If you were wrongfully injured, the process of hiring a personal injury attorney and preparing a case for trial may seem daunting. Understanding your legal rights and navigating through legal jargon to determine your role in the legal proceedings can be overwhelming.
However, if another person’s careless or reckless conduct caused your injuries, you could be entitled to compensation for economic damages. You could also receive compensation for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering.
In any case, the factor that determines whether you have a valid claim is whether you can prove it was another person’s or entity’s fault. A personal injury claim is primarily based on the fact that another person caused your injury. You will also need to prove that your injuries are real and that they occurred during the accident or event.
Car accidents are the most common cause of personal injury claims. Other types of claims include medical malpractice, defective products, slips and falls, workplace injuries, and intentional acts of injury such as nursing home abuse.
Although cases differ in complexity, most generally follow the same legal steps. To pursue a financial recovery, you would need to go through the following personal injury claims process.
Whether you intend to hire a lawyer or not, talking to an attorney is one of the most valuable things you can do. The first step of the process begins with meeting a lawyer for a consultation. Most personal injury law firms, including our own firm, provide this initial review of your case at no charge.
During the consultation, you will discuss the details of your case, including the nature and extent of your injuries. The lawyer will likely ask you a series of questions. You should also have the opportunity to ask your own questions, too. You’ll also get a clear sense of whether you have a valid injury case at all—and the steps ahead that you need to plan for.
The lawyer can advise you on the best course of action to take in your case and describe the types of compensation that may be available to you. You and the lawyer should also discuss attorney’s fees. For instance, here at our law firm, we work with personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis. This means that our clients pay us nothing, unless we secure a financial recovery for them.
If you decide that you are prepared to move forward with filing a personal injury lawsuit, your attorney will file and serve a complaint and all other required documents. The party you sue will be listed as the defendant on the complaint. You will be listed as the plaintiff.
The complaint typically includes the following information:
Once the complaint and summons are filed with the court and served, the defendant must respond within a certain amount of time. The defendant’s response to the complaint is called the “answer.” The answer addresses each portion of the complaint by admitting or denying the allegations.
An answer may also set forth various defenses (legal reasons why the defendant should not be held liable for the plaintiff’s damages). In some instances, the defendant will want to assert their own claims, called a “counterclaim,” which they can include in their answer.
Once the initial pleadings (complaint, summons, answer, counterclaim, etc.) have been filed, the parties begin the process of obtaining evidence from each other called “discovery.” The idea behind discovery is that both parties should have access to all relevant information.
During discovery, your lawyer will send a list of questions, or interrogatories, to the defendant. The lawyer may also submit a request for documents. Both sides may also take depositions, or sworn statements.
However, each party does not just automatically hand over all evidence. Instead, each party must request the information they want. There are 5 main tools used to request information in a personal injury case:
Keep in mind that discovery questions and requests must lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. If a question or request is improper, wholly irrelevant to the case, or privileged, the responding party can object.
Attorneys typically use pretrial motions to compel the other side to provide evidence. However, attorneys may also file motions that are aimed at resolving a case before it goes to trial.
Before the trial begins, parties may use motions to ask the court to rule or act. If a ruling on a motion could result in a termination of the lawsuit, it’s called a “dispositive motion.” If a ruling is instead on some incidental question, it’s called a “non-dispositive motion.
Common motions in personal injury cases include:
In some instances, the defendant’s attorney may file a motion to dismiss all or part of a lawsuit based on jurisdiction or a lack of evidence. The plaintiff’s attorney, on the other hand, may file a motion for summary judgment. This motion would argue that the facts in the case are undisputed, and the judge should, in turn, grant immediate relief.
Trials are expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally draining. As a result, good attorneys for both sides will typically try to negotiate in order to resolve a case before it goes to trial.
There are 3 primary ways to do this:
If the parties fail to reach a settlement, a personal injury case will go to trial. When a case goes to trial, your attorney presents his or her side to the judge or jury, followed by the defense of the party who injured you. After each side presents their arguments, the judge or jury determines: (1) if the defendant is liable (legally responsible) for your injuries and harm, and (2) if so, the amount of damages the defendant must pay you.
A personal injury trial usually consists of six phases:
After you reach a settlement with the other side or a court enters a judgment in your favor, your lawyer will go through the process of collecting the funds, including the funds owed to you.
Unfortunately, the defendant (now known as the “debtor”) doesn’t always comply with the court order and pay the amount of the judgment. The defendant may file a post-trial motion that seeks to set aside that judgment or reduce the amount of damages that a jury awarded to you.
The defendant could also pursue an appeal, which involves asking a higher court to determine whether any legal errors occurred at the trial. If a decision is appealed, each party will have an opportunity to submit a brief to the appellate court.
After reviewing the briefs and the record, the appellate court will release an opinion. The opinion will either affirm the verdict made by the trial court or find an error, in which case the appellate court may reverse the verdict or order a new trial.
The personal injury lawsuit process is complex, with many twists and turns, each requiring expert decision-making skills on the part of a skilled attorney. It is important to ensure your personal injury attorney has expertise in cases like yours and a proven track record of success. And since your lawsuit may last for months to years, make sure you have a good rapport with your attorney.
Remember, you have only one opportunity to get the compensation you deserve for your injuries or loss, and having the right attorney on your side can mean the difference between winning and losing your lawsuit.
Founded more than 30 years ago, the law firm of Taylor Martino Rowan is as passionate about representing personal injury victims in Alabama and Mississippi today, as when we first opened our doors.
If you have a case you would like to speak to an attorney about, request a free case evaluation today and our experienced team of lawyers will begin working immediately on your behalf.