If you are pursuing a personal injury claim, at any point after you have filed your claim and before it goes to trial, you may settle your claim. Settling the claim means that the defendant and the plaintiff have agreed upon specified terms of compensation amongst themselves prior to trial. However, when you are in an active negotiation process with the defendant, you should always be ready to go to trial. You never know how the defendants will react to your settlement demands, and they may want a trial if neither of you can reach an agreement. This can be especially true in Washington D.C., which operates under the legal doctrine of contributory negligence. What this means is that if a jury finds that you have contributed to the incident that caused your injuries even by as little as 1% you cannot recover any damages. This makes both negotiation and trial preparation absolutely crucial when pursuing a case in the District.
What Can I Expect During Negotiations?
Negotiating a claim can be a long process. Depending on the defendant's willingness to settle, and the nature of the case itself, you and your attorney may be wrapped up in negotiations for some time. Normally, negotiations operate on a demand and counter-offer basis. You, the plaintiff, will make a demand of the defendant for an amount of money to settle, and the defendant can either accept the offer, counter the offer, or refuse altogether and try to take their chances in court. If the defendant accepts, they will agree to pay whatever your demand was and the case will conclude right then and there. If they counter-offer, it is up to you to decide whether or not to accept their settlement offer. Your attorney will discuss the terms of the settlement with you, including their opinion as to whether or not it would be preferable to accept the settlement or continue on to trial. If the defendant refuses to negotiate further, then you will have to bring the case to a trial.
Sometimes the defendant will have an insurance adjuster that will make settlement offers. It is best to avoid speaking with insurance adjusters, or to save potential negotiations with an insurance company to times when you are able to discuss the proceedings with your attorney.
What Can I Expect When Preparing For A Trial?
When preparing for a trial, you and your attorney will want to keep in contact and work as much as you can to obtain strong evidence and witnesses to testify. Even if you are preparing for a trial, negotiations can continue, in case you wish to accept any settlement that is offered. Even if both parties are absolutely certain about using a trial for a resolution, it may still take some time before you make it to the courtroom. In Washington D.C., there are actually a few more steps to take before a civil case can make it to a trial.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The District of Columbia courts make use of a process known as Alternative Dispute Resolution to help resolve claims before the make it to trial. There are three forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution: mediation, case evaluation, and arbitration. The type of Alternative Dispute Resolution you will undergo is selected by a judge. Mediation is used to have both plaintiff and defendant discuss the specifics of their case. Case evaluation relies on a court appointed case evaluator to hear out informal presentations on both sides and then offer a non-binding opinion on the likelihood of success in an actual trial. Arbitration is performed by a court-appointed arbitrator who can act as a judge of a somewhat less formal trial. Judgements from an arbitrator can either be final or disputed and set the case back on track for trial.
A Pretrial Conference is a means for establishing the guidelines for an upcoming trial. A Pretrial Conference will be held if the case is not settled through Alternative Dispute Resolution. Typically, during the three weeks before the trial, the parties will meet to discuss the important issues of the case, file any motions regarding how the trial should proceed, and finally, meet at the Pretrial Conference. The Pretrial Conference itself will be held in front of a judge who will issue a pretrial order that will outline the procedure for the trial.
Preparing for a trial can be long and stressful process without proper help. If you or a loved one has been injured and is currently contemplating legal action, contact Gilman & Bedigian today.