Every accident and injury is different, but the stages of a personal injury lawsuit usually stay pretty much the same. These eight steps are typical of most personal injury cases.
Step 1: Seek Medical Attention
If you’ve been injured during an accident, you should seek appropriate medical care right away. Often injuries can be more serious than they look so you want to make sure you’re in good health. Additionally, seeking immediate treatment is important for your claim. If you don’t get treatment right away, the defendant’s attorney may try to argue your injuries weren’t serious or not related to your accident.
Make sure you retain copies of the following:
Keep a record of all your expenses, including any lost wages due to missed work, if it’s related to your injuries. Keep copies of all bills and payments.
Step 2: Meet with an Attorney
While many accidents can be handled directly through an insurance company, you should seek the help of an experienced personal injury attorney under the following conditions:
- medical bills run thousands of dollars
- injuries include broken bones
- missed a significant amount of work due to your injuries
You should talk to several lawyers to find one you feel comfortable with and who you feel will be able to do a good job representing you. Most initial consultations are free, and during the consultation the lawyer should be able to tell you whether or not you have a case. Once it’s determined you have a viable case, then the attorney will discuss their fee structure with you.
Step 3: Filing
This step involves the exchange of 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.
Step 4: Discovery and Fact-Finding
This step involves the exchange of information between opposing parties, in order to establish the facts surrounding the personal injury. Your lawyer will ask you about facts related to the case, including:
- details about the accident
- injuries and medical treatment
- medical expenses and records
After reviewing this information, your lawyer will decide whether to make a demand and attempt to settle the case out of court or file a lawsuit.
Step 5: Motions to Dismiss
These motions set the “ground rules” that each party has to follow during trial. Many cases get resolved by Motions to Dismiss, when the court decides the case won’t go to trial.
Step 6: Settle out of Court
More personal injury lawsuits are settled before they ever go to trial. However, in many cases, the parties can’t reach an agreement and have to proceed to trial.
Step 7: Go to Trial
Presentation of physical evidence, oral testimonies (by witnesses and experts), presentation of evidence to support arguments, legal theories, opening and closing arguments are all done during trial, culminating in the a jury’s verdict.
Step 8: Collect Money after Judgment
When the judge issues a final judgment, it usually includes a monetary damages award that the defendant must pay to the plaintiff to compensate them for their personal injuries.
Step 9: Appeal a Decision or Judgment
In most personal injury cases, if a legal error has been made, either party may appeal the decision.