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The 10 Steps of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Here’s what to expect when you litigate a personal injury claim

No two personal injury lawsuits are alike. Every case has its own set of circumstances that influences how a personal injury claim ultimately plays out. A good lawyer can guide you through the personal injury process as you navigate everything, including settlement negotiations, counteroffers, and even a potential trial. Still, it's good to have an idea of what to expect before you embark on this long journey.

The steps laid out below serve as a broad roadmap of the personal injury process. Not every case that is filed will complete all ten steps. Most personal injury lawsuits are settled before ever going to trial.

For a more accurate timeline of your own personal injury case, consider attending a free consultation with an attorney in your area. In the meantime, here are ten common steps in a personal injury lawsuit:

Step 1: An Injury Occurs

Personal injury lawsuits are typically filed by accident victims. If the accident victim is unable to take legal action due to disability or death, their loved ones may do so on their behalf. Common causes of personal injury claims are car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, and slip and fall accidents.

In this step, the victim receives medical care for their injuries and incurs costs as a result. With medical expenses piling up, accident victims turn to personal injury lawyers to hold the at-fault party responsible.

Step 2: The Injured Party Hires a Personal Injury Attorney

Here, the injured party seeks a personal injury attorney to represent them in court. Accident victims attending an initial consultation with a personal injury attorney can expect to be asked questions about the facts of their case. An attorney will provide a case evaluation and advise on the likelihood of success in filing a lawsuit.

Step 3: The Lawyer Investigates

If the personal injury attorney feels the injured party has a viable case, they'll conduct a preliminary investigation to learn more. At this stage, and for the sake of your attorney-client relationship, it's essential to be as forthright as possible with information. Your attorney will dig into the facts of your case, your medical treatment, and the extent of your injuries. They might even ask to review your medical records and any police reports you have access to.

Step 4: The Parties Negotiate Before Filing

This is the step where many personal injury claims settle before the lawsuit is ever filed.

In this step, the victim has become the plaintiff, and the attorney is now actively working on their behalf. The personal injury attorney sends a demand letter to the party allegedly responsible for the injury, also known as the defendant. Alternatively, the attorney can make their demand to the responsible party's insurance company. This demand states the plaintiff's injuries and, you guessed it, demands relief for the harm caused.

Here, the plaintiff and defendant can engage in settlement negotiations that can potentially end the case before the lawsuit is filed. If the parties do not agree on a settlement, the case then enters the litigation stage.

Step 5: The Plaintiff's Lawyer Files a Claim

If the parties have not settled, this step is where the personal injury case reaches civil court. Here, the plaintiff's attorney files a personal injury claim in court naming the at-fault party as the defendant. This begins the pre-trial process.

Personal injury is governed by state law, and plaintiffs must file their cases before the requisite time limit, also known as a statute of limitations. Your attorney will have experience with your state's personal injury laws and can advise you on this matter.

Step 6: Parties Begin the Discovery Process

Discovery is a crucial phase of the pre-trial process. This is where both sides review each other's arguments and evidence. Here, the parties question each other through "interrogatories." These inquiries typically ask for documents or seek clarity on specific facts or claims. Both sides can also conduct "depositions," which are court-ordered, fact-finding testimonials.

The discovery process can take a substantial amount of time (up to one year), depending on the circumstances of the case.

Step 7: The Parties Engage in Settlement Negotiations

After discovery has wrapped up, the parties will often come together to again discuss a potential settlement to the case. It's typical for one party to make a settlement offer, and the other party responds with a counteroffer. This is the last chance during pre-trial for the parties to avoid a trial.

Mediation

Sometimes at this stage, either by choice or at the court's urging, parties can enter a process known as "mediation." In mediation, the parties seek the help of a neutral third party that hears both sides and attempts to bring a satisfactory resolution.

Step 8: Trial Begins

If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, a trial will be scheduled in civil court. A personal injury trial can range from several weeks to several months in length. The case's outcome will be decided either by the presiding judge or a jury. They will determine whether the defendant caused the plaintiff's injuries and how much the defendant must pay to the plaintiff.

Step 9: Post-Judgement Collection

Once a court grants a judgment to a plaintiff, the plaintiff can seek to collect that judgment from the defendant. If the defendant does not pay, the plaintiff can attempt to enforce the judgment through additional steps such as garnishing the defendant's wages and bank account.

Step 10: Appealing the Decision

After the trial has concluded, either party will be able to file an appeal to the court decision. However, be warned. An appeals process can drag out for years potentially, costing additional time and money. Any party considering an appeal should weigh out the pros and cons with their attorney.

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