Personal injury lawsuits are an important recourse in our legal system for individuals who have been hurt due to another person’s negligence. But how do these cases actually work? It’s not much like what you’ve probably seen on TV. Here’s a simple breakdown:
Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
- The Plaintiff Is Injured
The beginning of any personal injury lawsuit, predictably, is a personal injury. If the plaintiff cannot prove that he or she has been injured, then there will be no case.
- The Plaintiff Hires an Attorney
In almost all cases exceeding the limits by small claims court, the plaintiff hires an attorney for personal injury cases. That’s because without personal injury attorneys, it’s very difficult to navigate the system and get a fair settlement.
- A Complaint Is Filed
Once the plaintiff hires an attorney, that attorney does some preliminary fact-checking and ensures that there are no procedural reasons the case cannot go forward (statute of limitations, etc.). Then a complaint — the very first document of the case — is filed.
- The Defendant Is Served
Although the statute of limitations for filing a complaint may be quite brief, the plaintiff’s attorney usually has a month or even longer to find the defendant in real life and “serve” him or her with the papers. The defendant will then have the chance to hire a lawyer, too.
- The Discovery Process Ensues
In the period before the trial, the two sides look at each other’s evidence. Then they will go to court to set a trial date, or to agree to an alternative resolution method such as mediation or arbitration.
- The Trial Takes Place
During the actual trial, both sides present their evidence, and the judge or jury decides where the personal injury liability lies. There are appeals processes if either side feels that the decision made is incorrect, which is why the whole process can take months or even years.
A Note on Settlements
Very few personal injury lawsuits actually take all the steps listed above. In most cases, the two sides will agree at some point on a settlement. This is often in everyone’s best interest, since the litigation process is lengthy and can be costly. If you are involved in a personal injury case, you should speak to your attorney about when it is to your advantage to settle and when it’s to your advantage to go to court.