Each personal injury case is unique in character, yet most lawsuits follow a similar pattern of procedures. This article discusses the basic, typical steps to expect when pursuing a personal injury claim.
If you have been injured in an accident caused by someone else, you should meet with an attorney. Most personal injury attorneys provide free initial consultations to accident victims, but you should contact the attorney’s office in advance and ask about their policy.
Consultation and Investigation
If your case seems promising, the attorney may decide to follow-up the initial consultation with an exploratory investigation, including an examination of whether the potential defendant has applicable insurance or sufficient assets worth pursuing. Once that is determined, and if the attorney feels that the case is viable, he or she will discuss fee options with you. Legal services for personal injury cases are often provided under a contingency fee agreement. For more information on how those arrangements work, please see the Drew Cooper & Anding blog article on contingency fees.
Sometimes, an attorney will decline to accept the case or refer you to another attorney. Whether the attorney takes your case or not, anything you tell the attorney in the initial consultation is strictly confidential and protected by attorney-client privilege.
Filing the Complaint and Providing Notice
If there’s a viable case, the next basic step is to file a personal injury complaint with the appropriate court. The complaint is an official document that provides the factual elements of your claim(s) against one or more defendants.
Once the complaint is filed, your attorney must serve it on all defendant(s), ensuring delivery in a manner that can be proved later (in case the defendant denies receiving it). Once served, the defendant will typically have at least 30 days to find an attorney and/or notify his or her insurance company (if applicable). If insurance is involved, the insurance company may supply its own lawyer to defend the case.
The discovery process is the stage of litigation in which each party investigates the other side’s legal claims, evidence and defenses. The attorneys send interrogatories (case-related questions) and document requests to each other. They usually take depositions (sworn testimony taken outside of court) of relevant witnesses, generally beginning with the plaintiff (you) and defendant. The discovery process for even simple cases can be time-consuming, lasting anywhere from three months to one year, depending on the court’s deadlines and the complexity of the case.