If you have never been involved in a lawsuit, then it is hard to anticipate what will happen after you are injured in an accident. It is your right to sue the person who has caused your injuries through their negligent behavior. The following paper will discuss the litigation process involved in a personal injury lawsuit and how personal injury lawyers can help you.
Screening and Investigation
In any lawsuit, the first step is normally to gather information on the facts and to investigate the cause of the accident. In the course of building a case against the at fault party, a personal injury lawyer will do the following:
- Interview witnesses
- Gather and preserve evidence
- Obtain photographic evidence and video footage
- Hire investigators to follow up on the case and expert to provide their professional opinion
- Contact insurance companies
Investigation can take from 1-6 months depending on the circumstances and facts of the case. After the phase for investigation is over, your lawyer will determine whether to pursue your claim or not.
A personal injury lawyer will negotiate with the defendant’s insurance provider to determine if they can reach a reasonable settlement without a lawsuit. During the process of negotiation, the attorney will collect all physical evidence on the incident and documented proof for damages and any other reports by physicians, accident reconstructionists, economists or other experts.
After this information has been evaluated, a settlement figure will be determined. Your personal injury attorney will send a demand to the insurance provider. The demand details the facts on the injuries and damages and suggests a settlement amount. The negotiations will continue until there is an impasse or a settlement is agreed upon.
Personal injury lawyers move aggressively and swiftly in filing lawsuits when they fail to reach a fair settlement with the defendant’s insurance provider. Law suits proceed as follows:
- Complaint and Answer: A complaint is a document that is filed by your lawyer detailing the fault of the defendant and the damages sustained. Your lawyer will file a lawsuit in the area where the accident occurred. After the lawsuit has been filed, each defendant is served with the complaint by the local sheriff or his/her deputies. The answer is a document(s) that responds to the allegations in the complaint. A defendant has 20 days to respond to a complaint if in state and 60 days if out of state.
- Discovery: During this phase, both you and the defendant obtain documents, testimony and other proof from each other. In many cases, a written discovery will be exchanged between both parties. The written discovery will have written questions or interrogatories and a request for documents. Both parties should cooperate in responding to discovery requests. Depositions will also be taken of experts, witnesses and the parties involved in the case. A deposition refers to a meeting where the opposing lawyer questions you and other parties of interest under oath. The deposition session is transcribed by a court reporter. Discovery may last from 9 months to 1 year.
Depending on your case, defendants can choose to file motions after the discovery process is over. Motions are documents filed to ask the court to dismiss a case or to take certain actions. After a motion has been filed, your personal injury lawyer will have 6-14 days to respond. There are some cases where the court holds a hearing to listen to the arguments of both sides. After the motions have been heard, the case moves to trial.
Your lawyer and the defendant’s counsel may schedule mediation at any point of the litigation process. Mediation is a dispute resolution attempt where a mediator, you and the defendant and your lawyers meet to negotiate a settlement.
It is hard to determine how long your case will take before going to trial. In some states, a case goes to trial shortly after the discovery and motion phases have been concluded. In other states, it takes a couple of months or even a year. An average personal injury case takes 1 year to 1 ½ years from filing a claim to the beginning of trial.
Trial is usually follows when you fail to reach a settlement with the defendant. The court schedules a date for the trial. When the trial starts, a jury will decide if you are entitled to damages and how much compensation you should get. If you win, compensation will be awarded and you will be informed how to collect your damages. For cases where an insurance company pays for compensation, you will be required to sign documents before payment. If the defendant is the one paying the compensation amount, your lawyer will pursue garnishing the defendant’s wages or seizing their bank account if they fail to pay right away.