The Mn Criminal Defense, Personal Injury & Family Law Blog
How Do Minnesota Personal Injury Lawsuits Work?
June 24, 2018
Some of the first American-style trials took place in twelfth-century England. King Henry usually offered defendants the choice between a trial by jury or a trial by combat. By the time English colonists arrived in America some five hundred years later, the civil trial system was fairly well-developed. For example, a jury was no longer a body of witnesses, but rather a group of disinterested people. Some commoners could also serve on juries, although it would be many more years before all commoners could do so.
Today, most negligencecases settle out of court. Trials are rare. But almost all cases go through the pre-trial process. Some of the highlights (or lowlights) of how Minnesota personal injury lawsuits work are outlined below.
The Demand Letter
As noted, “almost all” cases go through the pre-trial process. But a few settle very early on, usually after the plaintiff’s attorney sends a demand letter to the defendant or insurance company.
The reason so few cases settle at this point is that there are very few facts available. Usually, there is only the police accident report and the parties’ statements. In some cases, particularly slip-and-fall claims, there is usually no police report. With so few facts, it’s almost impossible for either side to tell if the victim/plaintiff has enough evidence to satisfy the burden of proof. More on that in a minute. So, both sides usually wait to see what happens next.
In a demand letter, the plaintiff’s attorney usually sets out the facts and then demands a sum of money to settle the case. That figure is primarily based on economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages. Assuming the victim sustained a serious injury, the attorney can also demand compensation for noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering, loss of consortium (companionship), and loss of enjoyment in life.
Filing a Minnesota Personal Injury Lawsuit
If the victim/plaintiff must file a petition, and that’s usually the case, Minnesota is a notice pleading state. So, the complaint need only set out a possible claim for relief, as opposed to a plausible claim for relief. Likewise, the defendant need only sketch out any available defenses in the responsive pleadings.
If there appears to be no evidence in support of the claim, or there is a procedural question, the defendant usually files a motion to dismiss. If the plaintiff’s suit seems frivolous (e.g. the medical records come from Dr. Nick Riviera a judge may dismiss it. Or, the judge may order the victim/plaintiff to go back and start over.
In the next phase of how do Minnesota personal injury lawsuits work, the focus is more on what the victim/plaintiff can prove in court.
Negligence plaintiffs must prove facts by a preponderance of the evidence, which means “more likely than not.” Some people may remember the O.J. Simpson murder trial from the 1990s. A criminal jury acquitted him. Then, a civil jury heard basically the same evidence and reached the opposite conclusion. The main reason? The burden of proof is a lot lower in civil court. Basically, there was some evidence that he committed the killings, but not much. In civil court, “some evidence” is all you need.
There are a number of tools plaintiffs use to obtain such evidence. Some of the more common ones include:
Document Request: Sometimes, the custodian of records voluntarily hands over documents. Other times, the attorney must get a subpoena and compel the person to turn over the documents.
Depositions: Usually, key witnesses in the case are all deposed. These depositions always occur outside of a courtroom. Lawyers ask questions and make objections, and the judge rules on the objections at a later date.
Inspections: In a car crash case, the plaintiff’s lawyer usually inspects the vehicle’s Event Data Recorder, which is a lot like a commercial jet’s black box. These cases, and other negligence matters, often involve surveillance video as well.
Once discovery is complete, one or both sides often move for summary judgement. Much like a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgement basically states that the evidence is so one-sided that the plaintiff or defendant could not possibly lose.
As mentioned, most cases settle out of court. Often, such settlements occur after mediation. Under the direction of a mediator, the two sides try to agree on a settlement amount. If mediation works, and it usually does, the case ends then and there.
If there is no mediated settlement, then the case goes to trial. The trial could be before a judge or a jury. There are pros and cons to both formats. Your attorney can advise you as to which one is best in your case. For better or worse, the old “trial by combat” option is unavailable in Minnesota.
Call Today To Speak With A Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney From Carlson & Jones
The complete lawsuit process is rather lengthy, but the case can settle at any time. For a free consultation with an experienced Minnesota Personal Injury Attorney, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.