If your family has suffered injury in a car wreck, workplace accident, slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident at a store or in some other way, you may be wondering: what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit? Let us help by providing you with answers.
Step 1: Filing A Petition
First, a personal injury lawyer will file a “petition” with the court setting out all of the claims that the injured person, or “plaintiff,” is making against the responsible parties, or “defendants.”
Step 2: Service and Answer
Next, the injury attorney will deliver a copy of the petition to the defendants through a formal process called “service.” The defendants then will file an “answer” with the court by responding to the plaintiff’s claims.
Step 3: Set a Trial Date
The court then will issue a “docket control order” to set a trial date and various pre-trial deadlines in the case.
Both parties then will conduct “discovery.” This process includes sending written requests for information or copies of documents to the other parties in the case, keeping in mind that each side is required to answer truthfully. Both sides also can interview witnesses under oath via a process called “depositions.”
If the parties intend to hire experts to explain their respective sides of the case to the jury, that needs to be disclosed at this time, as well.
The discovery process will be followed by “pretrial motions,” by which each side may try to limit the type and nature of the evidence that the other side intends to offer at trial.
Step 4: Attempting to Resolve Case via Mediation
Next comes “mediation,” which involves the parties going before a neutral person (not the judge) and attempting to resolve the case through a guided negotiation. The mediator’s opinions are not binding on either party, but the mediator can help each side see the strengths and weaknesses of their case from a neutral perspective.
Mediation is the stage at which most lawsuits are resolved — with a pre-trial, out-of-court settlement. In fact, if you’re wondering what percentage of personal injury cases go to trial, it is less than 5 per cent. And as for what percent of cases are settled before trial, it is more than 95 per cent, via out-of-court settlements.
Step 5: Jury Selection and Trial
If the case does not settle before trial, other procedures will follow. These begin with a “docket call,” at which the judge rules on any pending pretrial motions.
That is followed by “Voir Dire,” the process by which a jury is selected to hear the case. And that is followed by the trial. Even after the trial an appeal may follow, prolonging the process even further.
So, is this how all personal injury claims are handled?
Given these complicated details, you may be wondering, “How long does it take to settle a car accident claim?” or some other injury claim. This can vary to a great degree depending on the facts of the case.
“Some cases have such serious injuries and so little insurance coverage that the defendant may offer to settle almost immediately,” says Kyle Schnitzer, Senior Briefing Attorney for Jim Adler & Associates’ Houston, Channelview and San Antonio offices. “Other cases can take years to resolve if the defendant is convinced he or she is not at fault or believes the plaintiff is not as injured as he or she claims.”
Whether a case is settled at trial or in pre-trial negotiations, you may ask another question: How long does it take to get a personal injury settlement check?
“After the case is settled, most persons receive their check within 30 to 45 days,” says Andy Wilbur, senior pre-litigation attorney at Jim Adler & Associates’ Houston office. “However, sometimes lien issues need to be resolved, such as Medicare or child support. They could make it take longer, especially on bigger cases.”
Your personal injury settlement check will include payments for such things as your medical costs, your lost wages due to your injury and your pain and suffering.
Medical bills and lost salary can be demonstrated to the dollar, but the amount paid for pain and suffering is more subjective. If you’re wondering how much do insurance companies pay for pain and suffering, that can vary widely depending on details of the individual case and the area where the lawsuit is filed.
“Different counties in Texas draw from different populations for their jury pools, and insurers are aware that some jury pools tend to award bigger verdicts than others,” Schnitzer says. “That could contribute to a pre-trial settlement offer which takes an area’s jury pool into account.
Also when calculating pain and suffering payments, “Informally, many insurers will link their offer to how serious the medical bills are, since they seem to think that the bigger the bills, the more serious the pain and suffering,” Schnitzer says. “But that is only a rough guide and is just an informal practice, not a formal rule.”
If your personal injury lawsuit is among the small percentage of cases which go to trial, how long will the lawsuit take?
“Most docket control orders set the trial date about one year from the day suit was filed,” says Schnitzer. “But trials frequently are delayed to enable more discovery or to accommodate schedule conflicts at least once, which is called a ‘continuance.’ It’s not uncommon for a suit to take two years, and sometimes more.”
Speak With an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer for a Free Case Review Today
We hope we’ve answered your questions about what are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit. But if you have more questions, please contact us today for a free legal review of your case.