Do I Have to Sue in Court to Recover for My Injuries in Utah?

The historic Davis County Courthouse in Farmington, Utah.

Short answer: No– and thankfully so. If you’ve read anything else I’ve written on other topics, you will know that with nearly everything legal, “it depends” is a solid answer that is usually true. The long answer to this question is that there are numerous ways in Utah (or wherever) to recover for your injuries. Let’s talk about them:

I am going to try to put them in order from taking the least amount of time, effort, and expense to taking the most amount of time, effort and expense:

1. Settlement: Unless you have a legal judgment that you are collecting through legal means, every case in Utah is going to “settle.” All this means is that you resolved the case without official court intervention. A case can settle at any time– even after a verdict has been rendered by a judge or jury. The “settlement” that is the most efficient in terms of time and energy is the settlement that is reached before filing any legal claim with a court and requires no assistance from any source other than your attorney. This does not mean that it is achieved without working for it. It just means that it was achieved without filing a formal legal complaint. A settlement early in the process saves time and expense but not always effort. You will always need to prove your case in terms of liability (of the one you claim caused the accident or breach of duty) and damages (what you claim the other person caused). For settlement purposes and later legal claim purposes, you want to prepare your absolute best case and push it hard early. It is often said that the value of a case rarely gets better over time and often gets worse. Figure out what your best liability and damages case is as quickly as possible and get a reasonable settlement of it without the risks of the legal process, time involved, and expense incurred and you will thank yourself.

2. Mediation: Mediation in Utah is simply settlement through a more formal process. Parties initiate mediation by agreement. Mediation is not governed by any Utah rules of procedure or evidence. In mediation, parties agree to enlist a third-person, usually a former judge or an experienced attorney, to help them settle their case. The parties typically split the cost of the mediator who typically charges an hourly rate. Mediations usually last anywhere from half a day to multiple days, depending on the amount of money involved. The more money at stake, the longer it can take. The mediator is neutral; meaning, the mediator does not take any parties’ side in the dispute. The mediator typically is more than someone who shuttles numbers between the parties but provides the parties an objective view of their claims and/or defenses, the risks and benefits of not settling at that time, and the value of the case. Regardless of the outcome of mediation, the parties pay the mediator for his or her services. The hope-for result of mediation is settlement.

3. Arbitration: Arbitration in Utah is an agreement by the parties that they will have a third-person resolve their dispute without going through the Utah courts. Arbitration differs from mediation in that in arbitration the parties present their case to the arbitrator and the arbitrator decides who wins and who loses. Arbitration is essentially trial without a jury and through a judge that the parties hired and paid for. Arbitration results are typically final and without any opportunity for appeal. Arbitrations are viewed very favorably in Utah and are most often upheld whenever a legal challenge is made. Arbitrations can take less time than a trial in Utah courts and are often touted as being less expensive due to relaxed rules, being quicker, and being less complicated.

4. Small Claims Trial: This is for cases that are valued somewhere less than $10,000. Small claims is a good option when the stakes are small and time is a concern. The matter is tried directly to a small claims judge who will typically make a decision on the spot. Before getting a small claims trial, however, the court may require the parties to participate in a court-ordered mediation. Small claims is also a good option for those who wish to represent themselves since the stakes are relatively minor, the judges are very lenient on persons representing themselves, and the process is pretty simple.

5. Bench or Jury Trial: A bench trial and a jury trial in Utah both involve filing a lawsuit in either Utah state court or Utah federal court. When people talk about “going to trial” or “taking it all the way” they typically refer to taking a case to trial in front of a judge or jury. There are a few differences that you may find important.

A “bench” trial is a trial in which the parties present their case to a judge who then renders a verdict. In theory, you present the same facts and same witnesses as you would to a jury. In practice, however, a bench trial is a bit different. At trial, the parties often dispute what evidence is relevant and/or allowed to be considered in the case. A judge decides what evidence is considered. The judge acts as “gatekeeper” of evidence and only allows the jury to hear what the judge has already determined is relevant and admissible. And there’s the rub: if you are presenting the case to a judge, s/he is already hearing all of the evidence before trial– both irrelevant and relevant evidence and inadmissible and admissible evidence. Parties make motions to the judge regarding disputes of evidence and the judge hears the disputed evidence and could possibly be influenced by such evidence even if it is never formally presented at trial. A jury only hears what the judge allows them to hear. Depending on the case, this could favor either party to the lawsuit.

Another difference is that juries are often thought of as being susceptible to a large verdict whereas a judge is not so considered. A civil jury in Utah consists of 8 persons over the age of 18. This short article is not the place to discuss all of the pros, cons, and considerations in a jury trial. If you would like to know more about Utah jury trials, go here. For most personal injury trials or wrongful death trials in Utah, you will want a jury if you are the claimant. Defendants often want a judge because they perceive the risk of a “runaway jury” award (meaning big bucks) is less.

Call Me. You likely have more questions than this post or the other information on this website can provide. Every situation is unique. If you have been injured, feel free to reach out to me to discuss your circumstances further. You cannot make a good decision if you do not get competent advice from a qualified, experienced attorney. You need to protect yourself and your loved-ones from the often devastating effects of permanent injury or death. You do this by pursuing what you are entitled to. Call me.