11 Things to Know Regarding a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Your personal injury case is very important to you. In today’s society, insurance companies have a lot of power, money, and influence. Most insurance companies, however, try to be fair in settling ordinary personal injury cases. They do try to compensate people who have been legitimately injured as a result of the negligence of someone else. However, in those cases where a fair settlement cannot be reached, your attorney needs to be prepared to file a lawsuit on your behalf.
1. The goal in a personal injury case is to settle the case, avoiding legal action if possible.
Your lawyer will conduct will conduct a detailed investigation and research involving all aspects of your case to establish the facts in support of liability and responsibility. After this work has been completed, you and your lawyer will agree upon a general settlement range after which your lawyer will send what is usually called a letter of demand to the insurance company for the individual who caused the injury.
The letter of demand summarizes the important factors of your claim and is a formal request to initiate settlement discussions. If liability and responsibility are well-established in your case – that is, if fault clearly rests with the insurance company’s insured (the person or persons who caused your injury), the insurance company will likely try very hard to settle your claim. In this case, there will be negotiations between your lawyer and the insurance company representative regarding the settlement amount. In the majority of cases these negotiations will lead to a settlement that is acceptable to both parties.
2. What happens if the insurance company does not meet our settlement range and the case does not settle?
In cases where the insurance company disputes any part of your case and does not agree to settle in a monetary range that your attorney believes can be supported, it may be necessary to begin a lawsuit/litigation. The lawsuit will usually be brought against the person, persons, or company who caused your injuries and not against the insurance company unless the case is an uninsured or underinsured motorist case.
In some cases, your lawyer may suggest waiting a period of time before commencing the lawsuit in the hope that the insurance company will increase its evaluation of your claim. However, in cases where the parties are significantly far apart with respect to the value of a claim, litigation is usually necessary.
3. What factors would cause my case to go to litigation?
There are usually several reasons why a case does not settle, including the following:
a. The insurance company believes that you and your lawyer have asked for more money than they are willing to pay voluntarily for the claim.
b. Liability, that is, fault, is either being denied by the insurance company or the insurance company believes that you/or some other party bear some responsibility for your own injuries.
c. The insurance company, because of internal reasons or company policy, resists payment of your claim and is forcing claimants to go through the trouble of a lawsuit.
d. The insurance company is stalling for time hoping that you and your lawyer will reduce the value of the claim.
e. The insurance company does not believe that you were injured, or that you were injured as badly as you claim. Therefore, the company is requiring that you pursue a lawsuit to prove your injuries.
4. How does a lawsuit affect me?
If a lawsuit becomes necessary, your lawyer will explain in detail what will occur. The process usually takes the following steps. You will be involved in parts of this.
a. After final investigation and preparation, your lawyer will file a claim in court by preparing what is known as a Summons and Complaint. This is served upon the person, persons, or company who caused your injuries, the responsible party, and they are called the defendant. You are the plaintiff.
b. After the defendant is served with the complaint, the insurance company will hire a lawyer to defend the lawsuit and provide an Answer to the Complaint. This Answer usually denies responsibility for the injuries, denies the extent of your injuries, and may seek to bring in other parties that may have been involved in the incident which caused your injuries.
c. A process called discovery is started in which both sides seek information from each other. This process includes some or all of the following:
1. Questions, called “interrogatories,” which require written answers. You will be involved in this.
2. Oral testimony, called “depositions.” You will be involved in this.
3. “Requests for production of documents” in which lawyers ask for medical reports, witness statements, medical bills, and other documents relating to the case.
4. “Requests for admissions” which is a process requiring the parties to narrow the issues by admitting certain facts that are not in dispute.
5. Pretrial procedures such as motions in court and other tactics that process the case to trial.
6. Preparation for trial including possible video depositions of your doctors, meeting with witnesses, writing briefs, and appearances of your lawyer before the trial judge.
7. The trial (if the case does not settle before the trial date).
5. What are interrogatories that I will be involved in?
Interrogatories, which are a part of discovery, are questions sent to your lawyer by the lawyer for the defendant. You and your lawyer may be asked to answer a number of questions, usually 30 or more, with various sub-parts to each question. You will usually be asked about your complete medical history, educational history, work history, and a number of questions about the incident and your injuries. Accurate and detailed responses are very important.
6. I will also be involved in a deposition…what is that?
Depositions take place in the office of one of the lawyers involved in the case. In your deposition, the attorney for the defendant will ask you questions about your injuries, the incident, and background information about you and your family. Your answers will be taken down word for word by a court reporter who will transcribe your testimony. The transcript of your testimony will be read by all attorneys, representatives of the insurance company, and portions may be used at trial.
7. Why are depositions so important?
Depositions are important because it is the first time you will actually testify about your case. Further:
a. The defense attorney will be sizing you up. If he or she is impressed with you and your testimony, settlement before a trial becomes more likely.
b. The deposition is excellent preparation for trial.
c. Your testimony, if it is false, can be used against you at trial.
8. Is it possible that my case will settle before trial?
Yes. Most cases settle during the lawsuit process as the detailed facts of the case unfold. Your lawyer will continue to be motivated to settle the case if he/she can get a fair settlement for your injuries that you agree with. Your lawyer will also review the trial process with you should you elect not to settle. This can take a year or more and could be a factor in the final decision. Ultimately a small minority of cases proceed all the way to trial.
9. If my case ends up going to trial, what happens in the trial?
In some jurisdictions it takes a year or less to get to trial after the suit has been filed. In other states it can take several years. In cases that are not complex, the trial process usually involves a specific format. With some variations, depending on jurisdiction, your trial will go something like this:
a. The judge will open the trial by calling the lawyers, clients, and prospective jurors into the courtroom.
b. A jury selection takes place. In some states, the lawyers can ask questions of prospective jurors before selecting the jury. This process allows the lawyers to determine potential bias or unfairness on the part of prospective jurors. In other states, the judge questions the prospective jurors.
c. After the jury is selected (usually 6 but maybe 12), the lawyers will make opening statements. These opening statements are brief summaries of the case so that the jury will have a road map of the case. Opening statements are usually short.
d. After opening statements, your lawyer will present your case by calling you and other witnesses to the witness stand for direct examination. Such witnesses may include your doctor, employer, friends, family, and other witnesses who can testify about the incident or your injuries.
e. After each witness has finished direct examination by your lawyer, the lawyer for the defendant will be entitled to cross-examination. That is, you and your witnesses may be asked questions by the other lawyer.
f. After cross-examination, your lawyer may have a few additional questions and this process is called re-direct examination.
g. After your lawyer finishes presenting your case, the defense lawyer is allowed to present the other side of the case by calling witnesses for the defense. Your lawyer will be entitled to cross-examine those witnesses.
h. After both attorneys have finished all questioning and all presentation of evidence, the judge will allow closing arguments. In closing arguments the lawyers have the opportunity to summarize the case to the jury and ask for a verdict. Your lawyer goes first, followed by the defense attorney.
i. After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the law and how it should be applied in your case. The judge’s instructions are the final words heard in the case before deliberation.
j. After the judge completes instructions, the jury deliberates your case in a closed room. This usually takes several hours.
k. When the jury has finished deliberation and reached a verdict, the judge will call everyone back into the courtroom and the verdict is announced. You will find out at that point whether or not you won your case and how much money, if any, has been awarded by the jury.
10. If we win at trial, how long does it take to receive the money?
If a verdict is rendered in your favor and the defense attorney does not appeal, it usually takes a few weeks to a month to finalize the results. The lawyers will work out the final figures with respect to the verdict, interest, court costs, deductions, and attorneys’ fees.
11. What happens if we lose?
If you lose your lawyer will discuss the possibilities of an appeal. Appeal is usually a very expensive process, and your lawyer will advise you whether or not an appeal is appropriate.
It is important for you to have a positive attitude throughout your case, whether it is settled early, a lawsuit is filed leading to settlement or it goes to trial. It is also very important that you make an active effort to recover from your injuries. Further, cooperate with your lawyer. Be honest about your case with everyone involved. The Constitution of the United States, your state laws, and fairness dictate that injured victims should be compensated for injuries resulting from the negligence of a third party. This is the law, and it is on your side.
Place your faith, confidence, and trust in your lawyer and you will obtain justice.
If you or a loved one are a victim of someone else’s negligence, you need a seasoned and knowledgeable Car Accident Lawyer by your side. Contact Dozier Law, P.C., experienced Personal Injury Attorneys in Rincon, Effingham County, Chatham County, Bulloch County, Screven County and Bryan County, Georgia. Your initial Personal Injury consultation will be no charge to you. In addition, no recovery means no fees, so if you don’t get paid, you owe us nothing.