In a personal injury case, a pretrial conference is a preliminary meeting between the parties, their lawyers, and the judge or magistrate. The meeting occurs before trial formally begins, and allows the parties to discuss issues and reach various conclusions before trial actually begins.
Pretrial conferences allow the parties to:
- Identify any possible witnesses
- Raise any issues with possible evidence submissions
- File pre-trial motions (such as a motion to exclude evidence during trial)
- Discuss any settlement possibilities
- Identify non-disputed facts
- Engage in various discussions as needed
Thus, pretrial conferences can help the upcoming trial run more smoothly, as different legal matters will already be out of the way. That way, the court can focus on the most important legal concepts involved in the claim.
Some commonly discussed issues in a personal injury pretrial conference may include:
- Whether any party admits fault or liability
- Which documents and evidence are likely to play the biggest role during trial
- Statements from other parties such as insurance companies, witnesses, or hospitals
- Whether expert witnesses (such as a doctor) need to take the stand and testify
- Initial figures for damages awards or favorable settlement amounts
Also, it is often common for personal injury claims to be intertwined with other claims or lawsuits. A pretrial conference is often a good time for the parties to discuss consolidating multiple claims into one trial if possible.
Most disputes that arise during pretrial conferences can often be resolved by filing a motion. This is commonly the case if one party is unwilling to turn over documents or other evidence to another party. In such cases, a pretrial motion can help resolve the dispute before trial starts. If the issue can’t be resolved before trial, it may need to be resolved during the actual trial itself.
A lawyer is generally needed during pretrial conferences, even though trial may not have formally begun yet. This is because much negotiation and discussions with the other party and their lawyer may occur during pretrial. As such, it’s generally recommended to hire a personal injury lawyer as soon as a legal issue arises, so that they can assist with pretrial conferences and other pretrial issues. Pretrial conference procedures may vary by state, but your lawyer can assist you with the process.