When you’ve been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it can be difficult to know what you should do next. After all, you may never have brought a lawsuit before, and the process can seem overwhelming at first.
With the help of an experienced personal injury attorney, you should be able to face your claim with complete confidence – and know exactly what to expect from the legal process. At Scarzafava, Basdekis & Dadey, PLLC, we’ve broken down some of the steps you can expect when you file a personal injury claim.
What to Expect When You File a Personal Injury Claim
Here are the main steps involved in a personal injury lawsuit:
- Consulting with an attorney
- Investigation of your case
- Filing the right court documents
- Discovery process
- Settlement negotiations
- Bringing the case to trial
- Collecting your settlement
- Appeals process
Every injury lawsuit is different, and depending on the cause of your injuries, your case may fall under a different area of the law as well. Additionally, the vast majority of injury cases never go to trial and will be settled outside of court. Even so, there are some basic characteristics that all injury cases share in common.
Consulting with an Attorney
The first step after you’ve been seriously injured is to meet with a qualified personal injury attorney. Because most of these lawyers work on contingency fees, you typically won’t have to pay any upfront costs. Instead, the lawyers’ fee will be applied if you get a settlement or verdict on your claim, as a percentage of your total recovery. Personal injury lawyers often provide free consultations as well, making a consultation a necessity after your accident.
Investigation of Your Case
During the investigation phase, you and your attorney will need to gain a full understanding of what happened during your accident. You must be able to demonstrate that another party – whether that means another car driver, a consumer products company, or a medical professional – failed to observe their “duty of care” in protecting you from injury. This often requires a full-scope investigation, as well as active communication with the insurance company.
Your attorney will need to determine the following:
- Who was involved in the accident
- What injuries you sustained
- How much it will cost to cover your injuries
- Whether there were witnesses or an official police report
- Any other information relevant to your case
Filing the Right Court Documents
If you do have a solid case and your attorney cannot reach an up-front settlement with the insurance company, your lawyer will have to file the right court documents for a lawsuit. With these documents, it’s also important to give the other party sufficient notice of your intention to sue. This will initiate the discovery process and move your case forward into the court system.
During the process known as “discovery,” both the plaintiff and the defendant will obtain evidence from each other to construct their cases. From photographic evidence to medical records, there are plenty of items to review during the discovery phase. Each party will also be questioned by a lawyer to give witness testimony. This is called a deposition, and it must be performed in front of a court-appointed recorder.
Here’s what your attorney will gather during the discovery process:
- Oral discovery (depositions)
- Medical records
- Accident reports
- Medical expense reports
- Photographic evidence
- Property damage costs
- Expert witness testimony
As a non-binding form of alternative dispute resolution, mediation allows both parties to resolve the dispute before heading to trial for extended litigation. This method can also be requested from the beginning of the case when the lawsuit is first filed. In mediation, there is a neutral party called the “mediator” who acts as an informal referee for both parties and their attorneys. Even if the mediation process ultimately does not lead to a settlement, mediation can be a great way to establish the facts of the case – and highlight where there are substantive legal disputes.
From the moment your lawsuit is filed, both attorneys will be preparing to negotiate for a settlement, as this is often the best course of action for a personal injury claim. After all, civil litigation can be expensive, and both parties are usually looking for a quick resolution to the case. As a result, many of your settlement negotiations will happen during the mediation process, before a claim is ever brought before the court.
If your attorney negotiates a settlement that works for your needs, both parties will sign a settlement agreement which serves as an official contract between the two groups. This agreement must be filed with the court before the case can be closed.
Bringing the Case to Trial
When the dispute cannot be settled out-of-court, your attorney will need to be prepared to present your case in trial. Your case may be presented before a judge or an impartial 12-person jury, depending on the nature of your claim. Both parties will have an equal opportunity to share details about the case and make their arguments.
Here are the main steps involved in a personal injury trial:
- “Voir dire,” or jury selection
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross-examination process
- Final or closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Jury deliberation
Collecting Your Settlement
Whether you reached an agreement in mediation or won a verdict in your trial, the next step will be to collect your settlement. There is a lot of paperwork involved in this process, and one of the most important documents is called the Settlement and Release Agreement, or “release.”
In the release, the defense attorney will document all of the final settlement terms for your attorney to review. After debating the terms, your attorney will present you with a finalized version to sign before a notary public. From there, you will need to resolve any existing liens with health care providers or the government before receiving the remainder of your settlement.
Even if you ultimately win your personal injury case, there’s always the possibility that the defendant will decide to appeal. This process can take well over a year, and depending on the appellate court’s decision, you may need to return for another trial. This is another reason why it’s important to select the right personal injury attorney: Preparing for a trial and any subsequent appeals takes a high degree of perseverance and mental rigor.
Dedicated Support for Your Personal Injury Claim
No matter what kind of injury you’ve suffered, you deserve to seek compensation if your losses were the result of negligence. At Scarzafava, Basdekis & Dadey, PLLC, our skilled attorneys hold an AV Preeminent® Rating by Martindale-Hubbell®, and we have decades of combined legal experience. It’s our goal to see your claim through to trial, appeals, and beyond if necessary – and we fight hard on behalf of our clients.
Call (607) 228-8404 to contact our experienced legal team today!