What Does Litigation Mean in a Personal Injury Case?
No one starts their day expecting it to end with a serious injury, but car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, workplace injuries, injuries from defective products, and other negligence-related injuries occur to people across the country daily.
When an injury occurs because of someone else’s careless or reckless actions, the injury victim doesn’t have to be left with the undue burden of expenses and lost income.
The civil courts offer a solution through a personal injury case. This type of legal action holds the at-fault party accountable for the consequences of the injury—known as the victim’s “damages” in a personal injury claim.
An estimated 95% of personal injury claims are resolved without litigation in court, meaning the claim for damages like medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for pain and suffering ends with a settlement from the insurance company of the party at fault for the injury.
But what if the attempts to negotiate a settlement fail, or the defendant in the case—or their insurer—doesn’t admit fault and denies the claim? In that case, you might hear your personal injury attorney begin talking about litigation. But what is litigation, and what does it mean for you?
What is the Claim Process Before a Personal Injury Case Goes Into Litigation?
After an injury, it’s important to gather critical evidence like the police report, accident report, or business incident report, and your medical records and then hire an experienced Salt Lake City personal injury attorney to represent your best interests. Your attorney will investigate all aspects of your claim to determine the party at fault, document evidence of their liability, and calculate your damages.
Then, they will make a compelling case for compensation for your losses and send a demand package to the appropriate insurance company. For example, a negligent driver’s auto insurance liability policy should cover your damages after a car accident or a business owner’s property insurance after a slip-and-fall accident.
After they receive the demand package, the defendant in the case may answer by admitting or denying fault. After that, a series of negotiations take place, often including mediation attempts between the injury victim (plaintiff) and the alleged at-fault party (defendant) as well as their attorneys.
During mediation, a neutral third party attempts to resolve the dispute and help both sides agree to a settlement. Only in cases where they cannot reach an acceptable settlement offer from an insurer does the case proceed to court for litigation through a lawsuit.
What is the Litigation Process For a Personal Injury Case?
When a claim becomes a lawsuit due to an inability to arrive at an ample settlement amount to cover damages, the injury victim must file a lawsuit within the state’s statute of limitations. Most states allow two years for filing a personal injury lawsuit, but Utah’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases is four years from the date of the injury in most cases.
After filing the complaint, the defendant is served the complaint with a set time to respond. Then both parties enter the discovery phase where they exchange all relevant information. Either party may file motions at any time during this process to dismiss the case, exclude evidence, or request further mediation.
Both parties may meet with the judge for one or more pre-trial conferences to iron out issues and attempt a resolution. Finally, if they cannot resolve the dispute, they set a trial date.
At a personal injury trial, both sides present evidence and testimony to the court to support their arguments. After presenting evidence, the jury decides if the defendant is liable for damages based on a “preponderance of the evidence” meaning they only have to decide that it’s more likely than not that the defendant is responsible for the injury.
If they find the defendant liable for damages, they issue a jury award for damages to compel the insurance company to pay out to the victim.
Although the litigation process is far more time-consuming than a settlement, jury awards for damages are often substantially more than the victim would get through a settlement.