Most people who come into our office have never been involved in a legal dispute before. They are often surprised to learn how many different ways their case might be resolved throughout the process. They are also often surprised to learn the majority of the cases will be resolved without requiring a jury trial. In the unfortunate event you have to come see us, here are some of the most common methods to resolving your case.
If both sides are reasonable, liability and damages are pretty clear, or the fair value of damages exceeds the insurance/assets available, it is not uncommon for us to be able to resolve your claim before a lawsuit is ever filed. This usually happens with some initial investigation, a demand letter and the exchange of a few phone calls.
In these situations, it is also not unheard of for the person to be able to resolve the claim without the assistance of a lawyer, or with minimal assistance; sometimes, it is financially sound to do so. More often than not, however, insurance companies will offer less to resolve the claim and delay processing the claim longer than they will if they know a lawyer is involved. If you believe you have a claim and have been wrongfully injured by someone else, it is not a bad idea to consult with a lawyer to determine whether legal representation is the best route to take.
Dismissal/Summary Judgment: If after a lawsuit has been filed a party does not have a valid legal claim or defense, or there are enough indisputable facts that a reasonable jury would not disagree on the issues, a judge could decide some or all of a case is dismissed or ruled upon as a matter of law. This will eliminate the case, eliminate the need for a jury in resolving the case or eliminate the need for a jury to decide all the issues in play.
If the parties feel like settlement is in the best interest of everyone but aren't quite seeing eye to eye on the issues, they will agree to mediate the case. Here, a neutral mediator will go back and forth between the parties with the goal of getting the parties to come to a compromised resolution. Because he or she is impartial, a good mediator will illustrate the flaws of each side's case and get them to come up or down from their initial evaluation so that the parties can reach a reasonable midpoint.. The mediator does not make any binding legal decisions, and either party can end settlement discussions at any time. Sometimes, more than one mediation session is required to reach resolution.
By request of a party or for some other reason, the court may order the parties participate in a settlement conference. Like a mediation but a bit more formal, a judge will often act as the mediator without the power to make binding decisions. This often occurs if a private mediation is not agreed upon, the case involves complex legal issues, the parties are further apart on the issues and/or the stature of a judge acting as mediator might bring the parties closer to agreement.
By law or contractual agreement, the parties may arbitrate instead of try the case. Instead of a jury in a formal courtroom in front of a judge, the parties will present their cases to an arbitrator (or panel of three)--usually a neutral lawyer or lawyers--using evidence, documents and witness testimony. Unlike mediators, the arbitrator or arbitrators' decision can be binding. Depending on the case, parties may or may not be able to appeal the decision. Cases resolved through arbitration usually take less time to resolve and cost less than the formal court process.
Short and Fast Track Trials
In cases where the issues are simple, a lot has been agreed upon and/or the damages are small, parties by agreement or by law will go through a process with quicker deadlines, smaller juries and less trial days. A compromise between an arbitration and a full out trial, this solution is best for parties that want to get the case resolved quickly and inexpensively, but still want a jury to hear a condensed version of the evidence and make a decision.
This is simply a trial where the judge instead of a jury hears the case and makes a decision, primarily when both parties agree that one person with superior legal knowledge would be better suited to make the decision than a jury. In personally injury actions, this is rare.
When the parties just aren't on the same wavelength and all settlement discussions have failed, it is time for a jury to listen to the law, listen to the facts and render a verdict. Jury trials are rare in our office for several reasons:
1. They are risky. As experienced and prepared as we are to try a case, you never know what a jury is going to decide, nor what type of jury(conservative, liberal, etc) will end up sitting in the box. The thought of putting the case in the hands of nine strangers can be very stressful for the client.
2. With all the possibilities of resolution before reaching this point, it is more likely that both sides will eventually reach a fair settlement.
3. Our firm prepares all cases as if they are going to trial, is not afraid of going to trial, and our adversaries know that. It is risky for them, too. For that reason, more often than not our clients are eventually offered a fair settlement for what they've been through.
Sometimes, the parties will hold a trial on liability first. Only if liability has been established against the defendant(s), the parties will then hold another trial on damages with the same or a new jury.
Rarer than trials, if either side disagrees with a ruling, they can appeal to the upper court. The upper court can agree with, disagree with or modify the lower court's ruling, sometimes sending the entire thing back down to be tried all over again based on the new ruling. If either side disagrees with the appellate court's ruling, they can appeal to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court having the final say in the matter. Of course, the Supreme Court also has the option of kicking the case back down to be tried all over again based on a new ruling. If either party disagrees with a ruling made during the second trial, they again have the option of appealing, and round and round the circle goes...