There are two parts to the Justice System. The first part consists of criminal and civil matters. The primary purpose of the Criminal Justice System is to punish the criminal and incarcerate that person if appropriate. The second part consists of the Civil Justice System. Its primary purpose is to obtain justice for the injured party by attempting to compensate that person for monetary damages.
Compensation to the injured party includes past and future medical expenses, the past and future loss of wages and/or earning capacity, and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering, damage to family relationships and psychological injuries. The justice system may also function to allow the injured person to have his or her today in court.
How the Justice System Works
The justice system relies heavily on juries to decide disputes and to award appropriate damages. If you have served on a jury, then you probably are familiar with the trial process. The justice system is an adversarial system, which means each party hires an attorney who is devoted solely to his or her client, within certain ethical guidelines. At Edwards & Ragatz, P.A., our attorneys welcome this advocacy role and do everything required to represent you fully. Judges also play an important role in interpreting the law and in deciding legal issues. Certain areas of the law, such as medical malpractice and nursing home abuse, have become increasingly complex. Our attorneys can handle all types of cases, from the simplest to the most complex legal matters, in a highly competent manner. The justice system is also designed to force each side to disclose information to the other side before trial. This results in each side being able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their case and to determine whether a settlement is appropriate. Both state and federal courts in the northeast Florida area routinely require that mediation be held before trial. Mediation is a settlement conference conducted by a neutral third party. Many cases settle at mediation. We pride ourselves on doing highly effective mediation presentations to maximize the amount offered by the insurance company or other defendant at mediation.
In most cases, a significant amount of pre-suit investigation is done before the lawsuit is filed. The type of pre-suit investigation depends on the type of case involved. In almost all cases involving injuries, we typically obtain the client’s relevant medical records. In cases involving automobile accidents, we typically obtain the accident report, photographs of the scene and vehicles, insurance information from all involved parties and any other relevant information. In medical malpractice and nursing home cases, there are legal requirements that the potential defendant is notified prior to suit being filed. In some instances, the appropriate investigation leads to settlement negotiations between the parties in the hope of avoiding a lawsuit. The client is always the ultimate decision-maker about the settlement. Many times a lawsuit is unavoidable, and we aggressively pursue the case in court. At times, the client chooses to resolve the case pre-suit if an appropriate settlement offer has been made.
The Law Suit Process
The lawsuit process begins with the filing of a complaint against the appropriate defendants. The complaint sets forth the facts of the case and the legal claims being made. The defendant then typically has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit and file an answer. Many times the answer contains various defenses, such as comparative negligence or statute of limitations. During the lawsuit process, the parties can engage in what is known as discovery. This is the process of obtaining information from the opposing party and from third parties through the use of subpoenas, depositions, interrogatories, requests for the production of documents and other methods.
Subpoenas command a third party to appear for a deposition or to produce documents. A deposition is a statement under oath by a witness or party who must respond to the attorney’s oral questions. Interrogatories are written questions that may be directed to a party to the case. Also, parties must respond to document requests from other parties and produce relevant documents subject to certain privileges. During the process, either party may ask the judge to throw out certain claims or defenses or dismiss the entire case.
Selecting an Attorney
In most personal injury cases the lawyers are paid on a contingent fee basis, meaning that if there is no recovery, the client owes no fee and no costs. If there is a recovery, the fee is based on a percentage of that recovery plus the reimbursement of any costs that were expended in the investigation or prosecution of the case. We charge no fee for the initial consultation, regardless of whether the case is accepted for investigation.
If the case cannot be resolved during the lawsuit process described above, the case proceeds to trial. In almost all situations, the trial is held in front of a jury. In Florida, potential jurors are chosen randomly from a pool of residents with driver’s licenses. Jury selection is an important part of the trial. The parties have some leeway to strike certain potential jurors and get other jurors removed for legal reasons. The jury chosen is critical to the outcome. We are fully aware of this process and are always cognizant of trying to obtain the best possible jury for our client. At the trial, the parties present witnesses and enter into evidence documents, photographs, and other tangible items. The judge rules on the admissibility of evidence and how the jury is to be instructed on the law. The attorneys get to make opening statements and closing arguments to the jury. Unless the judge rules that there is insufficient evidence for the jury to decide the case, the jury decides the issues in the case and the number of damages to award to the plaintiff. At the conclusion of the case, either side has the right to appeal.
Working as a Team
In pursuing justice, the client and attorney act as a team. We understand that effective communication between client and attorney is critical to a successful resolution of the case. As team members, we each have responsibilities. The client should provide us with pertinent, truthful information that he or she has regarding the subject, accident or event, medical bills, identification of treating doctors, identification of insurance, etc. The attorney must be responsive to the client’s needs, must promptly return phone calls, must keep the client advised of significant developments in the case, and must give the client the best recommendations regarding the course of action and potential settlement.
Is the Full Recovery Yours? Myths and What You Need to Know
In addition to fees and costs, other items that may affect the amount received by the client are liens. Liens are typical amounts that have been paid by insurance companies for the injured party’s medical care. In many cases, liens are asserted by the government payors, such as Medicare or Medicaid. By law, these third-party payors are entitled to reimbursement of all or part of the amounts they have paid for medical care for injuries that resulted from the accident. We are always mindful of attempting to negotiate the lien amounts as much as possible to ensure that the client receives the maximum recovery possible. If the claim is brought on behalf of an estate of a deceased person, creditors may file claims in the estate that may have to be satisfied.
Again, we are mindful of disputing any invalid claims and attempting to negotiate any estate claims to minimize their impact on the ultimate recovery of the client. We are always upfront with the client at the beginning of the case to prepare them for the impact of fees, costs, and liens on the net recovery. We do not advise a client to go forward with potentially time-consuming and expensive litigation unless it appears that there may be a worthwhile recovery to the client in the end. Although there is never a guarantee of recovery, we do all we can to obtain the maximum recovery possible for the client.