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Finding Common Ground: How Do Personal Injury Cases Resolve?

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Personal injury cases are legal disputes that involve a person who suffers harm from an accident or injury caused by the negligence of another person. These types of civil cases may either be resolved by means of a judgment in civil court or, more commonly, through an informal settlement that occurs before a lawsuit is even filed.

Resolving Personal Injury Disputes

In most cases, disputes over fault for an injury or accident are settled among the parties, their insurers, and their attorneys through negotiation and a written agreement in which both sides agree to forgo a lawsuit, choosing instead to settle the matter through the payment of an agreed-upon sum of money. According to The Law Dictionary, 95 to 96 percent of the personal injury cases in the U.S. are settled pre-trial.

A formal personal injury lawsuit begins when an individual, known as the plaintiff, files a civil complaint against the person, business, corporation, or government agency alleging that their negligent acts related to an accident or injury caused the plaintiff harm.

One reason that only a small percentage of personal injury cases end up in litigation is the uncertainty of the result. The Law Dictionary estimates that nearly 90 percent of the cases that go to trial end with an unsatisfactory result for the plaintiff (the final award is lower than the actual damages sustained), although lawsuits that are tried in front of a trial judge rather than a jury tend to fare better, since juries are often very unpredictable.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The middle ground between settlement and litigation is alternative dispute resolution, which includes procedures such as arbitration and mediation:

  • Arbitration, the most formal alternative to litigation, proceeds when the parties to the dispute present their case to a neutral third party called an arbitrator, who makes the final decision, which may or may not be binding. Arbitration is generally considered a more efficient process than litigation because it is faster, less expensive, and more flexible. Arbitrators usually have more expertise in the subject matter of the dispute than judges do, and also enjoy greater flexibility when making a decision.
  • Mediation is an informal, confidential, and nonbinding way for parties to resolve disputes with the help of a neutral mediator trained to help people settle their differences. Unlike arbitration, in which the arbitrator issues a decision, the mediator does not decide who is right or wrong, but instead helps the parties work out their own solution. One of the greatest benefits of mediation is that it allows people to resolve a dispute in a fair, efficient, and relatively low-cost way.

Although injured parties have a right to take their personal injury lawsuit to court to let a judge or jury determine the outcome, most cases don’t make it all the way to trial. Deciding whether to settle a claim out of court or take it trial is one of the most important decisions made in any personal injury claim, and should only be made after careful consideration and consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney.

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