Were you recently involved in an accident that has left you injured? If so, you’re probably thinking about what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit? Accidents can occur at any time and in any place. Most accidents happen on the road. In fact, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of personal injury lawsuits in the United States.

According to the National Safety Council, over three million people are impacted by accident-related injuries every year. These injuries can result in significant financial setbacks that continue long after the accident has occurred. The NSC evaluates that the average cost of a personal injury ranges from $140,000 to $1 million. Lost income and medical costs account for a majority of these expenses. If another person’s reckless conduct has caused you harm, you may be entitled to compensation for the economic loss you have incurred. You’re also entitled to compensation for the suffering and pain as well.

What are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit? The entire process begins when the plaintiff (individual) files a formal complaint against the defendant (entity/another person) seeking compensation for an injury that was allegedly instigated by the defendant. Each personal injury lawsuit differs. The standards and rules of each state will also determine how the case proceeds.

At Quirk Reed LLP, we pursue the personal injury claims process in the following eight steps:

1. Initial Consultation

The whole process starts when you meet with our lawyer. At this first consultation, we provide an initial case review at no cost to you. What will we discuss during this meeting? We will converse about the details of the case such as the cause of the accident and the magnitude of your injuries.

We will also address your questions. For example, you may wonder about our team’s experience in handling personal injury claims.

Before the meeting is over, our lawyer will explain what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit. He or she will advise you on the most suitable course of action to pursue in your particular case. He or she will also explain the different types of compensation available. You might also deliberate over attorney fees. For instance, many law firms work on a contingency fee basis. This means the client is not obligated to pay anything until the firm has secured a settlement on their behalf.

2. Filing Court Documents

This is the second phase of what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit. If you decide to move forward with your personal injury lawsuit, your Quirk Reed LLP attorney will file and serve the complaint, along with additional documents, on your behalf. The first document to be filed in the lawsuit is the complaint. This officially starts the personal injury lawsuit.

In the majority of states, there are three court systems where you may file the complaint. In all instances, there is a filing fee for the complaint. The fees vary according to the court and state, however, they range between $30 to $300.

What’s included in the complaint? It includes the following information:

–         Identities of the plaintiff and defendant

–         Legal claims

–         Facts relevant to the legal claims

–         The legal foundation for the court’s authority over the lawsuit

The party you are suing is registered as the defendant on in your complaint, whereas you are listed as the plaintiff. Your formal complaint will state the nature of your accident and the extent of the injuries, including the legal basis for upholding the defendant liable. It also states the types of damages for which you’re seeking reparation. In response to your complaint, the defendant will submit an answer.

The Answer

Once your summons and complaint are filed and presented to the defendant, he or she must respond within a certain timeframe. This will vary according to the court and location of the defendant, however, the waiting period is approximately 21 days. The defendant’s reply to your filed complaint is termed as the “answer”. The answer will address each aspect listed in the complaint, either denying or admitting the allegations.

The defendant’s answer may also include defenses. These are legal reasons why the defendant cannot be held liable for the plaintiff’s complaints. In a few cases, the defendant may present a counterclaim. These are claims asserted against the plaintiff. The defendant may include a counterclaim in their response.

Counterclaims are written in a similar style as the complaint. The plaintiff is also given an opportunity to respond to the counterclaim.

3. Discovery

After both parties have filed and served their initial documents, the discovery phase will commence. This is a formal process where evidence is gathered and exchanged. What are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit?

There are five main tools used when requesting information in a personal injury lawsuit. These are:

1) Interrogatories- Specific questions submitted by one side to the other. The responses provided by each party are taken under oath as well as in writing.

2) Production Requests- This is a similar procedure to interrogatories. However, instead of asking and answering questions, one side may request the other side to produce copies of the required documents in their custody.

3) Admission Requests- One side may question the other side to deny or admit material facts.

4) Depositions- In a deposition, the attorney from the opposing side will ask the witness or other party, a series of questions. The party that is deposed is obligated to answer all the questions under oath. The court reporter will record the deposition word-for-word.

5) Physical Examination- The court may authorize a physical or mental examination of the party whose state might be an issue.

Discovery requests and questions must unearth admissible evidence. If the requestor’s question is irrelevant or privileged, the other party may object.

During the discovery phase, your attorney will provide you with the list of interrogatories and questions that will be asked of the defendant. Your lawyer may submit a document request as well. Both parties may take sworn statements or depositions. Your attorney may also seek consultation from medical experts or accident reconstruction experts. These experts can provide a clearer understanding of your case in the form of reports. In the event, your case goes to trial, any of these experts may testify for you.

personal injury case steps

4. Pre-trial Motions and Hearings

Pre-trial motions are used to compel the opposing side into providing evidence. However, your attorney may also file a motion to resolve the case before it heads to trial. For example, if there is a lack of jurisdiction or evidence, the defendant’s lawyer can file a motion to have a part or all of the lawsuit dismissed. In response, your attorney can file a summary judgment. This is a motion that states there are sufficient, undisputed facts in the case for which the judge should grant an immediate reprieve.

Before the actual trial starts, both sides may use their motions to request the court to act or rule. If the ruling on a motion results in lawsuit termination, it’s termed as “dispositive motion”. If the ruling is on an incidental question, it is called “non-dispositive motion”.

These are some common motions in a personal injury lawsuit:

–         Motion to compel

–         Motion for summary judgment

–         Motion for change of venue

–         Motion for default judgment

Court trials are time-consuming, emotionally demanding, and very expensive. This is why attorneys prefer to resolve the case before it heads to trial. The next section of what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit addresses

settlement negotiations.

5. Settlement Negotiations

The process of negotiation begins with the plaintiff’s demand for compensation followed by the defendant’s reply with an offer. Both parties may have several back-and-forth discussions.

There are three ways to go into settlement negotiations:

1) Settlement- After completing the discovery process, attorneys on both sides will discuss settlement terms. These can include written offers and even counteroffers. This discussion may also occur over the phone.

2) Mediation- If both attorneys are unable to resolve the case through discussion, they may bring a 3rd party who is neutral to the case. This person is a mediator and it is his or her role to assist both parties in reaching a suitable settlement. This feat is achieved by discussing the weaknesses and strengths of both cases. The mediator cannot force any side into a settlement.

3) Arbitration- This is an adversarial proceeding. Both parties hire an arbitrator or neutral third party to resolve disputes. This is similar to a mini trial. During arbitration, both parties can present their evidence and arguments to the arbitrator. He or she will then decide who wins. Parties who decide to settle their argument using arbitration cannot appeal the arbitrator’s ruling in a court.

Attorneys on both sides always aim to reach an appropriate settlement before heading to trial. In case a settlement is agreed upon, the defendant must pay the compensation amount and the plaintiff must release the defendant from all liabilities.

6. Trial

This is perhaps the most well-known part of what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit. In fact, most people assume that filing a lawsuit means going to trial. This is in fact, the last case scenario when a settlement cannot be reached.

In a civil trial, the jury or judge will examine all evidence and then decide whether the defendant is accountable and responsible for making reparations requested by the plaintiff.

There are six phases in a civil trial:

1) Jury selection

2) Opening statements

3) Witness testimony, cross-examination

4) Closing arguments

5) Jury instruction

6) Jury deliberation and the verdict

The majority of personal injury lawsuits are decided through settlements. In case your lawsuit does to a trial, it will help you immensely to hire an experienced trial lawyer.

7. Collecting your Judgement/ Settlement

This phase in what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit brings a lot of relief to our clients. If the court enters a judgment in your favor or you’ve reached a settlement with the other party, your attorney will handle the process of collecting and dispersing the funds, including what’s owed to you.

The defendant is now also the debtor. He or she may not follow the court order and make the payment amount that was stated in the judgment. In case this occurs, you will be required to take additional steps, including additional legal expenses to collect your compensation.

These steps will include:

–         Garnishing the defendant’s wages

–         Conducting a post-judgment discovery to retrieve the defendant’s assets and income sources

–         Implementing a lien on the defendant’s property

Although this is the last phase in what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit, the case may proceed further if the defendant pursues a post-trial motion or an appeal.

8. Post-Trial Motions or Appeals

If the judgment favors you, the defendant has the right to file a post-trial motion. This is aimed at reducing the damages amount or setting aside the judgment that you were awarded.

The defendant also has the right to file an appeal. This would mean taking the case to a higher court where it would be determined if legal mistakes were made during the trial. While the case is placed on appeal, both parties can return to settlement negotiations in order to reach a timely closure of the case.

More about appeals

If the defendant decides to appeal the court’s decision, each party will be required to submit a brief to the appellate court. This court will evaluate the trial court’s record. Once the appellate court has thoroughly reviewed the record and briefs, they will release a judgment. This will wither find an error made by the trial court or affirm their verdict. If an error is found, the appellate court has the authority to order a new trial and or reverse the verdict.

Personal injury lawsuits are complex and lengthy. A knowledgeable attorney can help you obtain what you’re owed so that you can focus on recovering from the injuries.

If you have questions about what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit, get help from experienced attorneys at Quirk Reed LLP today.