When new clients first come into our office after they have suffered harm or loss, we are pretty quick to let them know that the legal process can be long and drawn out. Common law jurisdictions like the United States and Canada use various levels of court systems to resolve legal disputes, and this process can take months and years.
For instance, in Benton County, we have the Benton County District Court which is a court of original jurisdiction for infractions, alleged misdemeanors and civil claims under $100,000. Then, we have the Benton* County Superior Court which is a court of original jurisdiction for alleged felonies and all civil matters. It’s important to note that a civil claim in superior court will usually resolve in less than a year from the date of filing. Because of this, and the option of mandatory arbitration, most cases are filed in superior court.
If a claim is lost or denied in either of these courts, sometimes several years from the date of loss or injury, it may be appealed to the Court of Appeals for the State of Washington, Division III, which is in Spokane. (A District Court appeal typically needs to first make its way through Superior Court.) An appeal from Division III can be made to the Washington State Supreme Court. The time for each level of appeal can take 6 months to a year or longer and can requires hundreds of hours of legal research, writing, and arguing.
It begins with negligence…
Appealing a case to the Court of Appeals is not very common. Many attorneys will never have a genuine opportunity to appeal a case, and if they do, they might refer it to an attorney that specializes in appellate work. Anderson Law has unfortunately been fortunate enough to have appealed several cases to the Court of Appeals.
And each of them began with some sort of negligence and some sort of harm: a fire, an assault, a car accident. Each of them also had some sort of insurance coverage on the other side. Naturally, in each case, the respective insurance company denied fault or denied coverage. And in each case the damages were significant.
…and leads to a lawsuit
No one comes into our office wanting to file a personal injury lawsuit. People want to resolve disputes, receive reasonable compensation for injury, and move on with their lives. But when you have substantial injuries and you don’t have a magic wand to turn back time, what else are you going to do?
So, we draft a summons and complaint, we advance the cost of filing, and then we serve a conformed copy of the complaint on the at-fault party and their insurance company (who is usually hidden from the jury and not named in the complaint).
This is where things get interesting
After filing the lawsuit, the entire dynamic of the case and settlement negotiations, if there were any, changes dramatically. Some insurance companies will take another look at the damages and soon make a reasonable offer without really acknowledging that they were aggressive in their initial assessment. We’ve called their bluff.
Other insurance companies, mostly the ones with in-house counsel, will begin a full-court press. They will pull out the stops. They will go whole hog, or whatever other idiom may be appropriate to describe the type of scorched-earth battle tactics that ensue. The bottom line is, once this happens, you, as in the person who suffered injury, pain, embarrassment, sleepless nights and other loss, begin a new journey.
Thankfully, not only are the attorneys at Anderson Law experienced in negotiating and settling injury claims, we are also experienced in litigating those claims and in the practice of law (this is where you start to see the difference between an attorney and a lawyer). We are your advocates and we will counsel together to determine the best strategy going forward.
But that is a topic for another day.
*Benton and Franklin Counties have combined certain aspects of their court systems, including administration and the rotation of judges. What they have not combined is their jury pools which are restricted by county of residence.