Part 1 of this article series discussed the initial steps in settling a Delaware auto accident lawsuit. Step 1 involves preparing a demand letter. Step 2 involves filing a complaint, and in Step 3, the parties engage in discovery. Click here for part 1. Part 2 will discuss the last two steps: preparing for trial and negotiating settlement.
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Step 4: Prepare for Trial
The discovery phase provides each side with the opportunity to evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of their respective cases. After the discovery phase is completed and all the evidence is evaluated, the plaintiff in the case can reassess trial strategy and make any necessary tweaks. This might involve changing the theory of the case or incorporating additional theories of negligence. For instance, during the discovery phase, it is revealed that the at-fault driver may have been under the influence of illegal drugs. The plaintiff’s claims may include this fact, so long as the evidence is sufficient to support the claim that the other driver was under the influence of drugs at the time of the accident.
In addition, preparing for trial literally requires preparing the evidence for presentation at trial. This may involve obtaining enlargements of exhibits or preparing key witnesses, such as a medical expert.
Step 5: Negotiate a Settlement
After the discovery phase is completed, the parties may begin negotiating a settlement. In all cases, the parties must attend and participate in an alternative dispute resolution / settlement conference prior to trial. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the case may go to trial.
The default alternative dispute resolution conference is mediation. However, the parties may agree to an alternative resolution such as an arbitration hearing or neutral assessment. These are less-costly alternatives to trial. In a mediation, a mediator attempts to help the parties settle the case. In an arbitration, an arbitrator hears an abbreviated version of the case and renders a decision. Usually, experienced attorneys are hired as mediators or arbitrators.
It is important to note that auto accident and injury trials are usually settled prior to trial. In fact, roughly 9 out of 10 cases will be settled.
What’s the Case Worth?
One of the most common questions an injured plaintiff has in a car accident case is whether they should settle the case and if so, for how much. It’s impossible to say how much a given case is worth without looking at the facts and legal issues. In a nutshell, settlement amounts depend on the injuries and damages.
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In addition, factual or legal issues can affect the value of a case. For instance, a pedestrian is seriously injured in a crosswalk auto accident. The defendant in the case asserts the doctrine of comparative negligence, i.e., that the plaintiff is partially at fault for texting on his phone just before stepping off the curb. Eyewitnesses and the plaintiff’s cell phone records clearly support the defense. As a result, the value of the plaintiff’s case is negatively affected because at trial, the defense would be able to support the claim that the plaintiff was partially at fault for causing the accident.
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