I’ve been summoned for jury duty. What can I expect?
Jury duty is one of the most profound and important civic duties. Here is what to expect:
• You may be there awhile so dress nicely, but comfortably.
• When you arrive at the courthouse, you'll be directed to the courtroom. Other potential jurors may already be there. Sometimes there’s some last minute, behind the scenes legal negotiations going on. This may cause the actual selection process to start later in the day than expected.
• You will fill out some forms before the trial judge begins asking general questions. This is the beginning of a process called voir-dire. These are French words which, when literally translated, mean “look say.” The goal is to empanel jurors who will be engaged, fair, and impartial. After the judge has asked some questions, the lawyers will get a chance to ask questions. Usually for a civil case, the plaintiff’s lawyer goes first, followed by the lawyer for the defendant. The order is a little different in a criminal proceeding.
• Sometimes the lawyers’ questions can be intrusive and personal. They want to make sure everyone on the jury is fair and prepared to serve. Plaintiff lawyers look for jurors whom they feel will empathize with their client, and defense lawyers do the same. After voir-dire, the jury will be empanelled, and those who were not chosen may be allowed to leave. Then the trial will begin, although it is often delayed until the following morning so everyone can have a fresh start.
What does the word “relevant” mean in legal matters?
Sometimes a client will mention something to a lawyer and the lawyer will respond, “That’s interesting but it’s not relevant.” So what is relevance? This is one of the most complicated areas of legal practice. Everyone may have an opinion on what is relevant and what is not. Relevance is often determined by a judge, either at trial or in a pretrial motion. Frequently, lawyers dispute among themselves as to whether something is relevant and should be brought to the attention of a judge or jury – or not relevant and should be ignored. Do not be surprised if your lawyer finds some aspects of your case that seem important to you to not be relevant to a judge or jury. That is one of the roles of a lawyer, to determine how to best present your case and keep it focused on what is relevant so you can get the maximum recovery.
What should I do if I get in a car accident?
First, make sure everyone is okay and there are no dangers present – then call any appropriate emergency services and the police. Other tips include: try to relax and not say anything you may regret later. When in doubt, silence is a virtue. Get the names and telephone numbers of any and all witnesses who may have seen or heard the accident. Take pictures if you can. There is no such thing as too many pictures. Be courteous to all emergency personnel and investigating officers. You can get upset later, but it’s important to remain calm at the scene. As soon as you feel up to it, it’s a good idea to call a personal injury lawyer.
Falls, slips, trips, and stumbles – how are they different from personal injuries caused by car accidents?
Some of the most serious injuries are those suffered by people who trip, slip, and fall. Bones are broken; discs are ruptured; muscles are strained; and scalps are cut. In a car, you may be somewhat protected because you’re surrounded by metal. But in a slip-and-fall, it’s just you and the ground – and let’s hope it’s not cement.
Lawyers refer to slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall cases as premises liability cases. The Louisiana laws addressing premises liability are rather complicated depending on whether or not the incident occurred in a grocery store-type setting or at someone’s home, a place of business, or at a commercial or construction site. Generally, the law requires the victim to prove the owner or custodian of the premises where the fall occurred either knew or should have known about the condition that caused the fall. For example, you lean on a railing on a friend's porch, it gives way, and you’re injured. If the friend knew the railing was bad and perhaps says something like, “Oops, I meant to fix that,” that suggests he knew or should have known of the rail's condition. On the other hand, if you lean against a friend’s railing and it gives way and he says something like: “I was sitting on that the other day and it was fine,” – you may have a problem proving he knew or should have known about the rail's condition. Premises liability cases are notoriously difficult to litigate and often require the services of one or more expert witnesses to show a condition was defective because of improper construction, made of the wrong materials, poorly designed, etc.
Premises liability laws change all the time. The laws that address merchant liability are different than those that address other situations. Please feel free to give me a call and I will discuss any sort of trip-and-fall or slip-and-fall incident with you and explain the subtleties of the various applicable laws.
Why should I have uninsured/underinsured (UM) insurance?
You might think, "What is uninsured motorist insurance? My agent tells me it is not required, costs a bit of money, and I don’t really need it. So why should I get it?"
For what it does, uninsured motorist is a pretty good deal. It is insurance you buy to cover yourself for personal injuries, wage loss, perhaps medical bills, and pain and suffering —in case the at-fault person who hit you either doesn't have enough insurance or no insurance. Unfortunately it is common for people to be hit and injured by motorists who don’t have enough insurance. If you don’t have uninsured motorist coverage, you may find yourself not being appropriately compensated for your injuries.
“Full coverage” does not necessarily include uninsured motorist coverage. In fact, it rarely does. And another thing – just because the car or motorcycle you have is old and may not be worth very much, it does not mean you should scrimp on your liability or uninsured motorist coverage. It has nothing to do with the value of your vehicle – it has to do with the value of you.
There are several types of uninsured motorist coverage. Some are basically all encompassing in that they cover you for whatever happens to you just as if the person who hit you had adequate insurance. Or, and this is becoming more common, they cover only certain things, such as economic losses which include medical bills and provable wage loss. There is even an uninsured motorist product that covers your property damage if you are hit by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. I strongly urge you to ask your insurance agent about the benefits of uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage.
Why does it take so long for my case to be settled or taken to court?
Cases can move slowly for a variety of reasons. Some are in the lawyer’s control, but most are not. For example, most lawyers feel it is best to wait until their client has reached either maximum medical improvement or a significant plateau in treatment before trying to either settle or move a case along to trial. Depending on the circumstances, this can take a while. Also, cases can be continued for a variety of reasons, many of which are beyond the control of the lawyers. Additionally, there is no obligation for an insurance company or defendant – or the plaintiff for that matter – to settle. Sometimes people, wisely or not, choose to have their day in court. When that happens, the litigants (those involved in the lawsuit) are at the mercy of the court system. Sometimes there are several cases scheduled to go to trial the same day. And sometimes they do. It can take a long time.
Generally, however, most cases that do not involve very serious or catastrophic injuries can be settled or brought to trial fairly quickly. Fairly quickly means within about eighteen months or so. On the other hand, it can take much longer to handle cases with injuries that are slow to resolve or non-resolving and cases that have complicated legal or factual issues. Medical malpractice cases, for example, can take a long time to get to trial and resolution. The same can be said for cases involving defective products or unsafe premises. Cases that involve expert testimony can also take a long time to resolve.
Why isn’t my case worth $1,000,000?
Every case is unique. Some cases are indeed worth one million dollars – or even many millions. But the vast majority of cases are not. Many factors, both tangible and intangible, are involved in determining the value of a case.
First, a major factor is the severity of the injuries and how they may impact wage loss or loss of earning capacity. But other things weigh in the balance. The medical history of an injured party may be a factor – such as whether the injury is “brand new” or an aggravation of a preexisting condition or injury. Another factor is whether or not the injured person has had some problems with law enforcement or other issues that may reflect poorly on his character if presented to a judge or jury.
Sometimes the accident location can determine the settlement or judgment value of a case. Some judicial districts, in Louisiana and elsewhere, tend to be more generous or less generous than others. If your case, for procedural reasons, is set in a place that tends to be less generous, that will affect the value. Conversely, if you are injured in a place where the juries and judges tend to be more generous, that will also affect the value and play a role in any settlement negotiations or mediation.
Whether or not there is adequate insurance coverage also can determine whether or not a recovery is satisfactory. If there is simply not enough insurance to go around and if the defendant is not particularly well to do, then - even though the injury may be indeed quite serious - the recovery may not be sufficient.
What is mediation?
Mediation is when parties to litigation or a dispute get together and hire an independent person to assist them in coming to a resolution. A mediator often assists all involved so they can weigh the risks or rewards of going to trial. Mediation is much favored nowadays as it allows, among other things, the people who have a real interest in the matter to determine the outcome. Once a case goes to trial, the outcome is determined by a judge or jury.
Lawyers spend a great deal of time preparing for mediation. The mediator usually is given information from all sides, and then plans the negotiations. Many cases settle in mediation, but not all. Mediation is non-binding (as opposed to arbitration) and anything said during the course of the mediation is kept strictly confidential. The mediator, if subpoenaed to court, would say absolutely nothing about what was discussed.
Mediations take several forms, but usually there is a joint session at the beginning where all parties get together and state their positions on the case. The parties then separate into private rooms where the value of their case is discussed with the mediator. There are many variants on this theme, but generally this is the most common form of mediation. Mediation can be quite stressful and time consuming. But it is one chance – perhaps the only chance – where the parties actually get a say in shaping the outcome.
I got put on probation – what now?
The dictionary defines probation as:
1. A sentence whereby a convict is released from confinement but is still under court supervision; a testing or trial period. Probation can be given in lieu of a prison term or can suspend a prison sentence if the convict has consistently demonstrated good behavior.
2. The status of a convicted person who is given some freedom on the condition that for a specified period he or she act in a manner approved by a special officer to whom the person must report.
What really happens on probation is a bit different. Probation is a deal, a contract, the accused makes with the court that all conditions of probation will be complied with within the time given by the court. These conditions usually includes the performance of community service and payment of fines and court costs. If these conditions are not met, the court will revoke the probation and send the person to jail, often for the entire period of whatever sentence was originally imposed, but suspended. Generally speaking, courts will suspend a sentence and offer probation to someone who has pled guilty or no contest to a crime (usually not terribly serious crimes) to give the person a chance to either get on track or stay on track; avoid jail; pay the debt to society; and get on with life. Unfortunately, many people who are placed on probation are so relieved at not being sent to jail that they forget they have a serious obligation to take care of with the court. When that obligation is defaulted upon, jail is next.
When it comes to probation, the most important person - other than the judge of course - is the probation officer. It is imperative to stay in contact with the probation officer to let them know where you’re working, what’s going on in your life, where you live, and how you can be reached at all times. If, for some reason, something happens during the course of probation that makes fulfilling some of the conditions imposed by the court difficult to impossible, it is imperative you let your probation officer know. If there’s anything a probation officer can’t stand, it’s a surprise.
Sometimes it’s a little tough to pay a fine. Sometimes it’s a little tough to make it to a meeting. All sorts of things can happen. Generally, probation officers are understanding, up to a point, so long as they are kept informed about what is going on. To put it another way, if you screw around with your probation officer, you will almost surely be revoked and end up in jail. Probation is a very serious thing. Unfortunately, many people think of it as something that can be taken care of at their leisure and find out the hard way that's not the way it works. If the judge imposes a certain amount of time to get the conditions of probation accomplished, do it. Otherwise, the consequences can be harsh.
What should I do if I am pulled over by law enforcement?
First, try to remain calm. Police officers have a tough job and don't like surprises. Be courteous – it can only help later. Remember you have constitutional rights. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. You have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Sometimes an experience with law enforcement can be intimidating. Should you feel uncomfortable about the stop, rather than say or do something that could cause problems later, I strongly urge you to invoke your constitutional right to remain silent and to consult with a lawyer. Although the police may find that your behavior seems uncooperative, if it is done respectfully, they will understand and go about their business. This may, unfortunately, include an arrest, booking, and incarceration until bond is set.