Your personal injury lawyer works diligently to settle your car accident claim or another injury claim as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most claims for personal injury settle without filing a lawsuit. Some cases might need to go to trial.
Each personal injury case is unique. There is not a standard format that is followed in all personal injury cases.
However, we discuss a general overview of personal injury cases below to help you understand the general steps to filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Initial Consultation With a Personal Injury Lawyer
The first step is to meet with a personal injury attorney to discuss what happened to you. The lawyer needs to understand how the motorcycle crash, pedestrian accident, or other incident occurred that caused your injury.
After sustaining an injury, it is essential to discuss your case with a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer analyzes your claim to determine if another party’s negligence could be responsible for causing your injury.
The attorney discusses your legal rights and your options for seeking compensation from the party who caused your injuries.
Investigating the Claim
Before a personal injury lawsuit is filed, a personal injury lawyer must do a lot of work. A thorough and comprehensive investigation must be completed. Steps in a personal injury investigation can include:
- Obtaining and reviewing copies of accident reports and police reports
- Obtaining and reviewing copies of medical records
- Searching for eyewitnesses and taking statements
- Searching for videos and photographs of the accident
- Researching applicable case law and statutes
- Retaining medical experts, accident reconstructionists, engineers, and other experts in a variety of fields
- Examining potential defenses, such as contributory negligence and pre-existing conditions
- Obtaining data from a vehicle’s black box, as in the case of truck accidents
The type of personal injury case also dictates some of the steps during the investigation. During the investigation, your lawyer also identifies each party who might be liable for your injury. For instance, in a medical malpractice claim, the doctor, medical facility, and lab might all share responsibility for your injuries.
Your lawyer also identifies each insurance provider that might have policies that cover the incident. Your attorney files claims and places the insurance companies on notice of potential liability.
Preparation of a Settlement Demand Package
After completing the accident investigation and gathering evidence, your attorney prepares a settlement demand package. The settlement demand package includes a summary of the facts of the case. It also includes an explanation of how the applicable laws hold the at-fault party liable for your damages.
The settlement demand package includes a detailed description of your injuries and damages. The attorney includes a demand for the full value of your personal injury case.
The insurance provider or other party can accept the settlement demand, reject the demand, or make a counteroffer. In many cases, the insurance company makes a counteroffer. Your lawyer begins negotiations to settle the claim for a fair amount.
Some cases might involve mediation, which can help the parties settle the claim without filing a personal injury lawsuit. If the other party refuses to agree to a fair settlement, your lawyer may advise you to proceed with a personal injury lawsuit.
Steps in Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
The steps in a lawsuit might differ slightly, but generally, filing a lawsuit involves:
Preparing and Filing the Complaint
A personal injury lawsuit begins with the filing of a complaint with the appropriate Maryland court. The complaint outlines the facts of the case and the legal allegations of fault and liability. The complaint includes specific references to case law and statutes that relate to the case.
The complaint is served on all defendants (parties liable for the victim’s injuries). The defendants have a specific number of days to respond to the complaint. The response is referred to as an “answer.”
If the defendant includes counterclaims (allegations against the victim), the victim (plaintiff) also has a specific number of days to respond to the counterclaim’s allegations.
If the defendant fails to respond to the complaint, the plaintiff files a motion for default judgment. The judge hears the plaintiff’s evidence and determines if there is sufficient proof to find the defendant liable for damages.
After all parties respond to the initial pleadings in the case, the case enters the discovery phase. During discovery, each party gathers additional evidence and information to use at trial.
The parties may take depositions of each party in the case, witnesses, and expert witnesses. Parties might also submit questions (interrogatories) to each other that must be answered under oath. Requests to produce documents and requests for admissions are also tools used during the discovery phase.
Before or after pre-trial motions and hearings, the parties may enter settlement negotiations. Some personal injury lawsuits settle after the parties have a chance to learn more about the evidence the other party has to present at trial.
For example, an insurance company might decide that a jury might award a higher amount at trial because the plaintiff’s evidence is more convincing than the defendant’s evidence. Therefore, the insurance company determines the risk of loss is greater if it takes the case to court.
Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings
Each party has the chance to file pre-trial motions. Motions might include the admissibility of evidence or testimony from certain witnesses. Motions could include the submission of expert testimony.
Parties might also file motions for the judge to decide the case based on the pleadings filed. The defendant might request a dismissal because the plaintiff has failed to establish a legal cause of action.
At the trial, the plaintiff presents evidence first. The defendant presents its case last. Both attorneys make opening and closing statements.
The judge explains the jurors’ duties and the laws applicable in the case. The jurors use the evidence presented to decide the case. Jurors can believe or discount evidence based on their judgment.
Post-Trial Motions and Appeals
If either party disagrees with the jury’s verdict, the party can file post-trial motions to overturn the verdict or file an appeal. An appeal could take years to work through the courts.
There are No Guarantees in a Personal Injury Trial
A personal injury attorney cannot offer any guarantees. However, an experienced lawyer can provide reasoned, sound legal advice based on the facts in your case, the applicable laws, and the attorney’s experience handle cases similar to your case.
When you hire an attorney to file a personal injury lawsuit, search for a lawyer with substantial experience handling cases involving the same issues as your case. Also, search for a lawyer who restricts his practice to handling personal injury claims. You want an attorney who has a thorough understanding of personal injury laws and has a high success rate inside and outside of the courtroom to handle your case.