Many people wonder what happens at trial. If the case is a personal injury case and it has gone to trial, this has occurred because the Defendant’s Insurance Company has refused to pay a reasonable amount for the injuries suffered by the Plaintiff. The fact that the case is in trial means that the Defendant has an insurance policy and an insurance company is paying for the Defendant’s lawyers, is paying all of the Defendant’s expert witnesses, and will pay whatever amount the jury awards plus all costs for the defense of the case. Florida law prohibits the lawyers from telling the jurors if there is insurance or how much insurance there might be. This means that in almost every case, the jury will never know who the Defendant’s insurance company is, the fact that the insurance company has offered money to settle the case, the amount they have offered, or what the policy limits are.
The Defendant (really the insurance company) has forced the injured Plaintiff to be examined by a Defense Doctor. These Defense Doctors have testified in hundreds or even thousands of cases for the insurance companies. They have admitted to making millions of dollars doing these examinations and being paid for depositions and trial testimony. They have become professional witnesses. In many cases, these insurance company doctors claim to still practice medicine and to do surgery, though that claim can often never be substantiated. The Defense Doctors socialize with the attorneys who work with these Defense Doctors and retain them time and time again. The Defense Doctors know what to say and how to be persuasive when they are on the witness stand. They are polished professionals who do their best to try to come off as impartial witnesses, which is hardly what they are. They typically testify that the Plaintiff was not injured as a result of the accident. They almost always say the Plaintiff suffered no permanent injury as a result of the accident, even though they know there is in fact a permanent injury. They testify that findings on x-rays and MRI scans are “preexisting,” “degenerative,” or otherwise “not caused by the accident.” In many cases, they take prior complaints made by the injured Plaintiff and claim they were the cause of the Plaintiff’s current complaints.
Conversely, the Plaintiff’s treating doctors are not professional witnesses. While some treating doctors are good witnesses in trial, the fact is that they are not hired guns, but are instead real doctors who treat people with real injuries. It is not uncommon for a treating doctor to have previously testified. The main difference is that the Plaintiff’s doctors treat people for a living, while the defense doctors make a living off the insurance companies who hire them.
Testimony by the Plaintiff is a very difficult thing. The injured Plaintiff is usually nervous. Plaintiffs are unfairly asked to try and remember their entire past medical history. It is not uncommon for a Plaintiff to forget or not even know about a reference in a medical record years ago. Yet, insurance company lawyers always try to make the most out of what is nothing more than a mistake by a Plaintiff and try to attack the Plaintiff’s whole case over simply a forgotten complaint.
Did you know that the Plaintiff’s lawyers only get paid if the Plaintiff wins? Florida law allows a client to retain an attorney on a contingency fee basis. This means the lawyer pays all of the costs of the case (which are typically expensive, $15, 000 on a simple case) as well as expend many hours on the case and not get paid unless the Plaintiff wins and recovers money from the Defendant and his or her insurance company. The fees charged by the lawyer once the case goes to trial is usually in the 40% range. This means the client receives 60 percent of whatever the jury awards less whatever costs are incurred. Hopefully, the jury’s award takes this into consideration.