I’m Afraid to Go to Court - Should I Accept the Insurer’s Offer?
If you have a fear of going to court, you’re not alone. Almost all litigants find involvement in the legal system to be stressful. While the level of unease can vary from slight nervousness to paralyzing phobia, some level of fear is almost universal. And it makes complete sense for a number of reasons.
First, the average person has limited experience with the legal system. Thus, there is a natural fear of the unknown. Second, the idea of testifying and being questioned in front of strangers causes discomfort. Additionally, court outcomes can have a profound effect on the lives of the people involved. For example, in a criminal case, a defendant’s very liberty may be at risk. In domestic cases, child custody and other important family matters can be at stake. And in personal injury cases, a person’s health, medical treatment, financial security, and ability to work may all be issues. It’s no wonder that the idea of going to court is so anxiety-provoking to so many people.
But before you fall into despair, there is good news. Below we’ll explain how you can reduce your fear of the court system and why you should at least give us a call and get all of your questions answered before even considering settlement of your personal injury case.
1. Some cases do not even require a lawsuit.
You may be surprised to learn that many personal injury cases are settled before a lawsuit is filed. Many factors affect the negotiating process, including the type of injuries you have sustained, when your medical treatment will be completed, and when the applicable statute of limitations will expire.
Also, keep in mind that personal injury cases often involve insurance companies. For example, if you are involved in a semi-truck accident, an automobile accident, a slip and fall, or suffer injury from medical malpractice, you will likely find that the wrongdoer was covered by a policy of insurance. Thus, resolution of a case often involves negotiating directly with the insurer. Efforts to settle a case without the necessity of a lawsuit are sometimes fruitful.
However, it must be stressed that the value of your case will be harmed if the opposing insurance adjuster senses (or knows) that you are afraid to go to trial. We have also observed that insurance companies often make lower offers to people who represent themselves. Thus, to obtain the best offer, it makes sense to retain an experienced personal injury attorney.
2. Even if a lawsuit is filed, most cases do not go to trial.
Lawyers hear many statistics on the number of cases that settle and the number that actually go to trial. The Oregon Judicial Department actually keeps statistics on trials in the state courts of Oregon. In 2018, 58,036 cases were completed (this number does not include domestic, landlord/tenant, or protective order cases). Only 400 of the cases were terminated by trial. Of those that went to trial, 172 went to jury trial and 228 were completed by a bench (non-jury) trial. That means that, on average, less than 1 percent of civil cases in Oregon are being resolved at trial. That can give the average litigant comfort that filing a lawsuit usually does not result in a jury trial.
However, this statistic does conceal one important factor - many cases were prepared for trial, even when they ultimately settled. It is this intense preparation that allows a fair settlement to be reached. Through careful preparation, each side becomes intensely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each side of the case. It’s also important that you retain a lawyer who has a reputation for being willing to go to trial. It may sound counterintuitive, but when the insurance company knows a lawyer means business, they are often more willing to settle.
The great news is that a good personal injury lawyer can take most of the worry and burden off of your shoulders.
3. Talk to a lawyer first.
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer first. Here’s why:
- The legal system is complicated. If you have suffered personal injury at the hands of another, you are entitled to be compensated and made whole. It’s only fair. But to get the full value for your case, you usually must be willing to use the court system - and that can be complicated. There are filing and other timing deadlines. Discovery is often needed, and motions and briefing can be required on complicated legal issues. The defendant may raise defenses that need to be rebutted. By relying on an attorney, you can avoid mistakes that you might make on your own.
- Maximize your recovery. Good lawyers can get higher settlement offers (and verdicts, if a trial is required). Attorneys are familiar with finding insurance policies that might apply to your case and locating and preparing the evidence that will prove your damages. Good lawyers are also experienced negotiators. And while we always hope to settle cases fairly, our willingness to go to trial makes insurance companies take us seriously.
- Reduce your anxiety. We started this article discussing the fear that some people have over the possibility of going to court. By relying on an experienced attorney, you can let someone else shoulder most of that load. You’ll know that your case is in the hands of someone who knows exactly what to do and when.
Call with Questions
At Nelson MacNeil Rayfield, we have handled personal injury cases in courts all over Oregon. We work hard to make sure that wrongdoers are held accountable and that injured victims are made whole. We understand that the process is new and uncomfortable for many clients. We will take every step possible to shoulder your burden and reduce your stress with the legal system.
That starts by taking the time to listen to you and explain each step of the process so that you know what is happening and what to expect. We will make sure you understand how trials work and how you can prepare and reduce your anxiety if a trial is required. Please call for a free consultation so that we can answer any questions you might have.