A personal injury lawsuit is based on allegations of an injury sustained by the claimant, or plaintiff as the victim is called once the suit is filed in court, and that the injury was caused by the negligent or intentional act of another party who is called the defendant.
An injured party has a limited time to file a lawsuit, usually 1 to 6 years, under the statute of limitations for that state where the injury occurred, though it can be longer if the injured person was a minor along with some other exceptions. It must also be filed in the appropriate court that has jurisdiction over the claim. If the suit is not filed in the proper court and the statute of limitations has passed, then the claimant may lose the right to sue that party based on the alleged incident forever.
If you were injured by the negligent or intentional conduct of another party, you can file immediately in the proper court. This is sometimes done in wrongful death actions or in claims involving multiple plaintiffs and defendants or where circumstances indicate there is little reason to delay in having the case immediately filed.
Otherwise, the usual course is to file a claim with the defendant’s insurance company that provides coverage for the accident. The insurance adjuster handling the claim for the defendant will want to value the case based on such factors as liability, causation, the reasonableness of the medical and wage loss, and the nature and extent of the injuries.
Most obstacles to settling a claim are concerns over liability or that the claimed injuries are not as serious as alleged. If no offer is extended or if it is well below the claimant’s reasonable expectations, then a lawsuit may be filed before the applicable statute of limitations expires.
Once you file a suit, the defendant is served with the summons and complaint. The defendant then serves and files a response or answer. If no answer is filed within a certain time, the plaintiff can file for a default judgment. Once the suit is filed, most courts will have dates for when discovery is to be completed along with other deadlines and will schedule a pretrial hearing or meeting before a judge as well as a trial date.
In most cases where insurance is involved, the insurance company has an attorney handling the lawsuit on behalf of the insured defendant driver. After an answer is filed, the next step in the process is called “Discovery,” where both parties can request certain information and documents. Discovery generally consists of:
Interrogatories are written questions propounded to any party in the lawsuit. These will be asking for information about a party’s employment, how the incident occurred, insurance information, the nature and extent of injuries, medical history, expenses incurred and others. Documents are also requested concerning traffic collision reports, investigation reports, photographs, medical records and reports and employment or school records, if relevant. These are generally handled by the attorneys for each party who assists the party in responding or in objecting if privacy or relevancy issues are raised.
Depositions may be taken of the parties and witnesses, which are sessions where a party is asked questions while under oath before a court reporter and a transcript is prepared. Depositions may be taken from medical providers, witnesses to the accident, and expert witnesses as well.
Once discovery is complete or nearly complete, the parties generally enter into settlement negotiations. In some courts, the parties are directed to arbitrate the matter before a neutral party, though any decision is nonbinding, and if an award is rejected, it is no longer relevant to the proceeding.
A court date is often given when the complaint is filed. If the matter is not settled, the parties will generally meet with the judge before the trial date to attempt a settlement. If no resolution is reached, the parties meet on the trial date. Each attorney files a trial brief and list of exhibits to be exchanged with the other party on that date.
The burden of proving all the elements of a negligence case is on the plaintiff while the defendant cross-examines all witnesses and usually puts its own defense physicians and other witnesses on the stand to refute the plaintiff’s allegations. The standard of proof is that all elements must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence, or that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff’s evidence prevails.
In a civil case, most states only require a majority verdict by the 12 jurors as to whether the plaintiff is entitled to certain damages or not. The jury will either return a money verdict for the plaintiff or reject the plaintiff’s allegations and render a defense verdict.
If you’ve been injured in a car accident or lost a loved one in a fatal crash, you need a dedicated team of attorneys and legal professionals fighting for your rights. Our attorneys have a long and proven record of helping the victims of car accidents get the compensation they deserve.
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