The Stages of Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you are getting ready to open a personal injury suit, it can be a daunting task. When you've never had any personal legal experience, the thought of actually appearing in court can be frightening. Fortunately, while each personal injury claim is different, there is a standard procedure for waging such a case, and a good personal injury attorney can guide you throughout every step of the process.
Stage 1: The Injury
When you are injured due to someone else's negligence or recklessness, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim. Immediately following the incident, whether it be the result of a car accident, defective product, or medical malpractice, you should write down exactly what happened. Timely written documentation will be much more accurate than testimony given months later. You should also find witnesses to the accident.
Stage 2: Meeting with a Lawyer
The initial meeting with an attorney serves several purposes. The lawyer will decide if you have a viable personal injury claim and whether he or she wants to take you on as a client. This is also your chance to decide if the lawyer is a good fit for you. You should be prepared to talk about the accident, your injury, and your insurance benefits.
Stage 3: Filing Your Case
Once you have found an attorney, you will need to file the necessary papers, or "pleadings," to get your case started in civil court. These papers outline the facts of the accident, your claims, and why you believe the defendant is responsible for your injury. The defendant will then receive a summons, notifying that the defendant he or she is being sued.
Stage 4: Fact Finding and Discovery
By law, opposing legal parties are required to reveal all relevant information to the other side. This means that the defendant's lawyer will interview you about what happened during the accident. Your lawyer will also interview the defendant and examine all material evidence gathered by the other side. In some cases, there may be evidence that is considered "privileged" and is not made available to the opposing parties.
Stage 5: Pre-Trial Motions
Before trial, either lawyer may ask the court for a pre-trial ruling, which can include dismissal of a case, exclusion of a certain piece of evidence, the release of privileged evidence, or a change of trial venue. Typically, only the defendant's lawyer will ask for a case dismissal.
Stage 6: Settlement
Most personal injury cases are settled through out-of-court negotiation, during which both lawyers work to reach an agreed-upon settlement. Typically, the plaintiff agrees to drop the lawsuit in exchange for a certain amount of money covering their medical bills, lost wages, or other financial damages.
Stage 7: Trial
If you and your attorney are unable to reach an agreeable settlement with the defendant, the case will progress to trial. This process involves jury selection, opening statements by both attorneys, testimony and examination of witnesses, closing arguments by both attorneys, the deliberation and verdict of the jury, and the announcement of the verdict by the judge.
Stage 8: Collecting Damages
If you win your personal injury case against a respected business or a financially stable individual, the defendant will typically pay the full amount owed. However, if the defendant cannot or will not pay the court mandated damages, you and your lawyer may have to take further measures, such as having a lien placed on his or her property, garnishing his or her wages, or reporting him or her to a credit agency.
Step 9: Appeals
Following trial, both you and the defendant are permitted to file with an appeals court. This court will review the trial, and both attorneys will present further arguments in their clients' favor. If the appeals court finds any legal errors, they can reverse the decision of the court.
The Importance of an Attorney
Though this may all sound quite complex, remember that most trials end with a pre-trial settlement. However, whether you reach an agreement during negotiation or your case goes to court, hiring an experienced and compassionate attorney makes this process much less intimidating. From the influx of initial paperwork to any possible appeals, a good lawyer will handle the details, allowing you to focus on recovery from your personal injury.