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What Happens In a Pretrial In A Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Maybe a lot, or maybe a little. It depends on the judge.

Most judges, when they are assigned a lawsuit, will have the attorneys come into their office to schedule the trial and other important events in the case. They will set a trial date – usually eight to 12 months out – and then schedule a number of other dates before the trial date, such as deadlines for discovery completion, production of reports from each side’s doctors, filing motions to throw the other side’s case out of court, submission of jury instructions, referring the case to mediation, etc.

Typically, one of the dates they set will be for a pretrial. In Hamilton, Warren, Butler and Clermont County, the pretrial is usually between two weeks and two months before the trial date.

This is where judges vary.

Sometimes, the judge addresses many issues at the pretrial. He may rule on motions to exclude witnesses or their testimony, and may decide on motions to throw out part or all of the other side’s case. He may also decide pending disputes over discovery.

If there are insurance questions, he may decide whether there is coverage. He may give indications on how he will rule on particular issues concerning evidence.

At most pretrials, only the attorneys attend.

By way of example only, Judge Patricia Oney in Butler County may do all of these things. But she also asks that each attorney bring a representative with authority to settle the case. (For instance, I would bring a client with me; the defense lawyer would bring a representative of the insurance company.) She then explores possibilities for settlement.

On the other hand, some judges just look at the lawyers in front of them, ask what the case is about (“It’s an automobile accident personal injury case, your honor”) and whether there is anything unusual about it. (“No, your honor.”) The judge then tells the lawyers to show up a half hour before trial to discuss anything unusual.

My favorite exchange in a pretrial occurred in front of a judge – now retired – in the Hamilton County Courthouse, with defense attorney Rick Rinear. It went like this:

“When’s this case set for trial?”

We told him – it was actually to occur on September 11, 2001, which was then six weeks away.

Judge: “Mr. Strubbe, what’s this case about?”

Me: “Judge, my client was hit while she was in a crosswalk. She’s had two knee surgeries, has a nasty scar a foot long, and her orthopedist said she’s got a 15% permanent impairment to her knee as a result of the accident”.

Judge: “Ok, Mr. Rinear, what is your case about?”

Rinear: “Judge, we are not contesting liability; we’re admitting it’s our fault. But we’re going to fight Mr. Strubbe on the issue of damages.” (Translation: they know they’re going to lose, but they don’t think the jury will pay my client as much as I’m asking for.)

Judge: “Well, this sounds like a very interesting case. I am sure it will be fascinating, with many legal and factual issues. Unfortunately, you will have to try it without me, as I am scheduled to be in New Orleans at a Judge’s conference, and I will probably be eating Crayfish Etouffe while you are in trial. I am sending you to a visiting judge.”

This meant there was going to be a good chance trial would be rescheduled. We agreed to hire a mediator, and settled the case.

I have been a lawyer over 30 years. It’s important to know what’s going to happen every time you appear in court. If you have a personal injury case in Cincinnati, Ohio or if you want to know what happens in any particular type of hearing, talk with an experienced Cincinnati Injury Attorney about the case. Call me, William Strubbe, at 513-621-4775.

Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts pertaining to your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed.

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