Stages of a Personal Injury Case
Accident and injury lawsuits can take many forms, but the basic stages of a personal injury case usually remain the same. FindLaw's Stages of a Personal Injury Case section provides a basic overview of the different stages of a typical personal injury case and some information about each stage.
In this section, you can also find articles explaining:
- What to expect when meeting with an attorney
- What initial court filings are involved
- What happens in a personal injury trial
- How to collect on a judgment
Dealing with Insurance Companies
Once an accident injury happens, one of the first steps you'll likely take is to contact the insurance company. Insurance companies play a huge role in personal injury lawsuits, especially in car accidents. They often handle claims and negotiate settlements.
If you are at fault, your insurance company may bear the responsibility for compensating the other party for their medical expenses and other damages. If the other party is at fault, their insurance company may be responsible for your damages. Remember that insurance companies are businesses, and their goal may be to minimize payouts.
Medical Treatment and Expenses
After a car accident, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Medical treatment helps to diagnose and treat your injuries, and the medical records generated during treatment can serve as evidence in your case.
The extent of your injuries, determined by your healthcare providers, will significantly influence your claim's value. Keep a detailed account of all medical bills associated with your treatment. These records will be necessary to establish the cost of your medical expenses in your lawsuit.
Choosing the Right Law Office
Before choosing a law office to handle your case:
- Consider getting initial consultations with a few different lawyers
- Find out about their experience, success rate, and whether they're equipped to handle your type of case
- Keep in mind a good personal injury lawyer should make you feel heard and ensure that you are kept updated throughout the lawsuit process
The Role of a Personal Injury Lawyer
An initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer can provide you with:
- Valuable insight into your claim's potential value
- The estimated timeline
- The complexity of the lawsuit process
Many personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis. This means they receive a portion of your personal injury settlement if you win your case. They don't charge you legal fees if you don't win (but you may be responsible for costs and expenses).
The Demand Letter and Negotiation Process
Once your lawyer has gathered all relevant information, including medical bills, police reports, and evidence of fault, they will send a demand letter to the at-fault party's insurance company. This letter details:
- The extent of your injuries
- The costs associated with your medical treatment
- Any lost wages and other damages
The insurance company will review the demand letter. Your lawyer will then negotiate with the insurance company to try and reach a satisfactory settlement.
Filing Your Lawsuit
If you cannot reach a settlement through negotiation or mediation, the next step would be to formally file a lawsuit. This process begins with drafting and filing a complaint or petition with the appropriate court. This document will:
- Outline your claims against the defendant
- Detail the relevant facts
- Specify the damages you are seeking
Once the lawsuit is filed, it must be properly served on the defendant, often by a process server or law enforcement officer. This provides them with official notice of the lawsuit. The defendant then has a specific amount of time to respond to your complaint, typically by filing an answer.
Following the filing and serving of the lawsuit, you then move into the discovery phase.
If your case cannot be resolved through a settlement, there is a phase before the trial called the "discovery" phase. Discovery is the process that allows each side to obtain relevant facts from the opposing side. This process reduces the possibility of surprises during the trial and allows each side to prepare fully for the case. The basic methods of the discovery process include:
- Written discovery
- Document production
Written discovery generally consists of interrogatories and requests for admission. Interrogatories are questions that require your version of the facts and your claims in the case that must be answered under oath. They can be pre-printed "form" interrogatories, or "special" interrogatories, which are questions specific to your case.
The other type of written discovery is a request for admission. Requests for admissions simply ask a person to admit or deny certain facts regarding the case. They are used to limit the issues for trial. Generally speaking, there are limits to how many interrogatories and requests for admission each side can ask.
Document production is just as it sounds – each side asks the other side to produce documents that are relevant to the case. The documents requested depend on the type of case but can include anything from business records to medical records.
With the prevalence of technology in today's world, courts now typically consider electronic files as a standard part of document discovery. Known as electronic discovery or eDiscovery, this process involves the identification, collection, processing, and production of electronic data with the intent of using it as evidence in a legal case. This can include:
- Word processing files
- Social media posts
- Any other form of data that can be stored electronically
This shift has revolutionized the litigation landscape, making electronic data the norm rather than the exception in the discovery process.
Depositions are another useful discovery tool. In a deposition, a person (who is under oath) answers an attorney's questions, and a court reporter makes a transcript of everything said during the deposition.
There are several reasons to depose someone, and each attorney has their own strategy for depositions. The common reasons for depositions are:
- To obtain information relevant to the case
- To lock a person into their story
- To see what the other side has to disclose
- To see how a witness will appear and conduct themselves in a trial
Personal Injury Trial
In a trial, a jury or judge examines the evidence to decide whether the defendant should be held legally responsible for the injuries suffered by the plaintiff. The trial provides the plaintiff the opportunity to present their case in the hopes of obtaining a judgment against the defendant. The trial also gives the defendant a chance to refute the plaintiff's case. A full personal injury trial consists of the following phases:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements by each side
- Witness testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments by each side
- The judge giving jury instructions
- Jury deliberation and the verdict
A majority of personal injury disputes are resolved before trial through informal settlement negotiations, alternative dispute resolution, or dismissal of the case.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you've been injured and you believe that someone else is responsible for your injuries, you might want to contact a local personal injury attorney to discuss the personal injury claim process.
To make sure you don't exceed the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit, accident victims should contact an attorney for a free case evaluation soon after being injured or seeking medical attention.
Learn About Stages of a Personal Injury Case
Stages of a Personal Injury Case Articles
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