Personal Injury -- Plaintiff Law
What Are the Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Personal injury victims should understand the different stages of a personal injury lawsuit. Each step is an essential part of determining whether a defendant is liable for you or your loved one's injuries and whether you are able to secure compensation.
A personal injury attorney will represent you at each stage of the case and be available to answer your questions and address your concerns. But before that happens, you should discuss your potential case with one or more personal injury lawyers.
Once you hire an attorney, if you cannot reach a settlement with the defense, your case will move through the following steps.
A personal injury lawsuit begins when your attorney files a formal pleading — known as a complaint — with the court. The complaint explains why you are suing the defendant and what relief, or damages, you seek.
The defendant responds to the complaint with a pleading appropriately called an answer.
In the answer, the defendant admits or denies each of the allegations outlined in your complaint.
A defendant may also file a counterclaim and request relief from you if the defendant feels that they were the injured party in the accident. You would then have the opportunity to respond to the counterclaim.
Discovery is the formal process by which your personal injury attorney gathers information and evidence to prove your case, while the defense builds their case.
The discovery process may include interviews with witnesses, depositions, requests for admissions, working with accident reconstruction experts, and requests for documentation.
The most common pre-trial motions include:
- Motions in limine: This pre-trial motion describes the point at which either you or the defense requests the judge exclude specific evidence from trial.
- Motions for summary judgment: The motion for summary judgment may claim the case should not go before a jury at all, or that based on the facts stated so far, a jury could only rule in favor of the party who filed the summary judgment motion.
- Motion to dismiss: This is a motion filed most often by the defense asking the judge to throw out specific claims in your lawsuit. The motion might also ask the judge to throw out your case entirely. This motion can be filed at any time.
Settlement talks can occur at any time before a jury reaches a verdict. The case is closed when both parties agree to a settlement. Many jurisdictions require a pre-trial settlement conference before a trial begins.
A trial is the formal court process during which both sides present evidence supporting their case.
As the plaintiff, your attorney will attempt to prove the defendant's negligence that caused your personal injury. In arguing your case, your attorney also attempts to prove you deserve financial damages.
The defense will present evidence to defend themselves against your allegations to prevent owing damages.
A verdict is rendered at the end of the trial. Who issues the judgment depends on the type of trial. In a jury trial, the decision is made by the jury. A judge renders the verdict in a bench trial.
The verdict determines if the defendant is liable and, if so, how much the defendant owes in damages.
Either party can appeal a decision if they believe that the decision was legally incorrect. The party that lost the lawsuit files the appeal.
If an appeal is granted, the case moves to a higher court. The decision of the higher court could reverse the lower court's decision. The lower court's decision will stand, however, if the higher court denies the appeal.
While the process can seem long, it is important for your attorney to have the time to prepare for a trial. This will put you in the best position to recover the compensation you deserve. Of course, if it is in your best interests, you can consider a settlement earlier in the process as well.