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Closing out Your Case

Once you’ve chosen your attorney and brought your case, there are a number of ways in which things might be resolved. Although you might be expecting a full jury trial, many personal injury cases don’t end that way. Here are some common outcomes you might not be anticipating.

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Dismissal

Although it’s certainly not what you’re hoping for going in, be prepared for the possibility that your case might be dismissed. A dismissal usually occurs when the preponderance of evidence brought against the defendant by the plaintiff is substandard. In other words, if you and your attorney don’t manage to put together a strong enough case, the judge may decide it’s not worth hearing. The good news is that once a case is dismissed it essentially disappears from public record, meaning that you and your attorney can regroup and try to bring the case again assuming you are still within the statute of limitation and the case has not be dismissed with prejudice. But this will incur extra charges, as well as taking up time you don’t want to spend on the issue. So choose an attorney you’re confident will get it right on the first try.

Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment is an effort to resolve key issues before the case ever goes to trial. Either your attorney or that of the defendant might ask the judge to rule before the trial begins on either aspects of a case or the case as a whole. The moving party—that is to say, whoever brings the motion—must demonstrate that there are no genuine issues of material fact, meaning that the facts of the case are undisputed and that the ruling of a jury is unnecessary to decide the case. If this legal standard is met, the judge may rule on the issue that was brought before him or her for summary judgment.  

MEDIATION/ARBITRATION

If you are involved in a dispute, the Court may require that you mediate the case prior to it going to trial.  This allows you to control the process with a mediator though you are under no obligation to settle your case during this mediation.  It also represents your best chance to get realistic money put toward your case prior to your trial date.  In some case due to contractual provisions or agreements by the parties, you may be forced into arbitration.  This acts much like a trial and is binding on the parties.  You should consult an attorney prior to litigating a matter to see which option is right for you. 

Trial

Of course, it is certainly possible that your case will progress to trial, and if that happens, you should know what to expect. A standard personal injury trial consists of six phases:

  • Jury selection. The judge, your attorney, and the defense attorney will work together to question a selection of potential jurors and select a group that’s agreeable to all. Your attorney will be able to veto a certain number of jurors he or she feels might be unhelpful to your case.
  • Opening statements. Each attorney will begin with a brief speech. Your attorney’s job will be to describe the circumstances of your injury and the role of the defendant in causing it. Then the defense attorney will present the defendant’s version of events.

  • Witnesses. Each side will have the opportunity to present witnesses to help build its case. Then the opposition will be able to cross-examine each witness.

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  • Closing arguments. Just like the opening statements, this portion of the trial gives both attorneys the opportunity to sum up their cases. This is their chance to remind the jury of the main points of their arguments.

  • Jury instruction. At this stage, the judge decides what legal principles apply to the case at hand and instructs the jury on how those principles ought to be applied. This is also the judge’s chance to make sure the jury understands the conditions that must be met in rendering a verdict.

  • Deliberation and verdict. The jury will retire to discuss the details of your case. When they return, they’ll deliver a verdict to the judge. If the jury is unable to reach a majority verdict, a mistrial may be declared.

Settlement

As touched upon previously, it’s often a better choice to take a settlement than to go to trial. Most personal injury cases do settle before going to trial, in fact. Part of that has to do with the fact that going to trial is such a risky proposition—you could win big, but you could also go home with nothing, and a lot of that hinges on factors outside your control. Additionally, you may find yourself in need of money after an accident, and settling quickly can provide you with the funds you need. On the other side of the coin, defendants are often eager to settle because they recognize some responsibility on their part for the incident and don’t want to get hit with paying damages that are out of proportion to the injury. No matter what you decide to do, you’ll want to make sure you have the best legal team on your side. Choose wisely and carefully and you’ll be sure to find the representation that’s right for you.