Picture this. You’re rushing home after a difficult day at work. You’re in a bad mood. In fact, you’re so fed up with your idiotic boss and your back stabbing co-workers that you’re thinking about quitting. To make matters even worse, the traffic is horrible. Finally, the traffic light that you have been stopped at for what seems like an eternity turns green, so you proceed through the intersection. As you do, another car speeds through the intersection against the red light, t-boning your SUV.
Your next memory is waking up in the hospital in agonizing pain with your family by your side. Your doctor says you are lucky to be alive. And now, you’re wondering whether you’ll ever be able to work again.
Based largely on this fear, you followed a friend’s advice and consulted a personal injury attorney. The attorney interviewed you, did a preliminary investigation and determined you have a viable case. So you hired him (or her). But what happens next?
The legal process officially starts when the complaint is filed
To begin with, your attorney will file a complaint in civil court. This is the first and arguably one of the most important documents in the process because it sets the stage. In it your attorney explains how you got hurt, the extent of your injuries, why the defendant is to blame and so forth.
Once your attorney files this document in the correct court, the next step is to serve the defendant with the complaint. This means someone must actually give it to the defendant. Doing so in a verifiable manner, prevents the defendant from claiming he or she never knew about the lawsuit. Paperwork served along with the complaint ensures that he or she knows exactly when to come to court.
The defendant retains counsel
At this point two things will usually happen. The defendant will retain counsel (hire a lawyer) directly, or obtain counsel through his or her insurance company. However, the defendant can only do the latter in certain circumstances. Specifically, the defendant must inform his or her insurance company about the lawsuit as soon as he or she is aware of it.
Exchange of pleadings
One of the first things the defendant’s attorney will do is respond to your complaint. He or she will do so by filing a document in the same court where your lawyer filed the complaint. This document, or pleading is known as the “answer to complaint.”
In it, the defense typically addresses each accusation in one of three ways. It admits to the allegation, denies it, or indicates that there is not enough information to admit or deny the allegation. “
This document may also include arguments that the defendant is not legally responsible for the plaintiff’s losses. Some of these arguments may also lay the groundwork for a motion to dismiss.
If the defendant was also injured in the accident and thinks you were to blame, their attorney may also include a counterclaim in the answer. It will be set out in its own section of the document and will be written in the same way as the complaint.
If this happens, your attorney will file yet another court document or pleading. This one is called a “reply” or “reply to counterclaim.” In it, your lawyer admits, denies or indicates there is insufficient information to admit or deny each allegation.
Whether or not any additional court documents are filed at this stage will depend on the specific circumstances of the case.
The discovery phase
Assuming the case proceeds, the next stage is the discovery phase. During this stage your lawyer and the defendant’s lawyer will request and exchange certain information.
As this phase continues, preliminary court hearings will be held. Their purpose is to:
- Assess where things stand
- Make known any agreements or disagreements regarding alternative dispute resolution
- Set a trial date.
Attorneys for each party will also arrange for formal interviews or depositions of the opposing party and witnesses, during this time. Anyone who is deposed must answer questions under oath.
Going to trial
The pre-trial litigation phase usually wraps up with mandatory alternative dispute resolution (mediation or arbitration), final settlement talks and so forth. If those fail, the case will go to trial.
Most personal injury cases, take several days. During this time, a judge or jury will decide if the defendant is legally responsible for the accident. The judge or jury will also decide if the defendant is legally responsible for your physical, emotional and financial losses. If the defendant is found to be liable, the judge or jury will decide how much compensation you will receive.
If either party is dissatisfied with the outcome, he or she can appeal the decision. This can take at least several months. If all appeals are unsuccessful, a losing defendant must compensate you as directed at trial.
As you can see, taking a case to trial is a long, drawn out process. This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have a highly skilled personal injury lawyer on your side. At the Law Office of Parag L. Amin, P.C., we have the skills and experience needed to preserve your rights and help you get the compensation you deserve through a settlement or at trial. Don’t hesitate. Contact us to schedule a free consultation, now.