Personal injury lawsuits are filed when one person has been injured accidentally by another. Some common situations covered by a personal injury lawsuit include car accidents and wrongful death cases.
This type of lawsuit may go to trial, but more commonly they are resolved out of court through an informal settlement, or a process of mediation.
Being involved in a legal dispute can be frightening, especially if you have never been to court before. However, when you know what to expect, you can make better decisions for your legal defense, and feel confident throughout the entire process from start to finish.
Step 1: Hire an Attorney
Your attorney will represent you in all legal proceedings and advise you on how to move forward. In most cases, the insurance company will hire an attorney for the defendant.
Step 2: Filing the Lawsuit
In a criminal case, the government files the initial claim and begins the process of litigation. However, in a personal injury case, the plaintiff will file a civil complaint against the defendant, which can be another person, business, corporation, or government agency.
Your attorney will first try to settle the matter with the other party’s insurance company. If this is not possible, though, a lawsuit is the next step.
After receiving a formal citation, the defendant has three weeks to respond. In many cases, this response will be handled directly by the insurance company.
Statute of Limitations: If you have been injured and want to file a personal injury lawsuit, remember that there is a limited amount of time to file. The statute of limitations varies based on the nature of the lawsuit, and also the state where you plan to file.
Step 3: Discovery Process
During the Discovery Process, both legal teams solidify their cases and learn as much as they can about the opposition. Each side will submit formal requests, which the other side must respond to.
There are three types of requests that you might receive during the Discovery Process.
- Request for interrogatories, asking for more information to clarify matters of fact.
- Request for production, to ask for further documentation relating to the case.
- Request for admissions, to ask the adversary in a legal dispute to admit or deny the truth of a statement under oath.
Step 4: Depositions
During a deposition, witnesses are questioned under oath with a court reporter present. Anything said in a deposition can be presented in court, and has the same legal weight as a witness testifying in front of the jury. Depositions can cover a wide array of topics, including pertinent background information and details about what led up to the accident, especially if there is a question of fault.
Step 5: Summary Judgement
Either the plaintiff or defendant can request a summary judgement, to receive a decision by the judge before going to trial. In order to be eligible for summary judgement, there cannot be a genuine dispute regarding any material fact in the case.
The judge may decide to issue a partial summary, ruling on some factual issues but leaving others for the trial. They may also issue a judgement on liability, but still require a trial to determine damages.
Step 6: Mediation
Mediation is an opportunity to reach a settlement without going to trial. It is facilitated by an experienced mediator (often a judge or former attorney with special training), who will negotiate between each side.
Most personal injury lawsuits are decided through a settlement rather than going to trial.
Step 7: The Trial
If the case cannot be decided out of court, it will proceed to trial. Both attorneys will present evidence supporting their case, and a jury will render a final verdict regarding liability and damages.
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