When you've been injured been injured because of someone else's actions and you decide to hire a firm like Dunnigan & Messier P.C. to go through with a lawsuit against them, the idea of losing the case may be difficult to contemplate. You may not even want to think too much about it, because you want to think positively and keep your spirits up for the trial. However, in the event that you do lose your case, you're going to have a few questions about what happens next. Take a look at a few of the things you need to know when things don't work out in your favor.
You May Owe Money
Chances are that you weren't expecting to owe any money if you lost the case. Your personal injury lawyer probably took your case on contingency, meaning that they get a percentage of your winnings if you win, and they don't get anything if you lose. So it's fair to assume that if you lose your case, at least you won't owe anything.
The problem is that you may actually end up owing money to the person that you sued in the first place. In most states, when a lawsuit is decided in favor of the defendant, the plaintiff is entitled to the recovery of some of its legal costs, like expert witness fees or the cost of depositions. How much you'll owe really depends on the procedural rules of the state you're in. For example, in Florida, if you rejected a settlement offer from the defendant at some point before the verdict, and you end up losing, or even if you win but are awarded at least 25% less than the settlement offer, then you can be held responsible for all of the defendant's attorney fees that were accrued since the day they offered the settlement.
In any case, the court will determine what fees you owe and enter a judgement against you for those costs. Once that judgement is in place, the defendant can use legal debt collection proceedings to get their money back from you.
An Appeal is Not Automatic
If you feel that the verdict was unfair, you may immediately want to look into the possibility of an appeal. In film and television legal dramas, an appeal is always the natural next step after an unfavorable verdict. However, in a real court, you cannot appeal a verdict simply because you don't like it. There has to have been some type of error in the process that, were it corrected, would be likely to change the outcome of the case. This is called a reversible error. For example, if the jury was given instructions that were misleading or legally incorrect, your lawyer could appeal on those grounds.
Not all errors that occur in trial are reversible errors. If the appellate court decides that the verdict would have been the same even without the error in question, then this is known as a harmless error, which won't get you an appeal. It's not enough for the court to have made a mistake—the mistake must be weighty enough to change the outcome of the case.
Even if you are able to appeal, you shouldn't do so until you've weighed the pros and cons carefully. An appeal will cost you more time and money, and your chances of winning an appeal are generally lower than your chances of winning at the original trial. Unless your lawyer feels that you have a very strong case, you may be better off cutting your losses. Furthermore, you may be able to use the possibility of an appeal to negotiate with the defendant about any legal fees you owe—they may be willing to drop the judgement against you if you agree not to appeal.
Don't be too quick to blame your lawyer after receiving a losing verdict. That's easy to do, but chances are that your attorney has lost time and money on this case too, and is also disappointed in the verdict. Take some time to unwind after the trial ends, then meet with your lawyer to discuss the outcome of the case and your options going forward.