If you have been injured because of another person's negligence and are considering hiring a personal injury attorney to help you with your claim, you should understand ahead of time that the personal injury process can be long and stressful. It does help to understand that these cases do proceed in a somewhat step-by-step manner, however. If you know what's in store, it could help relieve some of your confusion at a time when you may be suffering from physical and emotional issues because of the accident. Read on to learn about the 7 steps toward personal injury compensation.
1. Meet your lawyer
Your initial meeting should give you an idea of your chances of success. In fact, most personal injury attorneys will not accept cases that won't pay well since they normally work on a contingency fee basis, meaning that they only get paid if you win your case. Come prepared to this meeting with important documents such as the accident/police report and a summary of your medical treatments and expenses.
2. File suit
Once you and your attorney have come to an agreement on fees and signed a contract, your petition (suit) for damages is filed with the clerk in your county. This is the official beginning of your case against the other party. The defendants (the opposing party in this case) will receive a copy of the lawsuit and will learn the details of your complaint, who is at fault and why, and how much you are asking in money damages.
Before you actually set foot in a courtroom, you will undergo a "mini-trial" called a deposition. This formal meeting of all concerned parties is part of the personal injury process referred to as "discovery", and it allows both sides to do just that. It is not uncommon for a settlement offer to emerge as a result of a deposition once the defendants learn the scope of evidence that supports the plaintiff's (your) case.
4. Motions are filed
- Dismissal: a motion to dismiss may be filed by the defendants at the beginning of the trial alleging that there is no basis for a suit. Don't be alarmed by this routine filing; it gives your attorney an opportunity to learn a great deal about the how the claim will be disputed by the other party. For example, the motion to dismiss could indicate that there is no valid case because you were partially at fault in the accident, giving you insight on what you must prove to the contrary.
- Summary Judgment: This motion is the plaintiff's request that the judge make a preemptive ruling based on the merits of the case at the present time. If the evidence presented thus far makes an overwhelmingly convincing case, the trial could be cut short.
A settlement offer could come at anytime during the personal injury process, and in fact a whopping 95% of personal injury cases are settled before the trial even begins.
Overseen by a judge and sometimes a jury, the trial proceeds with opening statements, testimony, closing statements and finally, a verdict is handed down.
7. Collection of judgment
If you were successful and won your case, your are entitled to collect the given money damages. You are likely dealing with an insurance agency (and their attorneys), and they will normally issue you a check within a period of a few weeks, unless they file an appeal.
Consult with a personal injury attorney, like those at Stillman & Stillman P.C., for more information about how the process works in your particular area.