There are some things every lawyer should keep in mind when evaluating a personal injury cases, and figuring out how to win it. This guide is a reminder that some of the most important work an attorney does is to evaluate things besides the case itself.
JURISDICTION AND VENUE
A lawyer representing an injured person in California (or the family of someone killed in an accident) is often in a position to choose the court in which a case will be heard. The venue laws in California allow the plaintiff to file the lawsuit either in the county where the accident happened or in the county where any of the defendants live. In a case where there are multiple defendants, the lawyer for the injured party might well have a choice of three or four different counties.
Knowing the jury pools of the various counties from experience, in addition to knowing who the judges are sitting in those counties, gives an attorney the opportunity to obtain for his client a trial in the most favorable venue.
Additionally, an attorney for an injured party will sometimes have a choice between state court and federal court and this decision, too, can have a major impact on the case. As a general rule, an attorney for an injured party will prefer state court. The reason is that under California law only nine out of 12 jurors are required to obtain a verdict for a plaintiff in state court, whereas a unanimous jury is required in federal court.
On the other hand, there are certain times where the available federal court jury pool is more favorable to an injured person to the degree that it outweighs the issue of the requirement of a unanimous jury. The wise attorney will put substantial resources into determining all the choices in making the right one.
KNOW YOUR OPPONENT
Knowing the reputation of both the opposing attorney as well as the insurance company can be critical. Having this information gives the plaintiff’s attorney an idea of whether the case is more likely to end up going to trial rather than settling. Also, having this knowledge allows the plaintiff’s attorney to gauge the pressure to bring on the opponent and the timing of that pressure in order to enhance the probability of a significant settlement. Knowing one’s opponent also has a bearing on the decision as to the county in which to file a case. Certain insurance companies often use different lawyers for different counties. Knowing that in advance allows the astute plaintiff’s lawyer to take that into account when deciding where to file the lawsuit.
There are some basic tenets of case evaluation to help the attorney distinguish those cases that should be settled prior to litigation, those cases that should be presented to a jury, and those cases that should be settled somewhere after filing the lawsuit, but before jury trial. The experienced lawyer will look carefully at the strengths and weaknesses of her case and is wise to make these determinations early on.
MUTIPLE DEFENDANT CASES
In some cases there is only one person who has caused the accident. In other cases there are many people and/or corporations. In many cases, multiple defendants will try to work with one another against the injured person as long as they can. During most cases, however, one defendant, or more, comes to realize that it must protect only itself from further loses and will begin to point the finger at the other defendants. The wise plaintiff’s attorney will try to split the defendants up as early in the litigation as possible. There are many strategies in order to accomplish this, and very often these defendants know things about one another that no one else knows. These things often are the tipping point in a plaintiff’s case.
Andy Gillin is the Senior Partner at GJEL Accident Attorneys.