Anatomy of a Personal Injury Case

Have you, or someone you love, been accidentally injured by another person? If so, you may need to file a lawsuit against the person who caused the injury in order to protect yourself or your loved one.

For most people, the thought of having to file a lawsuit is rather intimidating. The entire process seems confusing and perplexing. The possibility of having to testify can be daunting. The risks involved seem to outweigh the reward.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! Many of the misconceptions that people have about litigation come from badly written movies and TV shows that sacrifice honesty in favor of drama. A lawsuit is actually a very civilized and formal way of settling disputes between two parties. There are very specific rules that guide the conduct of the people involved in the process. These rules are strictly enforced by the judge assigned to the case to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and equally.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the steps involved in an average personal injury lawsuit. By understanding these steps, what they are, and what they do, you’ll also be able to see that a lawsuit is very often your best way to obtain justice for the damages caused by the injuries you’ve sustained by another.

Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney

If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit to protect your interests following an injury, you also need to be thinking about hiring a personal injury attorney. The rules of procedure that govern a lawsuit are, to be frank, somewhat complicated. If you make a mistake, your case will likely be dismissed. Most civil courts are busy places with many other cases pending. A judge is definitely not going to be inclined to cut you a break simply because you’ve decided to represent yourself.

An experienced personal injury attorney is an expert at the rules and procedures that govern a lawsuit. They know what needs to be done to protect your interests and they know when it needs to be done. They will use all of this skill plus their experience to advocate on your behalf and obtain the best possible result. The best thing is that most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis. What this means is that it costs nothing up front to hire them and they do not get paid for their efforts unless you win your case.

Filing a Complaint

A complaint is a formal document that sets out the allegations of negligence against the person who caused your injuries. Once the complaint is filed, the lawsuit has officially begun. Since you are the injured party who brought the complaint, you are now known as the plaintiff. A copy of the filed complaint is then served on the person who injured you. That person is now known as the defendant because they are being accused by you of causing you harm, and must defend their position. Once the defendant has been served they have a specific time in which to file a formal answer to your complaint. A failure to do so will result in a default judgment in your favor.

Discovery

Once the complaint has been filed, the lawsuit moves into the discovery phase. The discovery phase, as its name implies, is a time for both parties to the lawsuit to discover what each other knows about the circumstances surrounding the personal injury in question. The discovery phase exists so that there will be no unfair surprises at trial, with one party or the other suddenly revealing the existence of a document or witness that no one was aware of until then. Because of this, any evidence that wasn’t disclosed during discovery will likely not be admissible at trial.

The discovery process is fairly routine. Both parties answer questions, produce documents and give depositions under oath. In addition, important witnesses may also be deposed in order to preserve their testimony.

Settlement

Once discovery has been concluded, the parties are now in a position to decide whether or not a settlement of the lawsuit might be the best course of action. Over 90% of all lawsuits are disposed of by settlement outside of court. The reason for this is because of the unpredictability of what may happen should the case go to trial. No one, not even the most experienced attorney, can predict what a jury will do with 100% accuracy. Once the discovery process reveals the evidence that will be used at trial, your attorney may decide that making or accepting a settlement offer is in your best interest. Remember, a settlement is a compromise of your claim. You cannot expect to receive as much for you injury in settlement that you could possibly receive at trial. However, the amount offered in settlement is guaranteed, while a verdict in your favor at trial is not.

Trial

Thanks to Hollywood, we are all somewhat familiar with what goes on during a trial. The reality is that most trials are nowhere near as dramatic as you see in the movies. They are relatively quiet affairs, more akin to a game of chess than a boxing match. In simple terms, the plaintiff put on their case first and all of their witnesses are examined and cross-examined. The defendant then presents their case. Again, all witnesses are examined and cross-examined.

Finally, both sides, starting with the plaintiff, present their closing arguments to the jury. The jury is then given specific instruction by the judge on how to deliberate the evidence presented and proceeds to deliberate in private. After a period of time, the jury reaches a verdict which is then read aloud in court to all the parties.

Judgment

If you win your case at trial, you will have a judgment and an award of damages for a specific amount of money entered in your favor. What usually happens at this point is that the defendant’s insurance company pays the judgment to the level of their liability, which is the amount of the insurance policy in question. If that amount is insufficient to cover the judgment, then your only option is to pursue the defendant’s assets, if any. The judgment acts as a valid lien on all of the defendant’s assets. This means that you can garnish the defendant’s wages and discover his or her assets in an attempt to satisfy the judgment.