Personal Injury Lawsuits: Step By Step
When you suffer a personal injury as a result of someone elses negligence, you may be entitled to some sort of compensation. To receive this compensation, you will generally file a personal injury lawsuit.
Stages of a Typical Personal Injury Case
First, you will meet with a personal injury lawyer, who will evaluate your case and determine the likelihood of winning any compensation for you. This first meeting, called an initial consultation, is usually free.
You will need to share the details of your accident with the personal injury lawyer. He or she will then assess your case to determine whether you are legally entitled to damages (the legal word for compensation) under your state's personal injury law.
If the lawyer agrees to take your case, he or she will usually do so on a contingency basis. That means you pay no money up front, but the lawyer keeps a percentage of the compensation he or she gets for you from the negligent party that caused your injury.
The lawyer will then draft a complaint, which is the legal term for the papers that are filed with the court to begin a personal injury lawsuit.
Once the complaint is filed, your lawyer and the lawyer for the other party will begin a sometimes lengthy process known as discovery. This is where each side tries to find out as much information as they can about the accident that prompted your lawsuit. This can include asking for your medical records, information from your employer and other relevant information about you. At the same time, your lawyer will ask for information about the party that caused your injury.
As part of discovery, you may be asked by the other side to give a deposition. You will be asked a series of questions by the opposing lawyer. Some of the questions will be about the incident that gave rise to your injury, while others will be about your personal history. Expect to answer questions about any previous injuries or illnesses you have had, as well as your work history and other issues.
After the evidence has been gathered, each side will usually file motions with the court. These can be anything from a request for the court to dismiss the case to merely asking that some evidence be excluded from the trial for various reasons.
After the court has ruled on the motions, the parties may be required by the court to have at least one session with a court-approved mediator to try to settle the case before trial. Regardless of whether you actually meet with a mediator, your lawyer and the defendant's lawyer will undoubtedly be talking periodically throughout the case to see if they can reach a settlement agreement.
Going to Trial in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you and the other party fail to settle the case out of court, the court will schedule the case for trial. Because courts are very busy, your trial date could be months away. Once the trial begins, there will usually be a jury that decides whether you are entitled to any compensation and, if so, how much.
If you win the case and are awarded compensation, you then have to collect it. If an insurance company is required to make the payment on behalf of the losing party, you may have to sign many documents before the check is cut. If the compensation is to be paid by an individual, your lawyer may have to pursue seizing that persons bank accounts or garnishing his or her wages if he or she is unable or unwilling to pay up right away.
Many personal injury lawyers agree that it is often better to settle a case before trial than to go through this sort of lengthy process. Thats a decision you and your lawyer will make together.