Will My San Antonio Personal Injury Case Go to Trial?

There is a difference between a claim and a lawsuit. In personal injury law, “claim” might refer to an abstract right to compensation, or it might refer to an insurance claim. 

In either event, most San Antonio personal injury claims do not mature into lawsuits, let alone trials. Instead, they are resolved through out-of-court settlement negotiations. 

However, there are some circumstances when taking your case to court may be in your best interest. Keep in mind that settlement negotiations can continue after a lawsuit is filed as well. 

The Texas Statute of Limitations Might Force Your Hand

The Texas Statute of Limitations Might Force Your Hand

The Texas statute of limitations is the law that sets the deadline by which you must either turn your claim into a lawsuit or forever hold your peace. In Texas, in most cases, you have until two years after the accident that injured you to take your case to court. 

If you are filing a wrongful death claim on behalf of someone else, you have until two years after the victim’s date of death to file your claim. Other situations will also stop the statute of limitations clock from ticking temporarily. 

If you were under 18 at the time you were injured, for example, the statute of limitations countdown doesn’t start until your 18th birthday.  

Consult with an experienced attorney to help you determine the time limit for your particular case.

The Settlement Option

A settlement occurs when you and the defendant agree on how much the defendant should pay you. In exchange for the agreed-upon amount, you agree never to file a lawsuit over the claim or, if you’ve already filed a lawsuit, to permanently withdraw it. 

Your settlement agreement needs to be in writing and signed by both sides. When this happens, it becomes a binding legal contract that you can enforce in court just like any other contract. 

Timeline of a Typical Settlement

The timeline of a personal injury settlement (if indeed the case is ever settled) varies widely from case to case. A settlement can occur at any time during the following sequence of events:

  • You send a demand letter to the defendant;
  • The defendant agrees to negotiate with you;
  • Negotiations go back and forth;
  • You lose patience with the defendant and file a lawsuit;
  • Both sides engage in the pretrial discovery evidence-gathering process;
  • Both parties enter into mediation under pressure from the judge;
  • Mediation talks break down;
  • The judge schedules a trial; and 
  • The court holds a trial.

You can even agree to settle while the jury is deliberating the verdict.  

The Advantages of Settling Your Claim

Most people involved in a personal injury case prefer to settle because it is easier, quicker, and cheaper than trial. Furthermore, settlement negotiations are not subject to the strict formal rules that apply at trial. 

Reasons Why You Might File a Lawsuit During Settlement Negotiations

Just because you file a lawsuit during settlement negotiations doesn’t mean you have given up on settlement and have resigned yourself to trial. Following are some of the reasons why you might file a lawsuit while holding out hope for an eventual settlement:

To Beat the Statute of Limitations

Once you file a formal written complaint with the court, pay the filing fee, and formally notify the defendant through “service of process,” it doesn’t matter when your case is actually resolved, even if it’s 10 years from now. Once you complete filing procedures, the statute of limitations threat is over permanently.

To Show the Opposing Party You Mean Business

Not just anyone can file a persuasive legal complaint to initiate a lawsuit. Showing the defendant that you know how to file a lawsuit and that you are willing to do so can exert a strong psychological effect on them. It also starts the clock ticking, because the judge will schedule a trial sooner or later.

To Gain Access to the Pretrial Discovery Process

The pretrial discovery process is an effective way for each side to gather evidence that is in the possession of the other side. This can include:

  • Depositions: Under oath, out-of-court cross-examination of witnesses.
  • Interrogatories: Written questions that the other side must answer under oath.
  • Demands for the production of physical evidence for inspection, or document for copying.
  • Requests for admissions: A request that the other side admits to uncontroversial facts that the requesting party doesn’t want to bother proving at trial.

The evidence you gain during pretrial discovery might tilt the balance of the case so strongly in your favor that the defendant will agree to settle immediately, rather than face certain defeat in court. 

On the other hand, pretrial discovery might result in a deadlock whether neither side has a decisive advantage. It is cases like these that are highly likely to go to trial. 

Because You Want To Go to Trial

You might actually prefer trial, for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The defendant is simply too stingy to offer a fair settlement;
  • The availability of punitive damages;
  • The opportunity to persuade a sympathetic jury that you deserve more money than the defendant is willing to offer;
  • To set a legal precedent that might benefit you or others in the future;
  • To make a public example out of the defendant; or
  • You seek public vindication (if the defendant made false public accusations against you, for example).

Depending on the circumstances, there might be many other reasons why you might prefer a trial.

What the Trial Process Looks Like

The personal injury trial procedure includes the following seven steps:

  • Selecting the jury (voir dire),
  • Opening statements by both lawyers,
  • Witness testimony, examination, and cross-examination;
  • Submission of evidence;
  • Closing arguments by both lawyers;
  • Jury deliberations; and
  • The final verdict.

Appeal could be a further step, but most personal injury litigants do not take that step. Appeals courts don’t hold new trials; instead, they review documents. They usually uphold the decisions of trial courts on the reasoning that the trial court is better able to assess the credibility of witnesses, among other reasons. 

The most you can usually hope for is for the appeals court to send the case back to the trial court for a new trial.

Contact an Experienced San Antonio Personal Injury Lawyer

If you believe you might have a valid claim, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with an experienced San Antonio personal injury lawyer from George Salinas Injury Lawyers at (210) 225-0909. Your lawyer should have successful trial experience but be willing to settle if the defendant offers a fair deal.