If you have suffered an injury in an auto accident, you may be considering filing a personal injury case against the other driver or a third party that failed to maintain a safe road. If so, you will want to enter the legal process with a better understanding of how the entire case will be conducted. Questions about the process are standard, and any injury attorney will be glad to answer them. For a brief description of what will happen, see below.
- Consult with an attorney: First, you'll need to find representation. Your lawyer is going to ask you about the particulars of the accident, the extent of your injuries and any statements made by witnesses. They may decide to accept the case or decline. Don't take it personally if they say no, simply ask for another opinion by another attorney. Most attorneys in this specialty will happily offer a free brief consultation.
- File a complaint with the courts: Once hired, your lawyer will complete a formal complaint and file it with the civil courts. The court then notifies the defendant or defendants of the law suit (usually the other party's insurance company) and allows them to submit an answer in response. Witnesses may receive subpoenas telling them they will be needed to give statements on the matter.
- Undergo discovery with all parties: Discovery is when the attorneys for both sides carry out in-depth interviews with all the parties involved in the suit. They will access medical records, interview doctors, police officers, witnesses and others that had contact with you or the defendant at the scene or afterwards.
- Motions are heard: At this stage you may reach the courtroom, but not for the trial. Both sides can offer motions to the court that challenge the basis of the law suit, look for improper procedures or other reasons that the complaint has no legal standing. The judge may determine to dismiss the case or mark it ready to enter the trial phase.
- A settlement may be reached: Most personal injury cases that pass the motions phase are settled out of court. Your attorney meets with the other party's counsel and may reach an agreement on the amount that will be paid in the interest of ending the law suit. This arrangement avoids having the courts to dictate the outcome, which can be significantly more detrimental for either side. You may or may not have to sign a form preventing you from discussing the outcome of the settlement.
- The trial is held: If a settlement is not reached, the suit goes to trial, a jury is selected and evidence heard. Civil courts do not find a party criminally guilty, but instead may find them responsible for the harm caused to the complainant. They can require the defendant to pay compensation and these amounts will vary significantly.
- Collecting your cash or appealing the decision: If you are unhappy with the finding of the courts due to improper procedure, you can appeal. If not, you can collect your settlement, pay your attorney, and carry on with your life.
Time is always of the essence, so don't hesitate to reach out to a personal injury attorney as soon as possible if somebody else is responsible for your injury. They can walk you through a timeline of what to expect during the length of your case.