Can a Personal Injury Claim be Reopened?
Sometimes the lawyers at our office get asked whether a personal injury claim can be reopened. It depends on what you mean by “reopened,” and why.
“It depends” is a standard lawyer answer, but it’s also true. There are many cases where neither party will be able to reopen the case for any reason, but there are always exceptions.
When can the Plaintiff reopen a case?
For the most part, plaintiffs can’t reopen a case if they’ve received some sort of settlement. In the vast majority of personal injury cases, plaintiffs do receive some form of settlement. The question is always whether they are going to receive enough of a settlement to solve their legal issues.
This is one reason why it’s so dangerous to talk to the insurance company before you’ve retained a personal injury lawyer.
They may offer you a $35,000 settlement to cover $350,000 worth of losses. Obviously, this will leave you worse off, but if you accept the money you’ll close the case.
Most settlements come with paperwork which includes a release stating that by accepting the money you are releasing that party from liability. The moment you accept a settlement the case is usually done.
However, there are two instances where you could reopen your claim.
The first is fairly common: there are multiple liable parties involved in your accident.
For example, let’s say you’ve been involved in a trucking accident. You can sue the driver’s employer, who will be the one insuring the driver at the time of the accident. If during discovery, it comes out that the truck hit your car because its brakes were faulty, you may also be able to sue the manufacturer of the truck, the manufacturer of the brake part, or both. Accepting a settlement from the trucking company won’t necessarily keep you from pursuing a settlement with the truck manufacturer, as long as there is no fine print buried in that settlement which may release that third party from liability.
The second case is a case where you have accepted the settlement because the defendant did something illegal to make you accept the settlement, like committing an act of fraud or coercion.
Unfortunately, proving either is extremely difficult and so these types of cases are rare.
What if you went to trial and don’t agree with the amount?
It’s possible you could appeal, but your appeal is unlikely to be accepted. Plaintiffs are rarely the source of an appeal. Usually, appeals come from defendants.
When can the Defendant reopen a case?
Defendants can’t reopen a case. They can only attempt an appeal, and they can’t do it just because they don’t like the outcome.
If that were the way things worked, Defendants would appeal any and every settlement, and many people would never get their money as the insurance companies would want to drag their cases back to court year after year. Such a situation would run counter to everything personal injury law is supposed to accomplish.
However, they can request a hearing from the Court of Appeal if they believe the ruling they got was the result of a legal error or a factual error.
An appeal is not a new trial. It is merely an examination of the supposed error. Lawyers get about one hour to argue about that error in person after submitting their written arguments to the judge.
The Court of Appeal doesn’t even have to review the case if they think the claim is spurious.
If they do and the Defendant doesn’t like their decision they can choose to take it up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Again, this will only be a review of the supposed legal error or factual error. The only way a new trial is happening is if either Court demands one.
The Supreme Court of Canada is even more selective about the cases it hears.
None of this says an appeal isn’t possible of course, but it doesn’t happen quite as often as it does on television. For the most part, once you’ve received a settlement or a verdict, your personal injury case is complete. Hope after reading this writing you have a clear idea about “Can a personal injury claim be reopened?”
Questions? Don’t wait.