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Personal injury is a legal term for an injury to the body, mind or emotions. The term is most commonly used to refer to a type of lawsuit alleging that the plaintiff’s injury has been caused by the negligence of another . The most common types of personal injury claims are road traffic accidents, accidents at work, tripping accidents, assault claims, accidents in the home and product defect accidents (product liability). The term personal injury also incorporates medical negligence claims.
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. Generally, every personal injury lawsuit will involve the following stages:
Stages of a Personal Injury Case
- Meeting with an Attorney
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 potential claim that will survive in court, and to identify which laws may be applicable to the facts of the situation. If it is decided by the lawyer that the claim has merit, the lawyer will agree to accept the case to make a preliminary evaluation. The preliminary evaluation can take many months to complete, as considerable investigation and legal research may be necessary to determine whether the claim has merit. After carefully researching and investigating the claim, if it is decided that the claim has merit, the next step will be to file the necessary paperwork with the proper court.
- Initial Filing/Pleading phase
The initial papers filed with the court by the plaintiff is a complaint. The complaint is also provided to the offender/defendant which prompts an exchange of other documents including an Answer and motions.
- Discovery: Fact finding and research
During this step, both the Plaintiff and Defendant gathers relevant information to support their side of the case which includes the exchange of documents and information between the parties. The information exchanged relates to their claim and/or defenses to the claim. A plaintiff is expected to provide information related to their injuries, any prior injuries, documents that relate to out of pocket expenses and what expenses will be in the future. There is also written discovery which includes interrogatories (questions) which both sides ask of the other requiring your version of the facts, the basis of your claim and what are your damages.
- Depositions occur during this phase of the case. A deposition is the sworn statement testimony of an individual. Depositions are sworn statements, when a person will answer questions from an attorney, and a court reporter will make a transcript of all that is said. Depositions can range in length from an hour to a week or more. Although all attorneys have their own strategies for depositions, there are basically two reasons to use them: to see what the other side has, and to do a “practice trial,” that is, to see how a witness will appear and conduct themselves before a judge or jury. In a personal injury claim, the depositions of the Plaintiff, Defendant and any witnesses to the incident that resulted in the personal injury of the Plaintiff usually occur.
- Settlement & Negotiations
Most claims are resolved through a settlement. A settlement takes the form of negotiations between the parties. It could be as informal as a package of information provided by the Plaintiff to the Defendant outlining their position of liability and documentation of the expenses lost as a result of the injury or as formal as a mediation or arbitration.
- Mediation is a formal meeting between all of the parties with a third party (the mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result. Mediation differs from arbitration in which the third party (arbitrator) acts much like a judge but in an out-of-court less formal setting but does not actively participate in the discussion
- Trial involves the presentation of testimony and physical evidence that serves to support the plaintiff’s case. Both parties'(plaintiff and defendant) lawyers use the evidence to support their own arguments and legal theories. This stage also includes opening and closing arguments
- Collecting Money after Judgment
Obtaining a favorable verdict at trial does not mean that you are automatically paid the money awarded by a jury. You may have to take additional steps and incur additional expenses to collect the judgment.
- Appealing a Decision or Judgment
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.
From start to finish, a personal injury claim can take two to three years before going through a trial. The process is long and the Plaintiff must work closely with his or her attorney through all of the steps. You can read our blog on the Basics of a Medical Malpractice claim for more information on that practice area. You can contact any of our attorneys for a free case evaluation by filling out the contact us form or Call Us Now at 1-904-399-1609 or Toll Free at 1-800-366-1609.