“Do I have to go to trial?”
I hear this question regularly from personal injury clients who are nervous about the prospect of being “judged” by a jury. In nearly every civil case for damages in Mississippi, your case will be decided by jury. Unlike other states where a judge alone decides your case unless the damages are severe, Mississippi juries decide all cases from a dented door to a drunken fatality.
Mississippi Trial Process and Your Personal Injury Case
The process of a lawsuit is time consuming and intimidating to most people, but if handled correctly, can maximize the result for the client. The lawsuit begins with the Plaintiff (the injured party) filing a Complaint. This is a legal demand against someone alleging that they did something wrong that caused damages. Under Mississippi law, the Defendant (the person sued) has 30 days to respond with a written Answer or response to the allegations of the complaint.
The Defendant typically denies that they did anything wrong and further denies that the Plaintiff suffered any damages. Once the Answer is filed, the process of Discovery commences. Through written questions called Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents, the Plaintiff and Defendant can learn about the nature of the claims presented and the defenses to those claims.
Next, the parties normally take Depositions. These are recorded and transcribed interviews under oath. All of the lawyers will be present as well as a Court reporter who takes down every word. What people sometimes forget is that both Depositions and written discovery are under oath. What this means is that the words written or spoken are no different than if they were said directly in front of the judge and jury. For this reason, it is important for a witness to be prepared and to be honest.
Honesty is Crucial With Your Personal Injury Case
I have seen people torpedo their claims or defenses by simply failing to fully disclose important facts. As part of my detailed interview with new clients, I tell them, there is only one thing that can hurt your case — whatever I do not know. Despite what you might see on television, the lawsuit process is not about hiding the truth, it is about uncovering it. The ancient Greeks had a saying for this which was reflected in their artwork, and warts and all. There is no such thing as a perfect case or a perfect person. A lawyer is not here to judge their client, but to help them. Help your lawyer help you by sharing everything- the good, the bad and the ugly.
Going to Trial
Once the depositions are complete, the case is often set for trial. The parties get with the Court and select a date for trial. The reality is that the Court system is overloaded and it can be a year or more to obtain a trial date in some districts. At the front end, I tell my clients to expect 12-18 months to get your case in front of a jury.
Settling Outside of Court
What many lawyers do not share is that most cases are resolved before they ever reach the jury. Between the time that the case is set for trial and the actual trial, settlement discussions, mediations, negotiations and other avenues are explored. In my experience, over 80% of the cases where a lawsuit is filed are concluded before they ever reach the jury. The reason for this high rate of resolution is simple. By preparing every case as if it were going to the jury, the insurance company knows that the lawyer is serious about the case and the insurance company will be more likely to give a fair evaluation and just compensation.
Every Personal Injury Case is Different
If in the end your case is one of those that goes to the jury, it is okay. Your lawyer has done all of the things needed to prove your case. The lawyer will prepare you, your witnesses and the doctors for the reality of our American Justice System. Where your case is pending will determine how many jurors must agree to reach a verdict. In Mississippi County Court, 5 of 6 must agree. In Circuit Court, 9 of 12 must agree to reach a verdict.
While the lawsuit process is time consuming and uncertain, by selecting the right lawyer and law firm, the decision to move forward with a lawsuit is often the best way to obtain justice.