In the United States, we are lucky to have a legal system designed to ensure the just adjudication of claims. In a criminal case, you are considered innocent until proven guilty. Likewise, in a civil case, the defendant is typically not presumed to be liable for your injuries—instead, you and your Florida personal injury attorney have the burden of proving your case to the court. This can take time, especially because the defendant's attorneys are entitled to interview you, review all of your medical records, hire their own experts, and put on a full defense of their case. So what can you expect if your personal injury case goes to trial in Florida?
A Florida personal injury lawyer will rarely file a case in Florida courts the day you walk into her office. Instead, you can expect that the law firm will conduct an investigation into the nature and extent of your injuries and file a claim with any potentially liable insurance company. This is typically the first step in the personal injury recovery process, whether you were injured in a car accident or as the result of a fall. Most personal injury cases hinge on negligence, which requires your attorney to prove each of the following elements:
- Duty: The defendant had a duty to act in a safe manner and in accordance with Florida law so as not to cause harm to others.
- Breach: The defendant failed to act in a safe, reasonable, or legal manner.
- Cause: As a result of the defendant's actions, you were involved in an accident.
- Damages: As a result of the accident, you sustained injuries or other damages for which you deserve compensation.
Because damages are actually part of your claim, proving your case can take time—it may take months or years before you are done treating your injuries or the doctors know the full extent of the damage caused by your accident. Furthermore, your attorney must provide the defendant with sufficient proof of your injuries, meaning that she will need to wait on and request your medical records to prove your claims. The defendant also has the right to send you for independent medical examinations and have your records reviewed by his own medical experts. For these reasons, it can take time to get through the claims process and determine if the defendant or his insurance company is willing to make an offer to settle the case. If the defendant doesn't offer a settlement (or an acceptable one), or if you reject it, then your personal injury lawyer may take your case to court.
The Pretrial Litigation Process
- If your Florida accident lawyer determines that she needs to file your claims in court, you can generally expect the following:
- Your attorney will file a complaint alleging who is liable for causing your injuries.
- Your attorney will have the complaint served on the defendant to ensure he has notice of the claim and can submit it to an attorney.
- The defendant will file a response to the complaint either confirming or denying each allegation against him. At this time, the defendant may also make a demand for any evidence your attorney has to support the claim, such as medical records, photographs, police reports, videos of the accident, and claims information. This is called “discovery.”
- The parties will continue the discovery process until they feel they have exchanged all necessary information, then they will take depositions of the parties and any witnesses. Depositions are sworn testimonies that both parties can use in court to support their cases.
- After depositions, one or both of the parties may file motions for summary judgment, which is when they ask the judge to rule on the case before trial based on the evidence gathered.
- If the judge denies summary judgment, the case will normally proceed to trial.
It can take some time to reach trial in a personal injury case, but if you do, it will be because the court believes you should litigate the matter before a jury of your peers.
Proving Your Case at Trial
As the person who was injured, your personal injury attorney has the burden of proving your case by the preponderance of the evidence. This is another way of saying that you must prove that the defendant is more likely than not, or 51 percent likely, liable for your injuries. This is a much lesser standard than in criminal court—in a personal injury case, you are not required to prove your claims beyond a reasonable doubt. After the parties pick a jury, the attorneys will begin the trial by giving their opening statements, which are brief summaries of the cases and what the jury should look for as the trial proceeds. Your attorney will then use witnesses, such as doctors, friends, spouses, eyewitnesses, and even yourself to enter certain documents into evidence and prove each element of your case.
After your attorney is finished presenting her evidence, the defense attorney will have a chance to do the same, and he will present evidence using his own witnesses. At each stage of litigation, however, the other attorney is permitted to question the witnesses on the stand to see if he can find a hole in each witness's testimony. After the defense rests, the court may give your attorney the opportunity to provide additional evidence to disprove some of the defendant's contentions. The attorneys will then give their closing statements, which are pleas to the jury about how it should rule. After that, the jury will deliberate and make a determination about liability and damages.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Attorney Today to Discuss Your Case
Because of the nature of our justice system, litigation can take time. You may find this difficult to bear if you are suffering because of your injuries and are counting on legal compensation. For this reason, contact a Tampa Bay personal injury attorney who can help you and your family make the right decisions about your case. Sometimes this means settling the case with an insurance company, taking the case to a neutral mediator, or going all the way to trial. Depending on the facts of your case, the Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can help you make the best decisions. If you were injured in the greater Tampa Bay area, call their experienced personal injury attorneys today at (727) 451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation about your accident, or contact them online.