Before leaving our discussion of the litigation process, certain special proceedings should be understood and considered. Most personal injury cases follow the process outlined throughout this chapter. However, there are unique cases that do not follow the typical pattern of a civil jury trial.
The following special proceedings are undertaken in North Carolina courts;
- Settlement Hearing for Minor/Incompetent — See chapter 8 for details concerning injuries to a minor child or an individual who is deemed mentally incompetent. Here, we only look to the litigation process involved to perfect a settlement for a minor or a mentally incompetent victim. These settlement hearings are known as a “friendly action.” After a settlement is reached, the action is filed simply to bring the case in front of a judge. The plaintiff and the defendant will collectively prepare the complaint and answer. These are filed mutually simply to bring the action onto the court’s calendar. The settlement approval hearing is typically heard during a motion calendar. In these hearings, the judge will consider the injuries to the minor or incompetent, the settlement terms, the legal fees and costs, and the propriety of the settlement. This procedure is required to finalize an enforceable settlement in any injury case involving a minor child or a mentally incompetent adult.
- Interpleader Action — An interpleader is an action filed by an insurance carrier or defendant whereby a certain sum of money is paid into the court so the court can determine the fair distribution of the funds among multiple individuals who have competing claims. The typical scenario is an insurance carrier that has limited coverage and multiple claimants whose claims exceed the available coverage limits. Through an interpleader, the insurer can place the coverage amount with the court and walk away. All claimants are named as defendants in the interpleader action. They are then required to present their evidence at court to show the full value of their claims. The court’s task is then to determine the full value of all parties’ claims and then to properly apportion and divide the sum deposited upon filing the interpleader action. The sum is then paid to all claimants based on the court’s decision of the fair share to be received by each victim.
- Declaratory Judgment Action — A declaratory judgment action is a lawsuit filed purely to have the court apply the law to uncontested facts. A common example is an insurance coverage question. If the parties disagree on the effect of insurance policy terms or the application of coverage in a certain case, a declaratory judgment places the legal question before the court to apply contract law and other applicable law to the dispute. Since the parties agree on all material facts, a jury is not required. The facts are stipulated and presented to the judge, and the court determines how the law applies and thus determines the legal rights of all parties.