Please understand that hiring an attorney doesn’t automatically land you in court. The vast majority of personal injury cases settle without having to file a lawsuit. Even if a lawsuit is filed, the case can be resolved prior to court. A case can even be settledafter a trial has begun. With that in mind, if you do enter a lawsuit, here is what to expect.
A lawsuit is initiated by a complaint. The Complaint states the facts, i.e., out how someone was injured, who injured them, and why this person is now entitled to a monetary recovery. The person filing the lawsuit is the Plaintiff. The person or company being sued is the Defendant. Once the lawsuit is filed, it must be served on the defendant. The defendant must be served before the lawsuit can move forward.
Once service is made, the defendant has a certain number of days to file an Answer to the Complaint. In his or her answer, the defendant will either admit or deny what the plaintiff alleged in his or her complaint.
After the answer is filed, the parties will engage in discovery. Discovery is the process by which the parties will exchange information about each other. This exchange of information will include much of the parties’ medical and personal histories, each party’s version of the incident, as well as the names of witnesses to the incident or injury. This exchange is conducted primarily via written questions (interrogatories) and oral depositions. The discovery phase can take anywhere from six months to several years depending on the size of the case and the amount of information.
The discovery phase is fairly exhaustive.The defendant will be permitted access to your medical and work history, including your income records. You may have to give a deposition under oath, and you may be required to submit to a medical examination by a physician of the defendant's choosing.
Once discovery is concluded, defendants typically try to file motions to reduce or eliminate their liability. These motions are called Motions for Summary Judgment or Motions to Dismiss.
If the defendant motions are not granted, the case will most likely be scheduled for mediation. Mediation is required in many jurisdictions. During mediation, the parties present their case to an impartial mediator who attempts to broker a settlement between the parties. If the mediation is not successful, you will then proceed to trial.
At trial, witnesses will be questioned and re-questioned, many of the documents turned over during discovery will be admitted and argued over, and at the end of the day the jury will retire to reach its verdict. Trials can take anywhere from hours to weeks or to months. Your presence will be required during all phases of trial.
This process can be overbearing, and that’s why it is absolutely imperative that you have a personal injury attorney who is well trained and experienced.
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