How Does a Personal Injury Claim Work?
If you are thinking about filing a personal injury claim, talking with an attorney is the first step. The lawyer can tell you whether or not she believes you have a case and explain your options. If you choose to retain her, she can help you get the compensation that you need and deserve as quickly as possible.
Each personal injury case is different. Many actually resolve right away–before formal paperwork is even filed with the court. It’s likely that you’ll never have to set foot in a courtroom in order to recover compensation. However, it might still be helpful to learn about how personal injury claims can work if more action is necessary.
Filing Paperwork with the Court
Lawyers begin personal injury lawsuits by filing the initial court papers. The first document is called the complaint (sometimes referred to as the petition). The complaint identifies the parties involved and outlines the facts of the case from the injury victim’s perspective. It also asks the court to take certain action –in a car accident, for example, it could ask the court to force the at-fault driver to pay damages.
The complaint and a summons to appear in court will be served on the other party. He or she will have a limited amount of time to answer the complaint and will probably do so with the help of one of the insurance company’s lawyers. That lawyer will also defend the other party in court.
The Discovery Process: Collecting Evidence
The lawyers then get to work, collecting evidence and preparing for court. The injury victim’s lawyer will probably request that the other party answer a series of written questions called interrogatories. She may also request that the party produce certain documents or attend a formal questioning session called a deposition. At a deposition, the person being questioned must give honest answers under oath. Witnesses to the accident may also be asked to give depositions.
Things Are Often Resolved Before Trial
Even if things get this far, it’s not likely that the case will go to trial. It’s a little known fact, but it’s true: Most personal injury cases are resolved before a trial is necessary. The dramatic courtroom scenes that you see on TV are the exception, not the rule.
There are several ways that personal injury claims can be resolved before going to trial. The other party may make a motion to have the case dismissed for legal reasons. Courts might also enter a judgment when a person who has received proper notice fails to appear at a mandatory hearing.
Settlement is a very common way of resolving a personal injury claim before trial. The attorneys and their clients look at the facts of the case and the evidence that has been collected. They then agree on an amount of compensation. As the injury victim, whether to accept a settlement offer is always your decision, not your lawyer’s.
If the Case Does Go to Trial
If a case does go to trial, the injury victim’s attorney will have the responsibility for proving that the other party was at fault, that the party’s actions caused the injuries and that the damages totaled a certain dollar amount. To do so, she may call witnesses to testify. She may also present certain evidence to the court.
The lawyer for the other driver’s insurance company will then get a chance to tell the other side of the story. That party’s lawyer will call witnesses and present evidence as well. When that lawyer is done, the injury victim’s lawyer will have a chance to respond. A jury will then decide the outcome of the case.
If the jury has decided in favor of the accident victim, the victim’s lawyer will help him or her collect the damages owed. This can include compensation for medical bills and future medical expenses, missed work and money needed to remodel a home to make it more accessible, as well as compensation for pain and suffering and other expenses.