If you’ve been injured and you plan to file a personal injury claim, it’s only natural to wonder what to expect during the proceedings. Although every case is unique, there are some general steps that most cases follow. Those steps can be loosely divided into four stages:
- Before a lawsuit is filed;
- Filing a lawsuit and pretrial procedure;
- Ongoing settlement negotiations; and
The best way to understand the likely course your case will take is to speak with a skilled personal injury lawyer. Your attorney can review the facts of your claim, evaluate the evidence you’ve gathered, and perform an investigation to determine the likelihood that a settlement will be reached and the potential duration of the proceedings.
Read on to learn about the general timeline of a personal injury case:
1. Before a Lawsuit Is Filed
After you’ve been injured and sought medical care, it’s time to find an attorney who has the experience and credentials to handle your case. Hiring a lawyer early in the proceedings comes with many advantages such as:
- Having a legal advocate to manage correspondence with the insurance company;
- Avoiding mistakes you might have made without legal guidance;
- Not accepting an unfair settlement early in the proceedings; and
- Gathering evidence, talking to witnesses, and filing the necessary paperwork so you can focus on your health.
Your Attorney Will Investigate Your Case
Your attorney will perform an investigation to gather all available evidence of liability and damages. The nature of this investigation will depend on the facts surrounding your case but may involve interviews with eyewitnesses, consultations with medical and financial experts, and filing subpoenas to obtain evidence.
Your Attorney Will Determine the Most Strategic Way to Proceed
Once your lawyer understands the pertinent facts of your case, he or she will determine the most strategic way to proceed with your claim. Your attorney will anticipate and prepare for any disputes that might arise and take the necessary steps to give your case the best possible chance of resulting in a fair settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached, the next step would be to file a lawsuit.
2. Filing a Lawsuit and Pretrial Procedure
In the pre-trial stages of your personal injury case, attorneys may take several courses of action including:
- Propounding discovery and responding to discovery requests;
- Taking depositions of parties involved in or having knowledge pertinent to the claim;
- Conducting independent medical examinations of parties involved in the claim;
- Retaining expert witnesses to investigate and verify relevant facts;
- Reading expert witness reports;
- Taking and defending depositions of expert witnesses based on their findings and reports; and
- Possibly entering alternative dispute resolution.
3. Ongoing Settlement Negotiations
Trial preparation and the litigation process are long, expensive, emotional, and arduous, so at some point most parties find it better to reach a settlement than proceed to trial. Also, both the claimant and defendant have more control over what happens during settlement negotiations as opposed to leaving the final decision up to a judge or jury.
While in pre-trial proceedings, settlement negotiations will likely continue between the parties. Even after a lawsuit has been filed, it’s still possible to reach a settlement or resolve a case through alternative dispute resolution. If at any time a settlement agreement is reached, the litigation process will halt and your case will come to an end.
If the parties cannot reach a settlement on their own, they may enter alternative dispute resolution (ADR) either through the courts or in a less formal setting. Sometimes the parties voluntarily enter ADR; other times it’s ordered by the court.
Depending upon which alternative dispute resolution method is selected, the proposed solution may be binding or non-binding. Potential options for ADR include:
- Neutral evaluation; or
- Settlement conferences.
Settlement agreements can be reached between parties at any point before trial. Settlements can even occur during the course of a trial as long as the case has been neither dismissed nor decided by a judge or jury.
As settlement discussions continue, procedurally the personal injury lawsuit continues moving toward a trial. If a settlement is not reached and a trial becomes imminent, the attorneys involved must take steps to prepare for trial litigation, which may involve:
- Submitting jury instructions, if applicable;
- Summarizing pleadings from the pre-trial proceedings;
- Disclosing expert witness lists;
- Preparing exhibits and submitting exhibit lists;
- Filing and arguing any motions in limine submitted to limit evidence and arguments the other party may use at trial; and
- Questioning and seating a jury, if applicable.
On the appointed date the court sets for the trial, the parties involved will take turns presenting their cases, arguments, witnesses, and evidence to the judge or jury. There will be chances to examine and cross-examine each side’s witnesses and to object to any evidence being improperly introduced.
Once the parties have presented their arguments, witnesses, and exhibits and have had a chance to cross-examine the witnesses and exhibits of the opposing side, the judge or jury will deliberate. When a decision is reached, the court will issue a judgment or the jury will render a verdict. It is at this point that recovery will be determined and damages may be awarded.
Will My Case Go to Trial?
As you can see, the duration of personal injury proceedings can vary significantly depending on whether a settlement is reached or a case proceeds to trial. The ideal outcome of most tort claims is to recover a fair settlement without entering into litigation.
The likelihood that your case will end up in trial depends on many factors including the strength of your evidence, whether all parties agree on the pertinent facts, the amount of compensation you’re seeking, and whether any disputes arise. A skilled personal injury lawyer can take the necessary steps to give your claim the best possible chance of resulting in a fair settlement such as:
- Handling all dialogue with the insurance adjuster so you don’t provide any recorded statements that can be used against you;
- Explaining the steps you can take to prevent potential disputes such as following your doctor’s orders, directing all correspondence from the insurer to your attorney, and staying off social media;
- Consulting with medical, financial, and accident reconstruction experts when necessary to prevent disputes related to liability or damages; and
- Demonstrating a willingness to go to trial if the insurance company refuses to pay a fair settlement.
Speak with a Personal Injury Attorney in Long Beach
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you still have questions about personal injury proceedings or if you need help navigating the legal system, turn to The Law Office of Michael D. Waks. Attorney Michael Waks can answer your questions and explain what to expect over the coming weeks and months.
Michael is a seasoned trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience. He has a proven track record of achieving substantial settlements and verdicts for his clients.
You can reach us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (562) 206-1939. You can also send us a message on our Contact Page. The initial consultation is free, and we won’t charge any attorney’s fees unless you win.
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