If you’ve suffered a personal injury due to a motor vehicle accident, slip and fall, or perhaps you were injured at work, you may have a claim for compensation for your injuries. There are different options to resolve your claim for personal injuries:
As a preliminary matter, you may have heard of “Alternative Dispute Resolution,” or “ADR.” This refers, in part, to mediation and arbitration, which are discussed below.
What is Settlement?
A case can settle a number of different ways. The short version is that “settles” is a blanket term that basically means, “It didn’t go to trial.” The most basic way cases settle occurs is when your attorney speaks to the attorney or insurance carrier representing the other side, and, after a complete review of all the evidence, and discussion of the merits, the parties will negotiate terms until a compromise is reached. The general terms of the settlement agreement is that in exchange for the other party paying you x amount, you agree to waive your rights to sue the other party and relieve that party from liability of your injuries and any other expenses arising from the accident. Before agreeing to the terms, your attorney should discuss the pros and cons, weaknesses in your case that should be considered along with an assessment of your case and likelihood of success should you choose to go to trial, keeping in mind there are no guarentees a successful trial or, if so, the amount of award. Ultimately, it is your choice to agree to or disregard the other party’s settlement offer.
What does “Mediation” Involve?
Mediation is a way to attempt to “settle” the case that brings in an independent third party, often an attorney or retired judge. In mediation, you and your lawyer will go to the office of a mediator that lawyers for both sides have agreed upon. Choosing a mediator typically requires the attorneys to consider the background of the potential mediators, as well as availability. Mediation is significantly less formal than the courtroom. In mediation, the mediator listens to both parties, asking questions and seeking to understand both the facts involved, and where the parties agree or disagree. It is not the job of the mediator to judge. Rather, the mediator seeks to find a solution that is mutually acceptable to the parties. This can be a monetary settlement, but a mediator can also think “outside the box” to come up with creative solutions unique to you and your case. Unlike in court, where your lawyer will do most of the talking, and you testify at a trial, in mediation, the mediator seeks to speak with you. It can save time and money. Just as with the settlement discussed above, you, the client, make the decision whether to agree to terms and “settle” the case. This is a confidential proceeding. If the mediation does not result in a settlement of the case, your case can continue to work its way through the court system as if the mediation didn’t occur.
What is an “Arbitration?”
As with mediation, the arbitrator is an independent third party, usually another attorney, who hears the dispute can be selected by mutual agreement of the lawyers. Sometimes, however, the lawyers cannot agree on a given arbitrator. In this case, the judge appoints an arbitrator under Md. Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. § 3-211. In arbitration, the arbitrator holds a hearing. This is similar to a trial, but less formal. For example, arbitrators are not bound by the technical rules of evidence under Md. Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code Ann. § 3-214. Unlike in mediation, where at the conclusion of the event, you are given the choice to resolve the case or continue in the court system, arbitration cases are decided by the arbitrator, who acts as both the fact finder and judge, and the arbitrator’s ruling is binding on the parties. Depending on the complexity of the case and the agreement of the parties, the arbitration proceedings may be recorded by a court reporter. It is not uncommon for the attorneys to obtain a copy of the transcribed proceedings, to be quoted in legal briefs. These briefs allow the attorneys to argue, in writing, their case to the arbitrator. The transcripts and briefs may also assist the arbitrator in coming to a fair and just resolution.
What Happens at a “Trial?”
Trials occur after all other attempts to settle the case either fail. However, just because your case is scheduled for a trial on a given day, that doesn’t necessarily mean a trial will take place. Depending on the judge, the court may wish to speak to the lawyers on the day the trial is set, to determine whether there is any possibility of case resolution. It is not uncommon for more than one case to be set for trial on any given day. If your case remains one that cannot be resolved, you may still get another date to return for trial, if the court determines another case should be tried first.
There are a multitude of reasons a case may be rescheduled, or receive priority for trial. These can be based on the seriousness of the case, the time it has been pending before the courts, the availability of witnesses, the availability of the lawyers, and other factors. Once your trial begins, each party will make opening statements, witnesses will be called and cross examined, you may be expected to take the stand (which your lawyer will discuss with you well in advance), and at the end of the case, the lawyers will make closing arguments. It is possible there will be a jury (jury trial), or your case may be tried before a judge (bench trial). This is a decision that will have been made well in advance of the trial date. Once the case is concluded, the jury will deliberate until they have made a decision. If the case is tried before a judge, the court may take the matter under advisement, or may make a ruling from the bench. As with arbitration, the court may ask the attorneys to write up findings for the court to consider, based on the record. The court may then issue the ruling in writing at a later time.
For more information regarding your options to resolve a personal injury case, contact a knowledgeable Waldorf personal injury attorney with The Law Office of Carroll Drake, LC at (301) 638-1280.