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Trials and Tribulations!

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Statistically speaking, most lawsuits that are filed end up settling out of court without having to go to trial, but there are a number of reasons that a plaintiff may decide to take the case to trial rather than to settle out of court.

Dealing with the Defendant’s Refusal to Accept Responsibility

First, the Defendant may refuse to admit full and complete responsibility for the injuries and damages that the defendant caused the plaintiff to incur thereby necessitating that the case go forward to trial in order to obtain justice on behalf of the injured plaintiff. This makes the decision to take the case to trial easier than otherwise.

One of the threshold questions I consider in accepting or rejecting a case in the first place is whether the case has merit from a legal perspective, and whether my work on behalf of a client will promote the public safety thereby making our homes and communities a safer and better place to live for our children and grandchildren.

Over the past 31 plus years as a trial lawyer, I have observed cases where defendants have refused to accept full and complete personal or corporate responsibility for the injuries and damages they have cause the lives of others. I believe that rewarding bad conduct by exonerating defendants from the responsibility and accountability for the injuries and damages their poor decisions have wrought upon the lives of others diminishes public safety in our homes and community. I also believe that holding people and corporations responsible for their poor decisions that result in creating injury to others encourages them to change their conduct in the future. This can manifest in a number of ways including the manner in which defendants drive or perhaps in the decision to issue recall defective and unreasonably dangerous products from the market place. When people are exonerated for making bad choices that constitute negligent conduct, they are rewarded for their poor choices that brought injury and harm to others. By holding them accountable pertaining to their choices, we hope to change the course of history in the future and to save other people from injury and/or death.

Taking a defendant to trial allows a jury decide whether a defendant’s conduct is acceptable in the community. In other words, by taking a case to trial, a jury decides whether the Defendant’s conduct meets the acceptable standards of care expected in the local community. When Defendants refuse to accept responsibility for the choices and decisions they make that result in injury or harm to others, they set themselves as being above the law and unaccountable for bad decision making. By deciding to take the case to trial, a plaintiff reinforces that certain levels of conduct are unacceptable and that the defendant should be judged and forced to accept personal or corporate responsibility for the bad choices the Defendant has made that caused others to incur injuries or other losses as a result thereof.

Dealing with the Defendant’s Refusal to Accept Accountability

Second, a defendant may claim to accept responsibility for the cause of an accident but refuse to pay the plaintiff the full amount of damages the plaintiff has incurred arising from the defendant’s negligence. By refusing to pay the full amount of the plaintiff’s damages, the defendant refuses to be accountable for the injuries and damages that the Defendant caused and that simply is NOT taking responsibility for the Defendant’s actions. In such a case, a jury trial would be appropriate to make the Defendant accountable and responsible for causing Plaintiff’s injuries and damages.

Consider the case where a young man throws a baseball into his neighbor’s picture window. The boy and his father go to the neighbor and admit that it was the boy’s fault for breaking the window, but then tell the neighbor that they have decided NOT to pay for the broken window until the neighbor files suit and a jury renders a verdict against them!! Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it!! Yet, that’s exactly the position that a number of insurance companies take when it comes to adjusting injury claims forcing plaintiffs to file suit to recover damages incurred as a result of a defendant’s negligence. Several insurance companies have taken the position that it is more beneficial to their financial position to refuse to offer a plaintiff a fair settlement requiring the plaintiff to hire counsel and file suit than to pay out the fair market value of the claim. This is supposed to send a message to trial lawyers that the insurance company intends on "going to the mattress" on each and every claim involving their insureds rather than negotiate in good faith.

Some of these carriers have even gone so far as to hire lawyers as company employees of the insurance company representing their insureds in court under the guise of cutting costs and expenses rather than retain independent lawyers to represent their insureds. What this does in the end is to take away the lawyer’s independent judgment and counsel to both the insured and the insurance carrier regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the case ending up in more cases being tried to verdict than settling out of court.

How do you handle such a situation?

The only way to handle this scenario is to hire counsel and take the case to trial if the adverse insurance carrier negotiates in bad faith or otherwise commits unfair claims settlement practice.

Under Idaho law (Idaho Code § 12-301), a plaintiff has the ability to serve upon the other party an "Offer of Settlement." If the defendant fails to obtain a judgment greater than the offer of settlement, then the Court is required to impose an additional amount representing interest on the jury’s verdict accruing from the date the offer was served.

In cases where the case is valued at less than $25,000.00, lawyers and their clients also have the ability to seek an obtain attorney fees against the defendant under certain circumstances pursuant to the Idaho Small Lawsuit Resolution Act and/or Idaho Code § 12-120(4).

At trial, the defendant will falsely claim they are admitting to "liability" for the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries but then claim that the reason they are at trial is that the plaintiff wants too much money for the alleged loss. When in fact in most cases, it is the insurance company failing to pay its fair share. Recently, a lady incurred over $40,000.00 in medical expenses for her injuries arising from a motor vehicle collision. She also incurred significant pain and suffering in addition to her having to pay her own medical expenses. However, in response to Plaintiff’s offer to settle her claim against the insurance carrier, the carrier offered to settle the case for just the amount of medical expenses alone with no allotment for the pain and suffering that the plaintiff had undergone. In other words, the adverse insurance company low balled it’s settlement position and rendered a "take it or leave it" response thus forcing the plaintiff to take the case to trial to have the jury decide a fair and equitable result to the case. Simply admitting to "liability" claiming that to be admitting responsibility for the injuries and damages caused by a Defendant’s negligence is not accepting responsibility at all. Accepting responsibility requires not only an admission of responsibility but also accountability for the injuries by paying for the injuries and damages incurred.

There are a number of reasons that a plaintiff may consider taking the case to trial particularly when the defendant is refusing to accept personal responsibility and accountability for causing the injuries and damages incurred by a plaintiff due to the poor decision making of the defendant. Furthermore, a jury trial may be appropriate when the defendant’s insurance carrier refuses to engage in good faith negotiations. In cases where the defendant insurance company refuses to negotiate in good faith and exposes the defendant to a judgment in excess of policy limits, the defendant has a cause of action against the defendant’s insurance carrier for bad faith and unfair claims settlement practice.

The purpose of jury trials is to let the truth will out and allow local members of the community to decide what the fair value of compensation the defendant (and the defendant’s insurance company) should pay to the plaintiff for the defendant’s poor decision making caused the plaintiff to be injured or incur losses as a result thereof. When people or institutions make poor decisions that result in other people being hurt or damaged, it’s the American Jury System that we turn to for justice. The fair resolution to any dispute is put into matter into the hands of members of the local community to decide the fate of both plaintiff and defendant as to what constitutes the violation of the standard of care in the community and what the value of the violation is worth particularly when we are talking about pain and suffering and diminution of the quality of life when the Defendant’s insurance company low balls and stone walls the negotiations and otherwise engages in bad faith practices.

Most cases nowadays settle out of court. But when they do not, it is up to a jury to decide the fate of the plaintiff and defendant in determining what, if any, damages the defendant (and the defendant’s insurance company) should be required to pay the plaintiff to satisfy the judgment rendered by the Court.

Category: Trials and Appeals

Alan Morton
Advocate for Justice/Trial Lawyer

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