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What Are Bench Trials and How Might They Affect My Personal Injury Case?

Bench Trials

Often, clients ask us if we think their case will go to trial. The simple answer is no. Not all cases that are filed will go to trial. We get this question quite a bit from a lot of our clients who have a Fear of Public Speaking. According to some experts about 75% of the population suffers from some fear of public speaking.  As a matter of fact, most cases will settle and resolve outside of a trial. Sometimes they are resolved pre-suit and other times pre-trial but after a lawsuit is on file. Our Law Firm prides itself on fighting for every penny our clients deserve. We will regularly file suit and litigate cases in order to make sure our clients are treated fairly. However, under most circumstances filing suit doesn’t always lead to a jury trial.

As a matter of fact, some Car Accident Cases or Personal Injury Cases will result in a bench trial. The Difference between a Bench Trial and a Jury Trial is just that, the Jury! According to Merriam Webster, a Bench Trial is defined as, “a trial which there is no jury and the judge decides the case.” Therefore, in a Bench Trial the Judge will hear the evidence of liability and damages and ultimately decide those issues.

Bench trials are rare for Civil Personal Injury cases but do happen on occasion. Generally, Bench Trials are reserved for lower level criminal cases or minor traffic offenses. In most of those cases, the judge will decide the case. In Civil cases like personal injury cases, a Bench trial might come up in front of a Federal Magistrate or Judge. In other instances, there is a decision on liability so the parties have agreed to try the matter of damages directly to the trial court judge. 

Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals rendered an opinion on a Car Accident Case that was tried to the Bench in the case of Renner v. Shepard Bazant.

Sydney Renner and Trevor Shepard-Bazant were in a three-car crash and Renner was injured. She filed suit against Shepard-Bazant. He defaulted on liability (fault) and a bench trial on damages was held. The trial court awarded $132,000 in damages to Renner.  She filed a motion to correct error asking the trial court to increase her damages. The trial court denied the motion. Renner appealed.   Renner claimed that she suffered a concussion in the crash, which was the third known concussion of her life. It began a lengthy battle with post-concussion syndrome and its effects. After a seven-day bench trial, the trial court awarded $132,000 in damages and calculated those damages as follows:

“Considering the totality of Sydney’s damages, including the long-term effect of her injuries and her life expectancy, the Court will assign a daily value of $30.00 each of the 21,900 days of her life expectancy and adjust the product of that multiplication to determine the portion of damages for which Trevor is liable, taking into consideration all five concussions she suffered from 2013 to 2016, along with her medical expenses and her failure to follow post-concussion protocols recommended by her treating professionals.”

Renner’s appeal was based on the claim that the trial court abused its discretion in denying her motion to correct error. In her motion to correct error, she challenges the trial court’s damages calculation. She claimed the trial court’s damages award was an abuse of discretion because the court failed to consider that her prior two concussions made her more susceptible to her third concussion arising from the collision with Shepard-Bazant, and made it more likely that the effects of that third concussion would be more severe, possibly permanent.

Given Indiana law on the “eggshell skull” plaintiff and the undisputed evidence regarding the effects of Renner’s prior concussions upon the severity and long-term effects of the concussion she sustained due to Shepard-Bazant’s negligence, the Court of Appeals concluded the court’s treatment of Renner’s prior two concussions as separate incidents, rather than as contributing to Renner’s injuries and damages arising from the auto accident, was against the logic and effects of the facts and circumstances before the court and resulted in error in the calculation of damages.

Shepard-Bazant also argued that Renner failed to mitigate her damages and that was an explanation for why the trial court set her damages at an amount far less than she requested. However, the Court of Appeals pointed out that Shepard-Bazant did not come forward with evidence that any particular incident or conduct after the crash caused Renner to suffer a discrete, identifiable harm arising from that conduct, rather than Shepard-Bazant’s negligence.

Renner claimed that the trial court accepted her method of calculating her damages but inappropriately subtracted $131,400 for each of the two prior concussions and the two head injuries she had after the crash. Renner asked the Court of Appeals to simply increase the award accordingly. The Court of Appeals declined, instead ordering the trial court to retry the case.

In Renner, the Indiana Court of Appeals rightfully applied the legal standard for failing to mitigate damages and stated that the defendant failed to present any evidence in support of its allegations that Renner failed to mitigate her damages. Remember that if you are in an accident and suffer personal injury, you MUST mitigate your damages. If you or a loved one has been in an accident, then contact us. We can walk you through the process of dealing with the insurance company.

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    FAQs
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    It cost $0 up front to hire our office. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if we settle your case or obtain a verdict on your behalf.

    If we’re unable to obtain a settlement of verdict for you we eat the costs we’ve advanced to litigate your case, which includes costs for ordering medical records, filing your case, hiring experts, deposing witnesses, and many other things.

    If we do settle your case or obtain a verdict for you our standard rate is 33% of the settlement or verdict, plus reimbursement for the expense we’ve previously advanced. Our fee never increases like some personal injury attorneys, even if we have to take your case to trial.

    Our Fees

    It cost $0 up front to hire our office. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if we settle your case or obtain a verdict on your behalf.

    If we’re unable to obtain a settlement of verdict for you we eat the costs we’ve advanced to litigate your case, which includes costs for ordering medical records, filing your case, hiring experts, deposing witnesses, and many other things.

    If we do settle your case or obtain a verdict for you our standard rate is 33% of the settlement or verdict, plus reimbursement for the expense we’ve previously advanced. Our fee never increases like some personal injury attorneys, even if we have to take your case to trial.

    Case Worth

    As a victim, establishing damages, negotiating with the insurance company, or filing a lawsuit can be daunting and next to impossible without the assistance of an experienced lawyer. As a result, if you have been hurt in an accident, it is important that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to help you recover the compensation to which you are entitled under Indiana law.

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    Choosing an attorney that has experience dealing with personal injury law is important to protect your legal rights. If you are trying to recover damages from a business or other type of organization, you can bet that they are going to have a legal team on their side.

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    If you were injured by an accident you may be struggling to determine who is responsible for paying your medical bills and holding them accountable. Speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer at The Law Office of Hurst Limontes LLC and learn if we may be able to help.

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    After you have been injured, you are entitled to compensation. The type and amount of compensation depends on the injury, bills, the cause of the injury, negligence/bad faith of the defendant, etc. The attorney you retain can also heavy influence your recovery through knowledge, experience, and dedication. Legal terms and phrases can be confusing even after you retain an attorney. If you have been injured, you may wonder how much your case is worth or what your “damages” are. The worse the injuries, the higher the value of the case and the greater need for an experienced attorney