What Is Involved in the Personal Injury Lawsuit Process?
A personal injury lawsuit is often a lengthy and complicated process. Once you file the lawsuit, it goes through several stages before the judge or jury announces their verdict. Here is a brief look at the entire process from the beginning to the end.
Hire a lawyer
Once you have decided to file a lawsuit, the first thing you need to do is hire a skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer. Although you can represent yourself, we would highly recommend hiring an attorney, anyways. They have a deep understanding of the law surrounding personal injury claims, the legal processes, and how to deal with insurance companies who will use many unsavory means to lower your compensation.
Schedule a free case consultation with a lawyer. During this consultation, a lawyer will ask you questions about your injuries and request information relating to the accident, such as medical treatments, repair costs, and potential witnesses.
File a lawsuit
Starting a lawsuit involves filing a complaint or petition, which is a document that identifies the plaintiff (you) and the defendant (the person or party that caused the injuries), sets the court’s jurisdiction over the dispute, states your legal claims, and relates the facts leading to the claim. In it, you will set forth what you want the court to require the defendant to do.
The court then issues a summons, which is an order stating where the lawsuit will be litigated (heard). The court notifies the defendant about the lawsuit and establishes the window within which he or she must file an answer or seek to have the lawsuit dismissed. If the defendant fails to respond within the given timeframe, he or she will be “in default”.
The lawyers of both parties (the plaintiff and the defendant) collect the facts pertaining to the accident and injuries to present in the court as evidence. This is called ‘Discovery’. The discovery process involves the following:
- Interrogatories and requests for admission: Interrogatories are written descriptions of your version of the facts. Request for admission involves asking a party (plaintiff or defendant) to admit or deny certain facts.
- Document production: The lawyers of one or both parties may request the other party to provide documents pertaining to the case. The documents may include diaries, photos, letters, emails and computer files.
- Depositions: A deposition is a question and answer session in which the opposing party’s attorney asks the plaintiff, defendant or a witness a series of questions in the presence of a court reporter, who records everything that is said and produces a transcription to be used at the trial. Deposition takes place in the attorney’s office and may last from a few hours to several days.
The discovery process may be long, but it is absolutely necessary to build your case. Once the discovery is finished, lawyers from both sides will begin preparing for trial.
Before the lawsuit goes to trial, the lawyers of one or both parties may file a motion asking the court for a ruling on a particular matter. It may be to have the case dismissed, change the venue of the court, grant a summary judgment, etc. If the ruling on the motion can resolve the dispute and terminate the lawsuit before trial, it is called a dispositive motion. If the ruling resolves some questions that have arisen during the litigation, it is called a non-dispositive motion.
The trial is the final and the most high-profile phase of a lawsuit. In this phase, the judge or jury examines the evidence presented by both parties and decide, by a “preponderance of the evidence,” whether the defendant should be held liable for the injuries and harm caused to the plaintiff. The plaintiff is given the opportunity to present his or her version of the facts with evidence. The defendant is also given the opportunity to refute the plaintiff’s allegations, presenting his or her own version of facts with evidence. A trial has six phases:
- Jury selection: The judge selects jurors from a pool of eligible citizens, both the lawyers and judge will question jurors for bias, and dismiss biased jurors for cause.
- Opening statements: Both parties make their first statements through their lawyers.
- Witness testimony and cross-examinations: One or both parties call witnesses and ask questions. The opposing party’s lawyer cross-examines the witnesses with questions.
- Closing arguments: Both parties make their final statements through their lawyers.
- Jury instruction: The judge establishes a set of legal standards that the jury must adhere to when making their decision.
- Jury deliberation and verdict: The jurors gather in a separate room to discuss the case and make a decision. The verdict is then announced in the court.
That ends the lawsuit. If you win, you can collect your claim. If you lose, you can either forget about it or file an appeal in a higher court. Since a personal injury lawsuit can be a lengthy and complicated process, never go to the court without help from a skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer.