If you are injured in an auto accident (auto to auto) or auto/truck accident, or in the many other ways one can be injured, such as in construction accidents, defective product accidents (the recent Toyota ignition switch defects come immediately to mind), there is much you should know about your case, the courts that may be involved, the evidence you will need and the lawyer you should hire.
If you are injured in the First Circuit Court Judicial District of Mississippi (encompassing the counties of Alcorn, Tishomingo, Itawamba, Prentiss, Lee, Pontotoc and Monroe, in which are located the county seats of Corinth, Iuka, Fulton, Booneville, Tupelo, Pontotoc and Aberdeen, respectively) the Judges in your district currently are Thomas J. Gardner, III, Paul S. Funderburk, Jim S. Pounds and James L. Roberts, Jr. Judge Gardner is from Tupelo, Judge Funderburk is also from Tupelo, Judge Pounds is from Tishomingo County and Judge Roberts is from Pontotoc.
Circuit Courts in Mississippi generally handle civil and criminal matters. A civil matter is one in which a person sues another for monetary damages (above $3,500.00–cases involving $3,500.00 or less are dealt with in Justice Court, a small claims court).
Also, Circuit Courts generally only handle felony criminal cases. A felony criminal case is one in which the minimum penalty is one year in the state pentitentiary at Parchman, MS. Circuit Courts also handle appeals from Justice Courts.
If you are injured in a car wreck in the counties listed above, for example, with a truck (like an 18 wheeler), your case, if it cannot be settled, will be filed in one of the Circuit Courts in the First District.
That is, if the owner of the truck or the 18-wheeler is a Mississippi resident or Mississippi company.
If the party at fault lives outside Mississippi or the company who owns the truck is an out-of-state company, you are likely to find yourself in Federal court, since out of state residents prefer Federal courts to state courts as they think the judges and juries will be prejudiced toward them.
But assuming your personal injury, by whatever means, (car wreck, truck wreck, explosion, road defect, highway construction zone accident, etc.) occurs in the First District and the defendant (the party at fault) is a Mississippi resident, your case would be filed in one of the Circuit Courts.
If your injury is serious (and this includes wrongful death cases), the most important thing you can first do is hire a qualified and experienced personal injury lawyer. An injury case is not so simple as “that person caused the accident, injured me (or killed my relative) and should pay.”
The first thing that must be determined is whether the at-fault party has liability insurance. In Mississippi everyone, including companies, is required to carry at least $25,000.00 in liability insurance. Of course, this minimum amount is not near enough to pay for a serious injury, with its attendant medical bills, lost time from work, pain and suffering and permanent injury, in many cases.
While the at-fault party is required to disclose that he/she/the company has insurance, it is not required to tell you HOW MUCH insurance it has. You, and your attorney, will not likely be dealing with the at-fault party, but with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
Sometimes it is relatively easy to determine how much insurance is available, and that is when your injury is serious enough the insurance company, on determining its insured was at fault after its investigation, offers the insurance coverage it has.
Often that will be an immediate offer of $25,000.00 or whatever the at-fault party carried in insurance if it is insufficient to cover your injury, medical bills, pain and suffering, permanent injury, etc. If this happens, your attorney should confirm the amount of insurance available by demanding a certified copy of the at-fault party’s insurance policy.
But what if, in the case above, the at-fault party’s insurance simply is not enough? If it’s an individual who is at fault, it is not likely that you can get more (unless they happen to have un-homesteaded land or plenty of cash in the bank or other assets, which will quickly be withdrawn or put in someone else’s name).
An individual faced with a significant (meaning big $$) liability for causing an accident can simply go hire a lawyer to file bankruptcy for them and you’ll not collect any more than their insurance anyway.
However, if the at-fault party does have sufficient insurance to cover your injury, then the case begins. Insurance companies are not in the business of paying out money, they are in the business of taking in money by collecting premiums.
So, if you have a very serious injury and a lot of insurance coverage held by the at-fault party, the insurance company will begin looking for ways to limit what you can get. They will first do everything they can to find you at fault, or at least partially at fault.
This ranges from everything from checking your driving history, whether you were texting or using your cellphone at the time of the accident to whether you had anything to drink or taken any drugs (even prescription) before the accident.
They may hire an accident reconstructionist to reconstruct the accident and even develop a cartoon-like depiction of the accident by using computer graphics.
They will investigate the state of your health at the time of the accident to determine whether you had any disability (eye-sight, age related, or nervous condition, for example) to try to lay the blame off on you.
Then they will go over your medical bills with a fine-toothed comb to determine if each and every bill was reasonably necessary and related to the accident.
If not, they will not consider it as a part of your claim. Of course, your personal injury attorney, if you have a good one, will be doing the same thing, just in the opposite way.
He or she will determine the facts of the accident and may hire an accident reconstructionist for you, to support your claim that the other party was at-fault.
He will collect all your medical bills and also determine which are accident related. He will look into your health (with your help), your driving record, and any alcohol or drug issues that may be present.
This will also be the same process for the driver of the other vehicle, the auto, 18 wheeler, or other kind of truck or equipment, and the auto, truck, 18-wheeler or other vehicle to determine if any defect existed in the vehicle and whether it had been properly maintained. (Many claim their brakes failed, for example.)
During this process, suit may or may not be filed. Much of this information will not be divulged voluntarily by the at-fault person or company, and the only way to get it is through a lawsuit, in which you attorney can make the other side divulge this information. (This is called “discovery.”)
Of course, for those seriously injured, the process of recovery can take quite a while, and all during this time the client will be incurring medical bills, undergoing operations, or therapy, so this is a process that does not stand still but is continuously moving.
At some point, the client will reach what is known as “maximum medical recovery,” and it is at this time that the doctors and other medical providers state that there is nothing more to do for the client: they’ve gotten as well as they are going to be. Of course, in the wrongful death case, much of this is not necessary.
But consideration is given to the bills incurred before the death, the funeral expenses and costs of administration of that person’s estate.
In either case, the serious personal injury or the wrongful death case, the decrease in the injured person’s ability to earn wages or a salary in the future or the deceased’s will be projected to determine what is called “loss of future income.” This is one element of damages that can be recovered, among those already mentioned.
At some point in this process an attempt by your attorney and the insurance company will be made to settle your case. If the insurance company has enough coverage (that is $$ to cover your injury or the deceased person’s damages) then the case may settle and not have to go to court.
However, if you and your attorney and the insurance company cannot agree on a settlement, then the case must go to court a jury must decide who was at fault (and, in some cases the percentage of fault of each party) and damages to be awarded, if the injured person wins or the deceased’s representative.
This is the “judgment” – and it is set in a dollar amount.
Of course, before going to court a lot will have to be done by your attorney, such as taking doctors’ or nurses’ depositions to get their statements about your medical care and the severity of your injury.
Also, depositions of all witnesses will have been taken to get their testimony so it will be known before you walk into a courtroom.
After the “judgment,” assuming it’s in your favor, the insurance company lawyers will often ask the judge to take away your judgment, claiming many things– juror bias, errors in the conduct of the trial, and even that the judgment is too much.
If that fails, or even if their efforts are successful, sometimes a new trial will be given and it will have to be done all over again. Sometimes one or both parties take an appeal to a higher court, the Mississippi Supreme Court.
At the beginning of an injury case there is no way to determine just how long it will take before the client receives his or her settlement or judgment because of the things mentioned above.
Very often, if you have the right attorney, an experienced personal injury attorney, many cases are settled before trial. As a famous Chinese general said:
“The good general wins without fighting.”
This means that your attorney has put your case together in the right way, convinced the insurance company and their attorneys that they will lose in court and it is in their best interest to pay what you think is fair now.
So, it is not always the lawyer you hear about who got that “big verdict” who is the best; maybe it was just an easy “no lose” case.
Often it is the attorney who doesn’t get the newspaper or other publicity who is best, because he “won without fighting.” And you can bet that “big verdict” was probably appealed and the case took years in the process to collect, and sometimes that “big verdict” gets taken away. You won’t hear about that.
David Butts has 40 years’ experience in personal injury cases of all types. He has gotten $1 Million and above $1 Million settlements in numerous cases and has achieved the highest collected personal injury judgments in several Mississippi counties.