Areas of Practice
Trials are often exciting, traumatic and expensive. Sometimes personal injury claims must proceed to trial in order to assure injured people an opportunity for fair compensation for their injuries. However, our experiences show that once an attorney has established a reputation for being willing to fight for fair and reasonable compensation for his clients and being successful in doing so, at least 95% of these personal injury claims can be resolved fairly without incurring the added delay, expense, and worry of an actual trial.
Treatment and Recovery
Before any personal injury claim is resolved, the injured person should receive the necessary treatment to enable him or her to recover as much as possible. This enables the attorney, the injured party, and the insurance company to know exactly how the injuries have affected the work and recreational lifestyle of the injured victim, the extent to which the claimant may have future pain and limitations, and what additional treatment, if any, will be necessary. Once the client has stabilized, the attorney will order final medical reports and treatment information.
It is extremely helpful to have an experienced personal injury lawyer involved in a claim as soon as possible. He can give advice regarding treatment options and make certain that necessary treatment expenses are processed promptly and properly. It is important to find good doctors, follow an appropriate treatment plan, and fully disclose your symptoms.
Once final medical records, reports and information are received, a settlement demand package is organized by the attorney and sent to the responsible party’s insurance company. This settlement brochure includes all of the information necessary to enable the responsible party’s insurance company to fully understand the nature and extent of the injuries the claimant has suffered and the amount of damages which would be appropriate in compensating the individual for those losses. Included in the settlement brochure are such things as background, family and employment information, lost wage and impaired earning capacity information, police reports, photographs, and witness information in addition to the medical documents. After receiving and reviewing the settlement brochure, the insurance adjuster will be in a position to go to his/her company’s supervisors and seek authority to settle the claim fairly. All offers of settlement are fully reviewed with the client, and decisions are made regarding whether to make counterproposals or settle the claim. If, after negotiations, the insurance company remains unwilling to pay reasonable compensation, a decision is made as to what procedure should be followed to bring the case to a conclusion. Mediation and arbitration are the two main alternatives to a formal trial.
In recent years, mediation has become increasingly popular and successful as a means of settling disputes. Mediation is not binding. In a mediation hearing, the parties have an opportunity to communicate with one another and with a neutral mediator who assists them in their discussions and negotiations for settlement. Obviously, the success of mediation depends upon the skills of the mediator; and we will select a mediator who is knowledgeable and experienced in evaluating personal injury claims. If the mediation process works well, it enables the parties to communicate their best offers of settlement with each other and reach agreement. If the mediation is unsuccessful, neither party has been prejudiced in any way. They still have the opportunity to resolve the claim through arbitration or litigation.
Depositions and Discovery
When a case is proceeding to arbitration and/or trial, both parties have an opportunity to find out what position the other party intends to take at the trial. They “discover” the opposing party’s evidence by taking statements under oath (these are called “depositions”) and by requesting the opportunity to review documentary evidence which the other party has in his power to produce. Injured parties are often requested to produce the names of witnesses to the collision, photographs of the car wreck, and all medical records of treatment received before the automobile collision, as well as of treatment for injuries suffered in the automobile collision. If they have lost wages, tax returns and wage loss documentation must be produced as well. By taking the parties’ statements under oath, it eliminates surprise testimony and allows the parties to either prepare for trial or perhaps reconsider their positions regarding settlement.
Arbitration is the equivalent of a trial, but it is less traumatic and less expensive in most cases. Each party presents witnesses and documentary evidence to the arbitrator at the arbitration hearing. Once all of the evidence is received in the arbitration hearing, the arbitrator will close the hearing. He or she will then review all of the documentary evidence which was introduced and will write an opinion concerning liability and damages. If the arbitration hearing is “advisory,” either party may appeal the decision and go to trial. If the arbitration hearing is “binding,” the decision of the arbitrator is final and the amount of compensation awarded by the arbitrator will promptly be paid by the defendant’s insurance company.
Uninsured motorist claims and disputes relating to PIP insurance benefits are customarily resolved through binding arbitration.
Arbitration is an extremely valuable tool in trying to resolve claims fairly because it is far faster and less costly than jury trials. Testifying in an arbitration hearing is also less intimidating and traumatic than a jury trial. For arbitration to be successful, the arbitrator must be an individual who is knowledgeable about personal injury claims and their values; and the arbitrator must be fair and unbiased.
If the claim cannot be resolved through informal negotiations, mediation and/or arbitration, the parties have a right to a jury trial. A trial is commenced by the preparation and filing of a formal “complaint.” In Oregon, the complaint outlines the basis for liability and generally mentions the injuries and losses which the plaintiff has suffered and the maximum compensation which should be awarded. Once filed, the complaint must be served on the defendant. The defendant will then turn the complaint over to their insurance company who will select an attorney to defend their insured. After the defendant files his/her “answer” to the complaint, discovery is conducted until the court schedules a trial date.
A jury trial on a personal injury claim generally takes two to three days of court time. Although we try to avoid the uncertainty of a jury trial by seeking to settle claims fairly and informally, a jury trial is a viable alternative. It is indeed an opportunity to submit facts supporting your claim for damages to twelve members of the community who will then decide all issues of fact concerning liability, the nature and extent of your injuries caused by the collision, and the amount of compensation which would be just and proper.
The Bottom Line – Just & Fair Compensation
If you have been hurt in an automobile accident through no fault of your own, you are entitled to treatment for your injuries, compensation for pain and suffering, and reimbursement of all losses which you have suffered. The procedures outlined above provide various methods to aid in making certain that you have opportunities to choose the means which will enable your claim to be resolved as quickly, inexpensively and appropriately as possible.
The Oregon attorneys and staff of The Gatti Law Firm are dedicated to helping accident victims obtain the medical treatment necessary for recovery and just and fair compensation for their pain and suffering and economic losses.