After weeks of testimony and deliberations, the judge or jury finally renders a verdict in your personal injury case. Unfortunately, the monetary award was significantly less than you thought it would be or doesn't cover all your losses. For the most part, the prudent thing to do is to accept the award, because it could cost more time and money to attempt to rectify the issue. If you want to pursue a second chance at getting a better payout, there are a couple of ways you can do it.
Submit a Motion to Vacate Judgment
A motion to vacate judgment (alternatively called a motion to set aside judgment) is a legal request for the court to dismiss the judgment in the case. This motion can be used by either the plaintiff or the defendant. However, you must provide—what the court considers to be—sufficient cause for the request.
Each state has its own list of acceptable reasons. For example, in Washington, you can request to vacate a judgment if:
- Mistakes were made during the process of obtaining the judgment
- There were errors made processing the judgment or other matters of record
- The judgment is against someone who was psychologically unsound or mentally incompetent, and this was not known during the proceedings
- New evidence came to light that wasn't and couldn't have been discovered during proceedings
- Unavoidable circumstances happened that prevented either the plaintiff or defendant from continuing the case
- Fraud or misrepresentation occurred
No court accepts wanting to receive a higher award as sufficient cause for vacating a judgment. If you list this as your only reason, your case will be dismissed out of hand.
Depending on the jurisdiction, you may be required to return to court to explain why the judgment should be vacated. Sometimes, though, the judge will consider the request and make a determination on his or her own and then notify you by mail of the decision.
If the motion is granted, the judgment will be dismissed. It will be as if the case never happened. You can then retry the case to get more money or attempt to settle with the defendant for a higher amount than was previously awarded.
Submit a Motion for a New Trial
A motion for a new trial has the similar effect of vacating a judgment. In this case, though, anyone can request a new trial including the judge. Additionally, the focus of this motion is whether or not there was a miscarriage of justice during the proceedings that prevented the plaintiff or defendant from receiving a fair trial.
In addition to accepting many of the same previously listed reasons, the court will also consider issues that represent an injustice towards you or the defendant. For instance, if a juror expressed an obvious bias against you (e.g. made racist statements), then you could be granted a new trial because the law requires jurors to be impartial and make decisions based on the facts of the case.
The statute of limitations for filing a motion varies from state to state. In Michigan, for example, you have between 20 to 60 days depending on the circumstances of the case. On the other hand, you generally will have up to one year after the judgment to file a motion to vacate.
As noted previously, continuing a court case can result in additional expense. Rather than work to have a judgment overturned, it's best to hire an experienced attorney who can help you develop a viable strategy for getting the monetary award you deserve before going to court.
For more information or additional reading about these options, contact an accident lawyer near you.