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.

Steps of a Personal Injury Case

Initial Consultation

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.

Summons & Complaint

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:

  • The identities of the parties involved
  • The legal basis for the court’s jurisdiction over the lawsuit
  • The nature of your accident and injuries
  • The legal basis for holding the defendant liable
  • The types of damages that you are seeking
  • The facts related to the legal claims

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.

Discovery

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:

  • Interrogatories Interrogatories are specific questions submitted by one party to the other. The responding party must answer the questions under oath and in writing. Because attorneys may help their clients answer interrogatories, interrogatory responses tend to be more finely crafted than answers to deposition questions.
  • Requests for Production Requests for production are similar to interrogatories, except instead of asking questions, one party asks the other to produce copies of relevant documents in their possession. When served with the request, the other party is obligated to find all of the documents listed in the request within reason.
  • Requests for AdmissionA request for admission is a discovery device that allows one party to request that another party admit or deny the truth of a statement under oath. If admitted, the statement is considered to be true for all purposes of the current trial.
  • DepositionsA deposition is a witness's sworn out-of-court testimony. At a deposition, the attorney for one party will ask the other party (or a witness) questions. The deposition has two purposes: To find out what the witness knows and to preserve that witness' testimony. The intent is to allow the parties to learn all of the facts before the trial, so that no one is surprised once that witness is on the stand.
  • Physical ExaminationA mental or physical examination of a party whose condition is an issue in the case may be authorized by the in the exercise of its discretion.

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.

PRETRIAL MOTIONS & HEARINGS

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:

  • Motion for summary judgment
  • Motion for default judgment
  • Motion for change of venue
  • Motion to compel

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.

PRETRIAL NEGOTIATIONS

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:

  • SettlementOnce discovery is complete, the lawyers in a case will generally discuss settlement. These settlement discussions may take the form of a simple conversation between the lawyers over the telephone, and may include written offers and counteroffers.
  • Mediation If the lawyers do not resolve the case by talking to one another, they will sometimes bring in a neutral third party to help. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that can be requested at any time during the court case. It involves both parties, their attorneys, and a neutral mediator who acts like a referee between the parties. During mediation, both sides present their case and engage in settlement negotiations as facilitated by the mediator. Mediation is non-binding, which means that either of the parties can accept or reject the offer.
  • ArbitrationArbitration is an adversarial proceeding in which the parties select a neutral third party, called an "arbitrator," to resolve their dispute. Arbitration is different from mediation because the neutral arbitrator has the authority to make a decision about the dispute. The arbitration process is similar to a trial in that the parties make opening statements and present evidence to the arbitrator, who then decides which party wins. The arbitration process may be either binding or non-binding. Parties that agree to settle their dispute using binding arbitration typically cannot appeal the arbitrator's ruling to a court.

GOING TO TRIAL

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:

  • Jury Selection
  • Opening Statements
  • Witness Testimony & Cross-Examination
  • Closing Arguments
  • Jury Instruction & Deliberation
  • Reading of the Verdict

POST-TRIAL & COLLECTING YOUR SETTLEMENT

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.

GET HELP FROM AN EXPERIENCED PERSONAL INJURY LAWYER TODAY

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, P.C. 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.

Contact us at 251-433-3131 or here on our website to get started.

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