While every personal injury case is different because of the people involved and the details of the case, the process itself is fairly standard. If you’ve been in an accident and are considering taking your claim to court, you should understand the process. Your injury attorney should walk you through each step in detail, but we’ll help you get a general understanding of what to expect.
Finding a Personal Injury LawyerBefore there can be a personal injury claim or case, there must be an accident that caused the injury. You’ve been hurt, tried to work it out with the insurance company or the other party, and you’re not satisfied with the options you’ve got. Choosing a personal injury attorney is a decision only you can make. Set up a consultation appointment, and make sure you feel good about the person you work with. This will be a long process, and you want to have faith in the lawyer and practice you work with.
Investigation and Review of Medical RecordsOnce you’ve chosen an attorney, it’s time to sit down and talk about what’s going on. Your personal injury attorney will want to review all the details of the situation to determine if there’s a possible case at all. They’re going to ask lots of questions to understand exactly what happened from your perspective. Answer them as completely as you can and be honest. No attorney wants to be surprised later when they’re working on your behalf. They will also review your medical records and bills pertaining to the accident. They may also ask for your previous medical records, especially if this is an old aggravated injury.
Possible Settlement?The quickest, easiest solution is not to go to court and settle with the other party without a lawsuit. This saves you time and money and gives you a quicker resolution. If it’s an option, try for a settlement. Your attorney may make a demand to the other attorney or insurance company for a settlement. It doesn’t always work, but it may be worth a shot. Your lawyer will base their advice about a settlement on the facts of your particular claim.
Maximum Medical ImprovementYour attorney will wait to file a lawsuit or demand a settlement until you’re at maximum medical improvement (MMI). This means you’re as healthy as you’re going to get, and you don’t require further treatment. Until you’re at MMI, there’s no way of knowing what your case is worth. If you’ve still got surgery, treatment, prescription medication, rehabilitation, and lost wages ahead of you, you won’t get what you’re owed.
File a LawsuitIf the settlement demand doesn’t work, the next option is to file a lawsuit. It must be filed within a certain time period, known as the statute of limitations. File too late, and your case will get dismissed. This is why it’s important to find a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after your injury. The pretrial procedures can easily take one to two years to complete before the trial. Papers have to be served to the defendant to let them know about the case and give them a court date to appear. There may be motions filed to dismiss all or part of the case. All of this takes time.
Discovery and Fact-FindingOnce the lawsuit is in motion, it’s time to get the facts of the case. Each side -- plaintiff and defendant -- investigates the legal claim and potential defense. The attorneys for both sides ask a lot of questions, request documents, and take depositions from potential witnesses. This process can take six months to a year to complete.
Settlement, Mediation, or TrialIn the middle of this process, it’s not uncommon for attorneys to discuss a possible settlement. This means you don’t have to go all the way to trial and may get paid sooner. You may also go to mediation. A third party (the mediator) helps both sides and your lawyers work together to find a settlement you can agree on. If that doesn’t work, you go to trial. The trial process isn’t usually as dramatic as you see on television. Each case follows the same basic order:
- Jury selection
- Opening arguments
- Testimony from witnesses
- Closing arguments
- Verdict from jury