There are certain steps that you must take in a personal injury claim before you are eventually compensated. If you don’t know what these steps are, you might easily get confused. I have highlighted the stages of a personal injury case but before we get to that let’s discuss what makes a good case.
Liability Must Be Clear
If you want to build a strong case, it must be very clear who is liable for your injuries. In a product liability case, for example, it has to be very clear that the manufacturer produced a product with a defect.
You must sustain real injuries or there must be significant damage. You can suffer different types of injuries ranging from fractures from car accidents to strokes from taking dangerous drugs. You can also suffer from economic losses such as lost wages. A good personal injury lawyer will not take on your case if your injuries are minor. They will also not refer you to a “good doctor” to help you increase your medical bills.
Finally, the person who is liable for your injuries has to have insurance coverage. It doesn’t make sense to pursue a claim if you won’t be compensated. Your personal injury lawyer should investigate the extent of the coverage and in some cases, they may have to file for a lawsuit in order to get this information. You should never decide to settle a case until the coverage is known.
The Stages Of A Personal Injury Case
1. Meet With Your Personal Injury Lawyer
The first thing your lawyer will want to know when you first meet is an account of what happened, where it happened and how it happened. This will help them collect information that will help build a solid case.
The length of your first meeting will depend on how you sustained your injuries. If you sustained injuries from a slip and fall accident, your first meeting will take longer because slip and fall cases are never straightforward.
Your lawyer will wait until you have told them everything before asking you any questions. Some questions may be difficult to answer but your lawyer has to ask them to help your case. They will also tell you what kinds of costs you can expect from your case, types of legal fees and representation agreement.
You should never work with a lawyer who expects you to pay legal fees before you win your case. Credible personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis…meaning they only get paid when you get paid.
See here the attributes of a good personal injury lawyer.
What Should You Expect During Your First Meeting?
Ideally, your lawyer will want to know:
- About your insurance coverage
- If you have talked to any insurance adjustors. If you have, they would want to know if you gave them a written statement about your injury.
- If anyone else interviewed you about the accident and what did you tell them
- The current status of your injuries
This is the kind of feedback your lawyer might give you:
- If you are still in pain and you haven’t seen a doctor, they will advise you to see one.
- Your lawyer may decide not to take on your personal injury case. They might decide not to take your case because they have family commitments, they have too much work, your case is not their area of specialty or they don’t think you have a case. It’s better to know this information as early as possible so that you can look for another lawyer as soon as possible.
- They might decide to take your case. They will call you later to discuss your legal options but this shouldn’t worry you…it’s just common practice.
- They might refer you to another lawyer if they can’t take your case.
It’s very important that you don’t speak about your case to anyone. If you have any questions, refer them to your lawyer to avoid compromising your case.
2. Filing Initial Court Papers
These papers are known as pleadings. The first paper to be filed is a complaint. This is an outline of your case against the person at fault. The document contains the following:
- The parties involved
- Your legal claims
- The legal basis for the court over the case
- The facts behind your claim
- Demand for judgement
You file a complaint to give the person at fault notice of the legal and factual basis of your claims. The facts in your complaint are based on your own knowledge.
The person liable for your injuries will then be summoned by the court. The summon is a document that requires them to either have the case dismissed or file an answer. It has a time limit within which they must respond to the summon…if they fail to respond to it on time, they will be held in default.
3. Establishing Facts In The Case
This is the part where you get information from each other to establish the facts of your case. This is accomplished through a process known as discovery. Discovery takes three forms:
- Interrogatories: this is where you will be asked questions so as to establish your claims and version of facts. Some of the questions asked can be difficult to understand or unfair. You lawyer will help you decide what you should and shouldn’t answer.
- Document production: this is where you both produce documents related to the case.
- Deposition: A deposition is a sworn statement where you will answer questions from a personal injury attorney and a court reporter will make a transcript. There are three reasons why lawyers do depositions. First, they do it lock you into your story. Second, they do it to see what the other person has and thirdly, they do it as some sort of “practice trial”.
There are a few things that you will need for your deposition which your lawyer will inform you. You should never provide any additional information during your deposition even if it seems like the most logical thing to do. It’s understandable that there are some questions that require additional information but resist the urge to provide it.
4. Filing A Pretrial Motion
Your lawyer will file a request with the court asking for a ruling on a particular issue. Pretrial motions usually resolve many important issues about your case. The following are some motions that might end your case before trial:
- Motion to Dismiss: this is sometimes filed in the early stages of your claim…before you even conduct discovery. The person liable for your injuries might file a motion to dismiss if they believe your complaint is legally invalid.
- Summary Judgement Motion: this is where your case ends before trial. It usually happens when the facts presented are not in dispute so there will be no need for a trial.
- Motion For Default Judgement: A defendant is held in default if they fail to answer to a complaint or to file a motion to dismiss when summoned. You can ask the court clerk to file an entry of default if the defendant is in default. Being in default is very serious
- Sua Sponte Dismissal: This usually happens when a judge issues a court dismissal that was not requested by any of you. The judge may do this if they believe there is a problem with the case.
5. The Settlement
Many personal injury cases settle before they even go to trial. Once you settle your case, you give up any rights to take the case to trial. You should always talk to an attorney before you decide to settle a case.
Your lawyer might decide to take your case to trial if you do not agree with the defendant how much you should be paid for damages or if the defendant’s insurance adjustor refuses to offer you compensation because they believe your claim is not legally valid.
Here’s some more information about settling your personal injury case.
6. The Trial
This is your chance to argue your case and obtain a judgement against the defendant. It is also the defendant’s chance to refute your case. After you have both presented your arguments, the judge or jury will decide if the defendant is liable for your injuries and how much they should pay in compensation.
7. Collecting Your Money
You might be awarded money damages after you win your case. In some cases, the defendant might refuse to pay you because they cannot afford to or they choose not to. In such a case, you will need to take extra steps to collect your compensation.
Ask A Personal Injury Lawyer For A Free Consultation
These steps might be confusing for anyone who doesn’t understand the law no matter how educated they are. Speak to a seasoned attorney who will be able to help you make sense of the steps of a personal injury claim and give you a list of options.