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Bringing a Personal Injury Claim in Florida - What to Expect
Over the years, our attorneys have filed personal injury claims all across Miami, South Florida, and the rest of the state. While the particulars of each case may be unique, they all follow a common pattern. At Mase Mebane Seitz, we’re dedicated to helping every one of our clients, and that means making sure you understand what’s ahead of you if you or a loved one files a personal injury claim.
After you decide on Mase Mebane Seitz and sign a contingency fee agreement, we will start with a thorough investigation into what happened. This includes gathering documents and information like medical documents, text messages, photographs, and receipts. We may also investigate the scene and consult with experts to ensure we understand what happened, how it happened, and any other important facts that led to your injury.
Once we confirm the facts and have gathered enough information, we will then either prepare a letter to the business or individual who hurt you or prepare a complaint for filing in the appropriate court, whether it be in Miami, South Florida, or anywhere else inside or outside of Florida. In most cases, we start with a letter, often referred to as a demand letter. This informs the defendant that you are making a claim, explains your injuries, and demands an amount to settle. Some cases settle at this stage, and this results in a reduced fee for our services.
Most cases settle prior to trial. Preparing your case so that we are ready to go to trial not only increases the chances that it settles, it also ensures that you receive the most money when it does. Our reputation as tough litigators, our trial experience, and our willingness to go to trial ensure most of our cases end at this stage of the process.
Those cases that do not settle when a claim is made typically turn into a lawsuit. A lawsuit is started by the filing of a complaint in court. After a complaint is filed, the defendant has an opportunity to respond. This can take the form of a motion to dismiss or an answer in which they admit or deny the factual allegations of your claim. Once this has occurred, a phase in the case known as discovery typically begins.
In the discovery phase, the parties to the lawsuit request information from one another. You will likely be asked to give the other side documents and electronic information and to give sworn answers to written questions called interrogatories. In this phase, you may also be asked to admit facts about your claim. Both parties may also subpoena documents and information from others who are not parties.
You will most likely be asked to give sworn testimony at a deposition. While this may be a new experience for you, our attorneys have coached clients through depositions in Miami, South Florida, and every other part of Florida. We will be with you from start to finish, helping you and guiding you through the process. If you are deposed, the most important things you can do are to tell the truth and not minimize or embellish your injuries.
In most cases, we will likely depose the defendant as well. People and businesses who are not parties can also be asked to give sworn testimony at a deposition. The lawyers for both parties will have a chance to ask questions that must be answered under oath.
Finally, you may be asked to see doctors selected by the other party for a medical examination for your injuries. This is called a Compulsory Medical Examination and is performed so that the other side can evaluate your injuries and the validity of your claim. Depending on the court, you may be allowed to have a lawyer or a court reporter present.
During the course of the lawsuit, the other side may put you under surveillance. You should be mindful of this. The other side will almost certainly subpoena your records, including educational, work, and medical records, and other things that would otherwise be private. This can include photographs and credit card statements. Often, our clients are frustrated with the perceived invasion of privacy—rest assured, we do our best to limit such invasive discovery tactics.
It is important for you to be aware from the beginning that this is possible, so you are not surprised by any aggressive tactics the opposing side may take to try to portray you as not being as injured as you claim and to undermine your claim that the defendant is liable. We will do our best to protect you from harassing requests and protect your private information. But by bringing a lawsuit, you put your physical and emotional condition, as well as what occurred, at issue and by doing so give up some of your privacy. When information has to be produced, we will guide you through the process and protect your privacy as best as we can.
One area many people do not think about—in general and especially during the discovery process—is social media. You should always be careful about what you post on social media and avoid posting altogether while you have a claim pending. The other side will likely try to use your social media against you, so you should also be mindful that any posts you make may be viewed by the defendant. Defendants often scour not only plaintiffs’ social media but also the channels of their family and friends as well, looking for information they can twist to use against them. Once social media is posted, it is improper to delete or modify it after initiating a claim and you should not do so. You should, however, make your social media private and be careful about what you post and what your friends and family post.
After discovery is over, your case will typically go to mediation. Mediation is a process in which a neutral individual, often a former judge or lawyer, sits down with the parties and their counsel and hears a presentation from each side about the case. The mediator then separates the parties into what are called caucuses and discusses their positions individually. He or she attempts to forge a consensus and work toward achieving settlement.
The process, which can take anywhere from several hours to as long as a day or more, often results in settlement. Mediators operate under the mantra that a good settlement is one in which neither party is happy.
If your case does not settle in mediation, the next phase of the process is trial.
Trial is much as you would expect: a presentation of evidence first by the plaintiff, which we handle on your behalf, and then by the defendant. The first phase of trial is empaneling the jury, followed by opening statements by counsel for both parties. This is followed by the presentation of evidence, first by the plaintiff and then by the defendant. Evidence consists of testimony from witnesses, including the parties—yes, you will likely have to testify at trial—expert witness testimony, photographs, documents, and other items. The length of trial varies based on the facts of your case. Some trials can be completed in a matter of days; others take weeks. At the conclusion of the trial, a closing statement is given by counsel for both parties, and then the matter is given to the jury to decide.
In Florida state court, six jurors decide the case. In federal court, the number varies but often is eight. After the jury is given the case, they deliberate and render their verdict. Depending upon the outcome, an appeal may be taken by either of the parties.
As you can see, making a personal injury claim in Miami, South Florida, and outside of Florida can be a long and complex process. We have seen countless clients through the entire process and can guide you through it, too. If you or a loved one has been injured, do not settle for life without justice. Contact a member of our team so we can help you get the justice you deserve.