The Personal Injury Lawsuit Process: What You Need To Know
If you are wondering what happens in a personal injury lawsuit process from the time you hire a lawyer to having a case tried, here are the general steps.
Step 1: Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
Although you can pursue a personal injury case on your own, it is advisable to hire a lawyer. Even if another party is clearly to blame and your chances of winning a case are high, the odds of getting a fair settlement are slim without legal help. Insurance companies often engage in bad faith tactics, such as denying a valid claim or offering inadequate compensation, to avoid payment.
Step 2: Investigation
Once you hire an experienced attorney, an investigation into your case will begin immediately to understand important details, such as:
- how you or your loved one were injured;
- who the liable parties are;
- the extent of injuries; and,
- calculating damages resulting from the injury, as well as related costs (current and future medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc.)
Your attorney will contact and deal with the other parties involved, such as the insurance company and the lawyer representing the at fault party. A good attorney will ensure you are kept fully aware of any significant developments in your case, allowing you to focus on recovery.
Step 3: Settlement
Most personal injury cases are settled outside of court. For this reason, lawsuits are rarely filed, especially if you were injured in a motor vehicle accident. During this step, your attorney will negotiate with the at fault party’s insurer in an attempt to get the maximum monetary settlement for you. He or she should advise you on when you should accept or reject a settlement offer. However, the final decision is yours.
Step 4: Filling a Lawsuit
If settlement negotiations do not yield acceptable results, your attorney can proceed by filing a lawsuit. The injury lawsuit process can take anywhere from months to years to finalize depending on the complexity of your case. The judge overseeing the case will set deadlines for every step of the lawsuit process. There are three phases of the lawsuit process:
- Complaint & Answer Phase: a complaint detailing your allegations must be filed then served to the named defendant(s). The defendant(s) have a specified time period (typically 30 days) to answer.
- Discovery: The case then moves to a discovery phase, which is a formal exchanging of evidence. Each party examines the evidence the other parties have collected. Oral discovery (depositions) can also take place, where each party is questioned.
- Pretrial Motions & Hearings: The motions phase will then begin. The defendant will typically file a motion prior to or after the discovery phase, asking the court to take action, such as dismissing parts of or the entire case. Your attorney then has a stipulated period to file a response opposing the motion. At this point, a hearing can be held for the court to consider arguments from both sides.
Step 5: Mediation
Before a case goes to trial, an alternative dispute resolution (mediation) can be requested at any time. It involves a neutral third party who will act as a mediator between both parties and their attorneys. Mediations aren’t binding, which means one or both parties can either accept or reject the settlement offers at the end of this stage.
Step 6: Trial
If a settlement agreement cannot be reached and a personal injury lawsuit makes it to trial, your lawyer will present your side to the judge or judge. The defendant will also put on their defense. Once both sides have presented their arguments, the judge or jury will decide the case. If the defendant(s) are found legally liable, they must pay you the amount (damages) determined by the court.
The defense has the option to appeal the verdict, asking the court to reconsider. If this occurs, your compensation will be delayed and whether it will be paid depends on the outcome of the appeal. Once a final verdict is made, your personal injury lawyer will collect and distribute the funds.