Personal injury lawsuits can take many different forms depending on each case. They can often involve a complex interaction of different laws and regulations. If you have been involved in a personal injury claim, it is often helpful to understand the different stages of a personal injury lawsuit. That way, you have a basic understanding of what to expect in the upcoming trial.
It is also important to understand that the personal injury laws of each state may be very different from one another. However, generally speaking, every personal injury lawsuit will involve the following stages:
- Initial Meeting with Lawyer: This is where the injured party (the plaintiff) first meets with their personal injury lawyer. The purpose is to determine whether the victim has a valid claim that will survive in court, and to identify which laws may be applicable to the facts of the situation
- Filing: If the victim decides to pursue a civil lawsuit in court, they can file with the proper court. This stage involves the exchange of many documents between the parties, such as Complaints, Answers, and motions. It is here that the offender is served with “Notice” informing them of the upcoming lawsuit
- Discovery and Fact-Finding: Discovery and fact-finding is the process through which the opposing parties obtain information from each other, in order to establish the facts surrounding the personal injury. Some information is “privileged”, meaning that the opposing party cannot access the information
- Pre-Trial Motion: Before trial formally begins, the parties have a chance to file preliminary motions. These motions serve to set the “ground rules” that the parties must follow during litigation. Pre-trial motions can be very powerful- they can sometimes put an end to the claim even before the trial even begins
- Settlement / Negotiations: Some personal injury claims can also be resolved before trial through a settlement process or negotiation process. This can often save the parties valuable time and resources. However, in many cases, the parties can’t reach an agreement and must continue with the trial
- 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
- Collecting on the Court Judgment: After the arguments, the jury will deliberate and the judge will issue a final judgment. This may involve a monetary damages award that the defendant must pay to the plaintiff to compensate them for their personal injuries
- Appeal: In most personal injury lawsuits, either party may appeal if there has been some sort of legal error or dispute. Factual errors usually cannot form the basis of an appeal- the error must be legal in nature (for example, the wrong law was applied)
Thus, the stages of a personal injury lawsuit form a sort of “timeline”, which can be useful when organizing a trial strategy. Each stage revolves around specific goals that the parties are trying to fulfill. It is also helpful to divide personal injury lawsuits into larger stages, such as Pre-trial, Mid-Trial, and Post-Trial stages.
At Which Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit Do Most Disputes Occur?
Technically speaking, disputes can (and do) occur at every stage of a personal injury lawsuit. Of course, most of the disputes will be presented and resolved during formal trial. However, it is common for disputes to arise at seemingly straight-forward stages of the lawsuit. For example, it is common for disputes to arise during the discovery process.
During discovery, each party may be required to produce certain information, such as hospital documents, damage receipts, or work stubs. At times it can be difficult to obtain such information, as one party might claim that they don’t “need” to share the information with the other party. A “motion to compel” may be necessary, which is basically a court-order instructing a party to hand the information over to the other party.
Also, disputes commonly arise due to difficulties in collecting on a judgment. Oftentimes a defendant may have trouble paying the damages award, especially if they are in debt or bankrupt. In some instances it may be necessary to seek a court injunction requiring the defendant to sell some property so that they can pay the judgment award. Garnishment of wages is sometimes necessary as well.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
A lawyer can be of much help at all stages of any personal injury lawsuit. Your lawyer can help provide advice on your situation in light of the injury laws of your state. Even if the claim doesn’t reach the trial stage, a lawyer is often necessary during negotiations and settlements. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you obtain the property remedy for your losses.