No one moves through life planning on getting injured. We all hope that once we leave our homes, we will return again with no damage done out in the world. However, as well know, this isn’t always the case.
Millions of personal injury cases are brought forward every year. The fact of the matter is that people are injured every day, whether it be from slip and fall incidents, automobile accidents, or a wealth of other potentially harmful situations.
Bringing a personal injury claim forward can be difficult for the average citizen who doesn’t know much about law or the justice system. Below, we’ll walk through the basics of filing such a claim so that this information can be passed on to those out there who need it.
Personal Injury Basics
How is a personal injury lawsuit brought forward? First, the incident happens. The injured person will begin a lawsuit by filing documents with their local court. These papers will also be served to the defendant who is responsible for the injury.
In most cases, the injured party will have already hired a personal injury lawyer to help them with these tasks. They will also have likely already visited a medical professional and gotten a full report on the extent of their injuries.
What are these papers that are delivered? They are the basis of one’s lawsuit and known in the legal world as a complaint (or sometimes referred to as a petition). The complaint is a formal document that identifies the legal concepts in play and lays out the facts of why the injured individual has the grounds to bring a lawsuit forward.
Legal theories, such as negligence, will be used to support this argument.
A complaint will also detail the relief that the injured person, the plaintiff, is expecting. That will most likely include a proposed monetary amount that is demanded from the defendant. This monetary amount is known as damages or compensation.
The papers that are brought to the defendant themselves are known as a summons. They detail much of the same information but are intended to let the defendant know that they are being sued.
There is typically a small fee required to submit these papers to the courts. A typical filing fee is usually around $300 or $400.
Proper Timing in Establishing a Lawsuit
One of the many reasons that individuals hire an experienced attorney is to keep on top of the many deadlines involved in bringing a lawsuit forward. Failure to file something properly and in a timely manner might result in a lawsuit being thrown out.
There are many deadlines to keep in mind when filing a personal injury lawsuit.
For one, the summons must be brought to the defendant within an appropriate window of time. This window of time might vary from location to location. However, it is most commonly established as thirty days following the filing of the complaint with the court.
If a person fails to deliver their summons in this window of time, the court will not be able to have any jurisdiction over the individual. It is possible to receive time extensions from the court, especially if one is having a hard time finding the defendant.
One must prove to the courts that they are taking reasonable steps to serve the defendant. If they can do this, being granted an extension is likely.
Statute of Limitations
There is also the statute of limitations to consider. This is a law that limits the amount of time that is allowed to pass before a lawsuit can be filed. The statute of limitations in each state of the U.S. is different and is often even different depending on the kind of case.
The most common window of time for a personal injury case is two-years. In most cases, this ‘countdown clock’ starts at the moment where one’s injury occurs. Some states mark the time at when the injury was actually discovered, which may be a different point in time depending on the type of injury.
Once this time window has passed, an individual will no longer be able to bring a lawsuit forward against another entity for the damage done.
This law is in place to prevent people from bringing lawsuits forward over events that took place many, many years in the past.
Defendant’s Response to the Summons
What occurs next? Once the summons has been properly delivered to the defendant, they have thirty days in which to respond. A defendant has two possible ways to respond to the summons.
First, the defendant could file what is known as an ‘answer’ to the complaint. In this answer, a defendant can respond to the allegations and admit guilt or deny the various charges.
The other option a defendant has is to attempt to get the complaint dismissed altogether. If the court grants this motion, the entire case (or sometimes a portion of it) can be thrown out.
If a plaintiff’s complaint has shaky legal groundwork or weak evidence, a defendant might succeed in getting it dismissed by the court.
A defendant will also likely hire an attorney after receiving a summons to properly evaluate their options and move forward with the case.
If the case is not thrown out or dismissed, the pre-trial process will begin. Discovery is the first part of the process. This is when both sides ask one another for evidence and witness information so that they can prepare their arguments.
During the discovery process, both sides will begin to schedule depositions of witnesses in order to get more information relevant to the case. This process can take months, or in some cases, years. It all depends on the complexity of the case at hand and the scheduling of those involved.
It’s very common for a trial to be continually pushed back in order to provide more evidence to be turned over and considered during the discovery process.
Once this process has proceeded as far as possible, the defendant can once again ask the judge to throw the case out. This is known as a ‘summary judgment,’ and the judge will use the collected information and evidence to make this call. It is not often that these motions are very successful.
Chance at Settlement
As a case moves closer and closer to trial, a clearer image of what the eventual outcome of the case might become clear. If a defendant feels as if they might not win should the case go to trial, they may be open to a settlement.
A settlement is an out of court agreement between the two parties involved in a personal injury lawsuit. The two sides of the case might argue and negotiate in landing at what a proper compensation package might look like.
Going to trial can be costly for both parties and settling out of court allows a quicker and potentially more positive resolution to the case. If the two parties cannot see eye-to-eye, however, the case will proceed to trial.
As the case moves closer and closer, each side will make motions and fight to determine what evidence will be allowed at the trial itself.
Proceeding to Trial
A typical personal injury case, should it proceed to trial, typically lasts several days. This amount of time is required to properly present all the required evidence and speak to the witnesses and experts in front of a jury.
At the end of this trial? The judge or jury will determine, based on the information presented, if the defendant is to be found guilty or not for the various allegations brought forward by the plaintiff. A judge or jury may find the defendant guilty of some allegations but not others.
If a defendant is found guilty, the judge will also determine the amount the defendant is required to pay out in damages to the plaintiff. There’s a chance this amount could be higher than what the plaintiff was willing to accept in the settlement phase of the case.
Once the trial concludes, both parties have the option to appeal the decision and continue the trial. This appeals process can last many more months or even years. after the appeal process has been completed, a defendant will be required to pay all the damages requested by the court.
It’s a long and lengthy process, but at the end of the day, proper justice will be served.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim
As you can tell from the above, the life cycle of a personal injury claim is long and complicated. There is much to know and stay on top of when it comes to these kinds of cases.
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