If you have been injured in an accident, but the insurance company is dragging its feet or flat out refusing to settle your claim, your best option may be to file a personal injury lawsuit. Many people are intimidated by the idea of filing a lawsuit, largely because of a fear of the unknown. Once you understand how a personal injury lawsuit works, you will be much more confident in going forward.
Although each case is unique, most personal injury lawsuits follow these five procedural steps.
Step 1: The Plaintiff’s Complaint
Every personal injury lawsuit begins with the filing of a “complaint.” A complaint is a legal document that states all of your claims against the person or entity you believe is responsible for your injuries. In a complaint, the party who files the lawsuit (the injured party) is referred to as the “plaintiff”; the party allegedly at fault is referred to as the “defendant.” The complaint will usually give a synopsis of the accident and resulting injuries, and describe how the defendant is at fault. It will also have a demand for monetary compensation (called “damages”). The complaint is filed with the court and delivered (“served”) on the defendant and his attorney, if he is represented by counsel.
You have a limited time period within which to file your complaint. Your attorney will be able to advise you as to when this period expires. This is a strict deadline. If your complaint is filed late, the court will reject it and you will be barred from suing for your injuries.
Step 2: The Defendant’s “Answer”
Upon receipt of your complaint, the defendant must file a formal, written response, called an “Answer.” The defendant has a limited amount of time to respond – typically 30 days. The defendant must respond to every allegation in your complaint. Most defendants will respond with general denials. If, however, the defendant feels that you are in any way responsible for your injuries, then the defendant’s lawyer will make these allegations in the Answer.
Step 3: Discovery
After the pleading stage (the complaint and answer), your case will move into what is known as the “discovery” phase. The discovery phase can be seen as a somewhat hectic phase, as there are many things that occur on both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s side. The main objective of the discovery phase is for both sides to gather (or “discover”) evidence to prove its case. As the plaintiff, you are trying to prove that the accident occurred due to the fault of the defendant and that, consequently, you were injured. The defendant is trying to disprove these allegations.
The main tools used by the parties during the discovery process are Interrogatories, Requests for Production of Documents, and Depositions.
Interrogatories are written questions sent from one party to the other, to be answered in writing, under oath. The questions usually consist of background questions, such as work history, medical history, and criminal history. Questions will also be asked about the accident, the injuries you sustained because of the accident, and the medical treatment you sought and received in regards to the accident. Your answers to interrogatories can be used at trial to refresh your memory or to dispute your testimony if you later change your story.
Request For Production Of Documents
A request for production of documents in a personal injury lawsuit is a written request from one party to the other to provide tangible evidence. For example the defendant may request a copy of all medical bills in your possession or documentation of the time you missed from work due to your injuries. Your attorney, on the other hand, may request that the defendant produce all the claims adjuster’s notes and a copy of the insurance company’s claim file.
A deposition is an interview, under oath, during which the lawyer for one party gets to ask questions of the other party or witnesses. A court reporter will be present to document everything that is said during the deposition. The defendant will use your deposition to pin down your story and to assess what kind of witness you would make at trial. Will a jury trust you? Will a jury like you? Is a jury likely to take your side?
Step 4: Settlement
Often, at the conclusion of the discovery phase, one side will reach out to the other in an attempt to the settle the case before trial. A settlement may be reached through negotiations between the lawyers; through mediation; or through a court-ordered settlement meeting, presided over by the judge who would hear the case if it goes to trial. If you and the defendant are able to reach an agreement, you will formalize the terms in a written Settlement Agreement, which will be signed by all parties and will be enforceable in a court of law.
Step 5: Trial
If the case does not settle, it will go trial, where the issues will be decided by a jury (or, sometimes, a judge). Both sides will present evidence and have the right to challenge the evidence presented by the other party, through cross-examination of witnesses. At the conclusion of the evidence, the jury (or the judge) will decide if you are owed compensation for the harm done to you and, if so, how much.
If you were injured by the carelessness of another person or entity, you may be entitled to compensation. If you have questions about negotiating a settlement with the insurance company or pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, please contact us. You can reach us by phone or by completing the email form on this page. We will respond promptly.