By John DiMotto
The most oft seen case in civil court is the personal injury lawsuit. In these cases, the trier of fact - a jury or the court - usually is called upon to determine fault/liability and damages.
Personal injury lawsuits cover a variety of incidents. They may involve a "slip and fall" case (ie. a person is in a grocery store and slips, falls and is injured), a medical malpractice case (ie. a person claims that a doctor was negligent in the performance of a medical treatment/procedure and that the negligence caused injury); a motor vehicle accident case (ie. a person is in a motor vehicle that is in a collision with another vehicle). Of these cases, the motor vehicle accident case is most prevalent.
The normal "course" for a person injured in a motor vehicle accident is that the person contacts his/her own insurance company and reports the accident and damage. The incident is also reported to the insurance company of the other driver. Most of these cases are "settled" when the damages sought are obtained either from one's own insurance company who will then deal with the other driver's insurance company. However, if the injured party and the insurance companies cannot agree, the case may go "to suit." The injured party may sue the other driver, the other driver's insurance company, the injured party's own insurance company if the other driver is uninsured or underinsured and any other party who may have been negligent and contributed to cause the accident. Also, if an insurance company has paid the medical expenses of the injured party, that company must be brought into the lawsuit since they have the right to be reimbursed by the "at fault" party or that party's insurance company.
When a PI-Motor Vehicle accident case is filed, the attorneys will engage in "discovery" to find out what happened. Discovery takes many forms; written interrogatories (ie. written questions are sent out and answers must be provided in a timely fashion); depositions (ie. witnesses are questioned under oath like testimony in the courtroom); requests to admit (ie. a party is asked to admit or deny facts about the accident)' request for production of documents (is. medical records). Once the discovery is completed and each side understands the full nature of the incident, attempts at settlement are made. If the attorneys cannot resolve the case, most judges will require the parties to engage in mediation. This is a procedure where a lawyer or retired judge will hear from both sides and try to get them to come to an agreement. If mediation fails, then the case is set for a court trial (judge decides the case) or a jury trial.
At trial, the party seek damages has the burden to prove that the other party was at fault, or more at fault than the plaintiff as well as entitlement to damages (ie. a monetary award to compensate the injured party).
Most cases will settle because the parties want to control the outcome of the case. There is no control when the cases is put in the hands of the trier of fact. However, when a case does go to trial, the outcome is usually decided based on which witnesses are believed by the trier of fact; that is, who is most worthy of belief as to the facts surrounding the accident.
Accidents occur daily. When the cannot be resolved, the forum for resolution is civil court.