. Instead, there will either be a single arbitrator or an arbitration panel to hear the case. This person or panel may be chosen by mutual agreement or appointed by the presiding court.
You or your attorney will be allowed to present evidence, subpoena documentation and witnesses, and all the normal legal forms and standards will be upheld the same as in any court.
Once delivered, the decision of the arbitrating body is sent to the judge to be signed and at that point becomes binding the same as if you had gone before a jury.
The only real advantages to arbitration versus going to trial are that it is normally a much quicker process than a full trial and very technical cases, that might confuse a jury, can be better handled. The disadvantage is that if you have an emotionally charged case, they can be coldly formal.
Judgment at Trial
This is the course of last resort but often the one that brings the greatest monetary rewards to the injured party. Your attorney will present your case to a judge and/or jury. The defendant will do the same, and then a verdict will be rendered. Depending on the specific case and presiding court’s calendar this can take anywhere from months to years to accomplish, and as a general rule, the defendant’s insurance company lawyers will do all they can to stretch the time in the hope you will either give up or die and save them a settlement.
As I often stress in these articles, every personal injury case is unique and must be judged on its own merits. The best course of action in your case may be completely different than that of a very similar case. If you have been injured through the negligence of others, it is always best to consult a personal injury attorney to determine which path would be best for you to follow.