Pre-Trial Investigation Critical to Civil Case Success

While personal injury cases in Florida have varying levels of complexity, most cases can benefit from a pre-trial investigation. Depending on the reliance of expert witness testimony, the time elapsed since the tort and other factors, some cases require more extensive investigation than others. magnifyingglass3

While our Fort Myers personal injury lawyers recognize that some clients are reluctant to invest in the expense of an extensive investigatory process. However, in cases where information is not readily apparent or accessible, that kind of investigation can be essential to winning a case.

An attorney’s ability to develop a successful strategy that concisely and clearly conveys relevant information to the jury – or even to a judge – depends heavily on the depth and quality of information gathered in advance of trial.

In some scenarios, a case pursued without a solid pretrial investigation will not even make it to the trial phase. Such was the case in Lewis Entertainment, Inc. v. Brady, weighed recently by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Here, the plaintiffs failed to identify the proper defendant, resulting in dismissal of the case.

According to court records, the plaintiff fell and was injured while roller skating at a rink in the summer of 2009. The rink was technically a non-entity, owned by a corporation that went by a different name.

Following the fall, the plaintiff filed an injury lawsuit against three different entities on the last day before the closing of the statute of limitations. One of those defendants was the former owner of the rink. It had no affiliation with the current owner.

A summons was never issued for the actual owner of the rink, and at no time was that company named specifically as a defendant in the case.

Later, it was revealed that a process server for the plaintiff attempted to serve the former owner of the rink on site, more than four months after the complaint was filed. At that time, the rink was shuttered, and a person in the parking lot informed the server that the owner hadn’t owned the rink for seven years. The server later found out the former owner was dead, but his widow refused to accept papers.

The case was later dismissed under state rules indicating the plaintiffs had failed to show good cause as to why all parties hadn’t been properly served. The plaintiff asked for additional time, but the court never issued a ruling on the matter.

It was not until more than 200 days after the initial complaint was filed that the actual owner of the rink was served. At that time, the owner filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied this, but the appellate court reversed.

In this case, failure to timely serve the defendant had a lot to do with the fact that the plaintiffs hadn’t correctly identified who or which entity should be served.

Of course, there are situations in which defendants actively seek to avoid process servicing, and the court does recognize this and will on occasion make exceptions when plaintiffs can show good cause, typically in the form of a good faith effort to serve. Here, however, the name of the proper defendant didn’t appear on the paperwork until some 200 days after the initial complaint was filed. The court found this information was available, had a proper pre-trial investigation been conducted by plaintiff counsel.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Lewis Entertainment, Inc. v. Brady, July 17, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Leavitt v. Siems – Court Weighs Lasik Lawsuit, July 21, 2014, Fort Myers Personal Injury Lawyer Blog