This article is continued from here and is about the Post-Lawsuit Filing phase of a typical personal injury claim.
So now things have progressed in our hypothetical case, and negotiations were not satisfying. This doesn’t mean that an accident victim must then accept whatever the offer or settlement was, even if it doesn’t feel fair. It is time to file a lawsuit.
- Filing Suit: The first step is for the attorney to write up a formal “complaint” for the injured party, called the “plaintiff”. This describes the basic facts of the claim and points out who is responsible, called the “defendants”. This complaint is formally filed with the court and a copy is served to the defendants.
- Defendants Deny Liability: It’s safe to say that the defendant(s) will file an “answer” which will say that they don’t agree that they’re liable for the incident or any injuries that came of it.
- Discovery: This begins a back and forth phase between the lawyers representing both plaintiff and defendant to find out more about the facts. Written questions – “interrogatories and document requests” – are sent and answered, and it’s all meant to discover more detail about the case’s facts, learn about witnesses involved, and the breadth of insurance coverage available. The discovery process can take months before it is complete.
- Oral Depositions: Not long after Discovery, “depositions” which are like formal interviews, take place. This is where the parties involved who have knowledge of the facts and circumstances of the case reveal what they know. It’s a face-to-face meeting with attorneys for both parties, as well as court reporter who takes notes. Depositions may also be videotaped. Normally, these meetings occur at the office of whichever attorney requested the deposition.
Oral depositions can feel like a stressful encounter even for the most solid of cases. I work with my clients to prepare for deposition so that they feel as comfortable and prepared as possible before it begins. I’ll help clients become familiar with the process and to over the questions so to provide the most compelling and accurate statements. Since I’ll be at the deposition with my clients, I can help clarify each question and make sure it’s appropriate and clear before clients must answer.
- Medical Records and Evaluation: Defendants get to choose their own doctors for this exam. The exam would take place between the trial date and before entering into settlement discussions. Defendants typically request (“subpoena”) the plaintiff’s medical records, which gives defendants the right to verify the nature of the claims and independently evaluate the importance of the injuries.
- Expert Witnesses: These witnesses can be pivotal to defining the resolution of the case. The more complex the case, the more experts are retained, typically. These experts are allowed to give their opinions about the facts of the case, and often can sway juries with their specialized knowledge. Expert witnesses are deposed by the attorneys for the opposing side. Once the expert witness’ testimony is given and assessed, there’s a good chance that the case will settle, because both sides know and fully understand the positions of each side and the risks associated with going to trial at this point.
- Settlement Discussions and Mediation: If they haven’t already resolved by the time settlement discussions and mediation transpire, most cases will in this phase. The discussions can be informal, with the opposing attorneys talking terms by phone, or it might take a formal meeting with a mediator.
- Trial: If no resolution has come, the next and final step is trial. A jury is picked, and hear opening statements in front of a judge. Witnesses testify and both sides have the opportunity to question them. Closing arguments follow, and then it is up to the jury to decide what the terms are. Trials an take a few days to a few weeks, it all depends on the case’s complexity. If the case does not settle, then the case proceeds to trial. A jury is picked. Opening statements are made. Witnesses testify in open court under the supervision of the judge. Closing arguments are made, and then the jury deliberates and comes to a decision. Trials take anywhere from four days to three weeks, depending on the complexity of the matter. Cases are won by majority vote.
This is just a rough sketch of the steps of the path a typical personal injury case may take, to just give readers a general picture of what is involved in these types of proceedings. As a client of Bill Coats Law, you would be informed at every step of the way about what’s happening in your case. If you need help with such a legal matter, don’t hesitate to call. To reach our Bellingham office, call (360) 392-2833.
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