What are the Stages of a Personal Injury Case?
Depending on the case, personal injury litigation can take many different forms. They are often to complicated to cover every possible situation in a single blog post but knowing these basic steps may help you better understand the process.
- You are injured in an accident: Collect as much information about the accident as possible. Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of everyone involved. Take photographs of the scene if before it changes. Most importantly, get medical attention as soon as possible.
- Find a Personal Injury Lawyer: You will meet with them and provide as much information as you can. Your attorney will request medical records, police reports and other information need to move your case forward.
- Collect and Demand: After your attorney has all of the information they need they will prepare a demand letter to submit to the insurance company and the other party. The demand letter will state all of your damages to date and the anticipated future damages that you may suffer. Your attorney will set a reasonable deadline for the insurance company t respond. If a response is not received by the deadline or if the demand is rejected, your attorney will begin preparing for the litigation process.
- Filing a Complaint: The complaint starts the lawsuit and puts the other side on notice as to what they are being sued for and the general basis on which you seek to recover damages. After it is filed, the complaint must be served on the other side and they have 30 days to file a response.
- Discovery: Discovery is a sort of fact-finding process in which they parties request and provide each other with information about your case. This may include written discovery, depositions and medical examinations amount other things.
- Motions: Before you go to trial there is a potential for several rounds of motions and oppositions between the parties. These motions are necessary to sort out any number of issues before trial. Not every case requires pre-trial motions but it is not uncommon. Your attorney will advise you if pre-trial motions are necessary.
- Settlement Negotiations: Typically, before you actually go to trial, your attorney will attempt to settle the matter with the insurance company and other parties. In fact, in California most courts require personal injury cases to go through some formal form of alternative dispute resolution. It could be private mediation or a mandatory settlement conference sponsored by the court. Settlement tends to be better for all concerned because it does not tie up courts and it doesn’t add the expense of a court trial. Another benefit to settling your personal injury case before trial is that the parties have more control over the outcome. If you go to trial a judge and jury will decide the outcome.
- Trial: Formal trial involves the presentation of physical evidence as well as oral testimonies that serve to support or discredit the parties’ cases. The parties’ lawyers use the evidence to support their own arguments and legal theories. This stage also includes opening and closing arguments
- Judgment Collections: If you were only up against an insurance company and that insurance company covered all of your claim there is usually no problem collecting your award. However, personal injury damages often go beyond the coverage of limits of the insurance policy. If that occurs, you will have to go after the assets of the person who caused your injuries to collect the rest.
- Distribution: After the settlement or trial, the insurance company will usually write a check made payable to both you and your attorney. Your attorney will deposit the check into his or her trust account. Now, your attorney must settle all of your medical bills and pay off any other liens or obligations created on your behalf and deduct the cost of your legal representation and attorneys fees. After everything has been settled, the attorney will distribute the remaining money to you. People are sometimes surprised by the final amount of the distribution but, the reality is if you win $100,000 but, you have $99,999.99 in medical bills, there just isn’t that much left over to distribute. Thankfully, that is not usually the case and most clients will walk away tidy sum of money.
The above timeline can be broken in the three stages referred to in the related video and it should give you a general understanding of the personal injury case process.