Personal injury cases involve a vast array of situations and circumstances, ranging from car accidents and dog bites to medical malpractice and wrongful death. Though it may seem like every case follows a predictable trajectory, there's actually a lot of complexity involved in the resolution of personal injury claims. Many cases are settled out of court, but a significant percentage of personal injury cases filed do wind up proceeding to trial. You may wonder, why is this so? What drives some personal injury cases to trial in California and not others? In this article, we discuss some of the most common reasons.
1. Disputed Liability
Perhaps the most common reason why some personal injury cases go to trial as opposed to others is disputed liability. Disputed liability means that the parties involved cannot agree on who was at fault for the accident that led to the injury. The defendant may deny any responsibility or argue that the plaintiff shares some or all of the blame. In California, we follow the rule of pure comparative negligence, meaning that a plaintiff can recover damages even if they are 99% at fault. However, their compensation will be reduced by their percentage of fault. When liability is in dispute, a jury may need to decide who is at fault and to what extent.
2. Disagreement Over Damages
Even when liability is clear, personal injury cases can still go to trial over a disagreement about damages. The plaintiff may believe they are entitled to more compensation than the defendant or their insurance company is willing to offer. Damages can be divided into two main categories: economic and non-economic. Economic damages are quantifiable costs such as medical expenses, lost wages, and property damage. Non-economic damages are more subjective and include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life. It's not uncommon for parties to dispute the value of these damages, prompting the need for a trial.
3. Strategic Decisions
Sometimes, the decision to go to trial is a strategic one made by the plaintiff or their attorney. They may believe that a jury will be more sympathetic to their case than an insurance company or judge in a negotiation or arbitration process. This is particularly true in cases involving severe injuries or clear wrongdoing by the defendant. The prospect of a large jury award can be a compelling reason to take a case to trial.
4. The "Open Policy" Scenario
An "open policy" situation arises in personal injury cases when an insurance company unreasonably rejects a reasonable policy limits demand. The unreasonable rejection of a policy limits demand exposes the defendant's insurance carrier to an action for bad faith insurance practices in the event the plaintiff secures a judgment greater than the defendant's policy limit. Since the carrier could have avoided personal exposure of their insured's asset by accepting the plaintiff's policy limits demand, this creates a scenario where the plaintiff can theoretically sue the defendant's insurance carrier for the amount of any judgment in excess of the defendant's policy limit.
Of course, pursuing such a claim generally requires the plaintiff to take the case to trial and actually obtain a judgement that exceeds policy limits. Thus, when a plaintiff alleges that the unreasonable rejection of a policy limits demand has opened the policy, there is a much higher probability of the case actually going to trial.
5. Uncooperative Insurance Companies
Insurance companies play a big role in personal injury cases. They often have the final say in whether a claim is accepted or denied, and how much compensation is offered. Occasionally, insurance companies might deny valid claims or offer unreasonably low settlements, forcing plaintiffs to take their cases to court to pursue fair compensation.
The decision to go to trial in a personal injury case is a complex one, influenced by a variety of factors. While trials can be time-consuming and stressful, they are sometimes necessary to ensure justice and adequate compensation for injured individuals. It’s crucial to have a skilled personal injury attorney on your side who understands California law and can guide you through the process, whether your case settles or proceeds to trial. Always remember, every case is unique, and the legal strategy should be tailored accordingly.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, contact Phillips & Associates for a free consultation today. You will immediately be put in touch with John Phillips or Patrick DiFilippo, who can help determine whether you have a case and advise you on the best course of action moving forward.