Accident and personal injury lawsuits can take many forms, but the basic steps of the legal process generally remain the same. Personal injury cases are complicated, and while an experienced attorney can help you navigate the process, by better understanding the procedures involved you can feel more in control of your personal injury claim.
Personal Injury Lawsuit Timelines
The legal system is highly complex, and filing a lawsuit can be a long and emotionally challenging process. Each lawsuit will be unique and will take a different, potentially unpredictable path, and an experienced attorney can help you through each step in the legal process.
Filing a Complaint
Once you have decided to file a lawsuit, your attorney will help you to prepare a summons and complaint. The summons and complaint will state that you were involved in an accident or suffered a personal injury as the result of the negligence of another. Once the summons and complaint has been filed and the papers have been served, the recipients have 30 days to answer.
After the complaint has been answered, the discovery portion of your lawsuit will begin, and this period can last for six months or even longer. This time period allows each party to learn as much as they can about the other’s case. Attorneys will exchange disclosure statements that will provide the facts of the case, experts that are involved, and a list of witnesses. You will also be asked to produce accident reports, insurance policies, medical records, and hospital or clinic bills as evidence, and you may also be asked to complete an independent medical consultation so that a new physician can evaluate your injuries.
A deposition is an important part of the discovery process. A deposition involves evidence that is given under oath, and it is recorded for use in a court hearing at a later date. If you are being deposed, you will be asked questions by each attorney regarding the incident. Other parties involved in the lawsuit will also need to answer questions under oath.
A majority of personal injury cases end in a settlement rather than a jury verdict. These settlements occur when the defendant agrees to pay the plaintiff a specified amount that makes the plaintiff drop his case. To arrive at this settlement amount, both sides will begin by determining what they think the case is worth or what they believe the jury might award the plaintiff should the case make it to trial. Typically, this is done by researching similar cases and identifying what juries have awarded plaintiffs in the past.
Once each side has established a rough estimate of an acceptable amount of a settlement, they will start sending settlement offers back and forth. The amount of the settlement offer will fluctuate as both sides obtain more information and get a better sense of whether the plaintiff might win or lose at trial. Once an acceptable offer has been presented that both sides agree to, the defendant and plaintiff will sign a settlement agreement before the plaintiff drops the case.
Mediation and Arbitration
Mediation and arbitration are frequently required before a personal injury case will move on to trial. These methods of alternative dispute resolution work to help both parties to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom. If mediation is successful, the mediator will draft the terms of the agreement and will have everyone sign it, but if mediation is not successful, the case will move on to trial.
If you aren’t able to settle your case without avoiding court, a jury will be used to decide how much your injury is worth. Depending on your location, it may take six months or longer to have your trial scheduled, and the actual trial can last several days to two weeks. During the trial, the jury or judge will examine the evidence presented to decide whether the defendant should be held responsible for the harm and injuries alleged by the plaintiff. A trial gives the plaintiff the chance to argue his case in the hopes of securing a judgment, and the defendant is also presented with the opportunity to refute the plaintiff’s claims.
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Jury Deliberations and Verdicts
After hearing a case in its entirety at trial, juries are tasked with making a decision known as a verdict. A jury will be required to hear the evidence presented by both sides at the trial before determining the factual information, applying relevant laws, and voting to come to a final verdict. Most verdicts are upheld by the presiding judge, but at times, the judge may have the discretion to set the verdict aside.
When it comes to personal injury cases, juries not only have to determine if the defendant was liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, but they will also need to put a dollar value on how much the plaintiff deserves to be compensated. Damages will be examined closely in the deliberation process, including medical expenses, concrete financial losses, and lost wages caused by the defendant. However, juries also have the option to award compensation for both emotional and physical pain and suffering that the plaintiff experienced, and if the jury believes that the defendant acted very negligently or intentionally, additional punitive damages could also be awarded.