Posted on Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 at 11:01 am by Williams Hart
So you’ve been injured due to the negligence of another party, and you’ve decided to file a personal injury claim.
Good work! You have taken action and made the first step towards receiving justice. You’re a responsible, hardworking individual and you aren’t backing down from those who must answer for your losses. You’re ready to armor-up! It’s now time to put your trust into the hands of the right attorney to fight for you.
This guide will walk you through the process of a personal injury lawsuit, including how to choose the right attorney, types of personal injury cases, frequently asked questions, a timeline of the process, and a checklist to help prepare you for the journey ahead.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Personal injury law, also known as tort law, is designed to protect you, the plaintiff, if you or your property sustains injury or damage because of another individual’s or agency’s actions or failure to act. In a successful personal injury lawsuit, the defendant who caused the injury compensates the plaintiff.
While automobile accidents make up the vast majority of personal injury lawsuits, the basis of a claim can range anywhere from a simple slip or fall to a multi-victim refinery explosion. The following is a comprehensive list of typical cases that can lead to: loss of income, property damage, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and costly medical treatment.
- Wrongful Death
- Truck Accidents
- Explosion Accidents
- Burn Injuries
- Oilfield Accidents
- Refinery Plant Accidents
- Pipeline Accidents
- Jones Act Maritime Lawyer
- Offshore Platform Rig Accidents
- Aviation Accidents
- Bus Accidents
- Railroad Train Accidents
- Crane Accident
- Car Accidents
- Workplace Accidents
FAQ: Litigation Process
First thing’s first: your case may take awhile to resolve. While small cases can often be resolved quickly, even medium-sized cases can take several years to resolve from the date of your injury to the day you receive compensation for your losses. From start to finish, your attorney will champion your case until the last gavel falls–just remember, he or she will have no control over how long the proceedings will last.
Civil litigation can be a frustrating and confusing process. Pleadings, motions, hearings, interrogatories, discovery, document requests, continuances, adjournments, negotiations, deadlines–the journey from your attorney’s office to the last gavel is an unfamiliar one to most people. Understandably, you have some serious questions.
- What is the statute of limitations on filing a personal injury claim?
Knowing how a statute of limitations works is imperative, as its rules and procedures are complex and the consequences for failing to follow them can be harsh. You must act quickly. Additionally, court rulings can determine the way the statutes apply–and even make them unenforceable. The number of years you have to file a personal injury claim varies from state to state and can range between one year to six years. You can view a chart of all 50 states with their respective number of years here.
- What happens when a lawsuit is filed?
Once a lawsuit is filed, you become the plaintiff in the case and the person or entity responsible for your injuries becomes the defendant. Attorneys for each side typically begin gathering facts through exchange of documents, interrogatories (written questions), or depositions (questions that are asked in person and answered under oath). This process is called discovery. After discovery, many cases get settled before trial. Only a small percentage of personal injury actions ever go to trial.
- What’s the difference between negligence, strict liability, and intentional wrongs?
You may be wondering if there is any other basis for personal injury other than negligence. The answer: yes. Strict liability refers to the culpability of designers and manufacturers for injuries resulting in defective products. In this case, the victim does not have to establish negligence–rather, they will need to show that the product was designed or manufactured in a way that made it unreasonably dangerous when used as intended. Intentional wrongs, while rare, refer to cases in which an individual or entity purposefully causes bodily injury to you.
- What kind of compensation is awarded for personal injury victims?
If a personal injury lawsuit is won by the plaintiff, a judge or jury will award them what the court refers to as damages. In other words: money. The amount awarded can include compensation for expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, future wage losses, physical pain and suffering, or disability that resulted from the injury.
- Will the responsible party be punished?
This is understandably a concern that most personal injury plaintiffs will want to address. It is important to understand the difference between civil cases and criminal cases. Civil cases, such as personal injury lawsuits, do not involve jail sentences or stiff fines for the defendant. These penalties only apply to criminal cases.
- What does it mean to settle a case?
This is where you must practice thoughtful consideration towards the outcome of your lawsuit. Settling a case means that you agree to accept money in return for dropping your action against the person who injured you. This will absolve the defendant of any further liability. Your attorney will provide a realistic assessment of whether a lawsuit based on your claim will be successful–after which, the decision to accept a settlement offer is entirely yours.
How to Choose your Personal Injury Attorney the Right Way
Choosing the right attorney to represent your personal injury claim is essential to securing not only the justice you deserve, but financial compensation for your losses. It’s important to put your trust into a legal representative with experience in representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases.
What to Look for in Your Legal Representative
♦ A Proven Record of Winning
When you look for an attorney, the first thing you should see is a history of winning results. An attorney’s work should speak for itself. At the end of the day you want an attorney that knows how to do their job, namely, winning cases.
♦ Financial Compensation
Securing adequate financial compensation requires a competent lawyer. You need to find an attorney who is experienced in setting the cost of damages and liability at a reasonable rate. Many people underestimate the amount of money they are owed while other attorneys might promise more than they can deliver. Look for an attorney who has won similar amounts for other clients and who is educated how much money cases like yours have won.
You need an attorney who will be upfront about their fees and the prospective outcome of the case. Look for an attorney who takes the time to determine the likelihood of your case winning and who can give you some idea of what the legal proceedings will entail. When suing for damages and liability you should expect to pay your attorney part of the money you win, rather than any sort of prior fee. A plaintiff-side personal injury attorney who expects payment before winning should always be a major red flag.
♦ Powerful Negotiator
A good attorney will know when it is best to negotiate and when it is time to go to court. After a verdict, further negotiations on payouts may also be necessary. This is where having a skilled and thorough negotiator is key. Unfortunately, you could be looking at a long appeal process or a reduced payout that is barely worth the time spent filing the lawsuit. You need an attorney who can set reasonable expectations and who knows how to win a case through to the final payout.
Look for an attorney who has a reputation in their legal community. It isn’t enough to have a nice attorney, look for someone who is willing to take your case to trial if that is what needs to happen for your best outcome. Be aware of attorneys who do not have the skill or confidence to stop negotiations and go to court. You want to be sure that you hire someone who is experienced in the courtroom and who has won against other formidable lawyers.
What drives a good lawyer to do their work? At the end of the day money isn’t enough to provide the care and honesty you need out of an attorney. It isn’t enough to merely enjoy winning, you need an attorney who has a sense of justice and drive to fight for what’s right. Defending individuals and families who have been harmed through negligence and greed should matter more than making the same money defending the corporations who cause these tragedies. Finding an attorney with a passion to fight for you is a competitive edge that should not be dismissed.
♦ Respect & Fairness
While your attorney should be an expert in their field, there is no excuse for an attorney who doesn’t respect their clients. Keeping you informed and making sure you understand your options is invaluable and the mark of a good attorney. Hire an attorney who will set fair expectations not someone who will promise the moon. Be wary of attorneys who promise something that is too good to be true.
♦ Transparency & Communication
Look for an attorney who is transparent about the legal process. It’s okay to not understand the entire process, that’s why you are hiring a qualified lawyer. You should be able to ask your attorney about the legal process and to get straightforward answers explaining your next steps. Your attorney should keep you informed and aware of the process every step of the way.
♦ Connections & Resources
When deciding on a law firm, look for a firm with the connections to be successful. Deciding between a large or small firm can be challenging. While it might seem like a good idea to go with a smaller firm and receive more one-on-one support, some aspects of trial can benefit from a larger legal team. Major corporations and even some smaller businesses may spend thousands of dollars on “expert” witnesses to attack your case. These experts can be tough to match without the resources to hire your own experts or researchers to prove those other experts wrong. Othertimes, companies may intentionally swamp your lawyer with paperwork to slow the legal process down. Having a firm with a team capable of handling these complicated and labor intensive processes is critical. Look for a firm with the connections to industry leaders and competent staff to tackle whatever your opposition throws at you.
Having an experienced attorney with an equally experienced legal team encapsulates all of these critical components. An attorney who has a proven record of success in negotiations and the courtroom is of the utmost importance. You want an attorney who has a reputation of success and integrity handling complex cases while also taking the time to answer any questions you might have.
The better prepared you are for your personal injury lawsuit, the more likely you are to receive maximum compensation as quickly as possible. Before the initial meeting with your personal injury lawyer, it’s important to gather all information applicable to your claim in order for him or her to fully investigate your case.
- Name and address of ambulance service
- Name and address of the emergency room where you were initially taken
- Dates you were admitted to the emergency room and the hospital
- Names and business addresses of all doctors who have examined you
- Names and addresses of chiropractors you have consulted
- Names of all people who were involved in the accident
- Names and addresses of witnesses to the accident
- Dates you missed work because of the accident
- Name and telephone number of each insurance adjuster you have talked to
- List of people you have talked to about the accident or your injuries
- Accident report
- Copies of any written statements
- Your automobile insurance policy if you were injured in a car accident along with the “declarations” page or “coverage certificate” that sets forth what kinds of coverage you have purchased and what the policy limits are
- Your homeowner’s or renter’s policy, along with the declarations page or coverage certificate
- Medical or disability insurance policy or coverage certificate
- Other policies, including major medical, hospitalization, veterans insurance
- All correspondence you have received from any insurer about the accident or your injuries
- Medical bills
- Receipts for things you have had to buy because of your injury
- Receipts for things you have had to fix because of the accident
For a printable copy of this checklist, please click here.
What to Expect: A Timeline
The litigation process of a personal injury claim is a lengthy and complex one, and most people do not have experience with such legal proceedings. Understandably, you and your family are anxious to pursue the justice you deserve. While the majority of personal injury claims end in a settlement before it can go to trial, it is important to familiarize yourself with what to expect–from your first meeting with an attorney to the conclusion of a trial.
- Meeting with a Personal Injury Attorney
The first step after receiving medical treatment for your injury is to meet with an experienced personal injury attorney for a professional consultation as to whether you have a valid claim. Most personal injury lawyers do not charge a consultation fee, so beware of those who do. It’s important that you bring any supporting documents for your case, including medical records, police reports, photos, and notes you’ve taken. Be prepared to answer many questions, as your attorney will need to get a full understanding of your case.
- Evaluating and Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
Selecting the right attorney for your claim can mean the difference between winning and losing your case, so it’s important to consider your legal representative carefully. Be sure to look for the top 10 attorney qualities, listed above, that will prove valuable in your case. Keep in mind during your initial meeting, a good attorney will never make promises about how much money you can expect to receive. Once you have made your decision, you will be asked to sign a client contract that specifies the exact attorney fee. Most personal injury attorneys are paid on a contingency basis, meaning there is no fee unless your case is successful.
- Investigating Your Case
To fully understand how you were injured and the extent of your injuries, damages, and costs, your attorney will conduct a full investigation into your case. He or she will contact the insurance company directly and possibly the attorney representing the party responsible for your injuries. Your attorney will keep you up-to-date on any negotiations and developments throughout the litigation process. At this point, you must prioritize your medical treatment and returning to your normal routine.
- Settling Your Case Prior To Filing A Lawsuit
Only five-percent of personal injury claims, especially those involving automobile accidents, actually go to trial. The remaining 95% are settled before a lawsuit is filed. While your attorney negotiates with the insurance company representing the party responsible for your injuries, be prepared to receive an offer of settlement. If the offer is made, your attorney will advise on whether or not you should accept it. Ultimately, you, and only you, have the power to decide if the settlement is acceptable. You don’t want to settle too early to “get it over with”, as you might not fully receive the compensation you deserve.
- Filing Suit In Court
If an agreement cannot be reached on a settlement, your attorney will file a lawsuit in court, and a judge will set a deadline for each phase of the litigation proceedings. This is where your armor will be put to the test, as the process can take several months to several years depending on the complexity of your case. Remember, your attorney has no control over the length of time it will take to resolve your case.
Complaint and Answer
One of the first documents filed in any personal injury lawsuit, the Complaint is a document outlining your allegations regarding the injuries you’ve sustained, the facts surrounding them, the individual(s) you are suing, the legal basis of your claim, and the amount of damages you believe you are owed. After the Complaint is filed, the defendant has 30 days to “answer” to your allegations.
The discovery phase involves a collection and exchange of testimony, evidence, documents and information between each party. This includes written documents, such as interrogatories and requests for documents, and oral depositions. Depositions involve the questioning of witnesses, experts, and each party by a lawyer.
The motion phase involves a submission of a written request or proposal to the court by the defense attorney. There are a variety of motions and they typically ask for a strategic ruling or direction that falls in favor of the defendant.
- Going to Mediation
Once the court proceedings begin, both parties may be unwilling or unable to resolve a dispute–at which point they may decide to work with a neutral third party. This method of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is called mediation. It is essentially a bargaining process by which a resolution between both parties is reached under a supervised exchange of information. Although sometimes statutes, rules, or court orders may require participation in this process, mediation is usually voluntary.
- Going to Trial
When your case goes to trial, your attorney will present his or her arguments to the judge or jury, then the individual(s) responsible for your injuries will put on their defense. Once the arguments are presented, the judge or jury will determine if the defendant is legally responsible, and, if so, the amount of damages the defendant must pay you.
A personal injury trial consists of six phases:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Jury deliberation and verdict
While your case may be over at this point, even if the jury ruled in your favor, the defense could appeal the case and ask a higher court to reconsider the verdict. Before you receive compensation, your attorney must first pay any agencies that have legal claim to some of the damages awarded. After that, you will receive a check and the money is yours to keep.
Congratulations! You have reached the end of your journey and your personal injury lawsuit is now over. You’ve navigated a complex litigation process, after many twists and turns, under the guidance of a trustworthy attorney whose expert decision-making skills have delivered you the justice you deserve. You had one opportunity, acted quickly, prepared yourself, remained focused, and battled through it.
If someone you love was seriously hurt or killed in an accident, you may be unsure of where to turn. The attorneys of Williams Hart have experience helping people through the aftermath of catastrophic accidents, and we can help you too. Contact our law firm at (713) 352-7071 to speak with an experienced lawyer today.
Note: We report on the types of accidents and injuries our law firm has experience handling. Our hearts go out to victims of the accidents described on this blog, and we hope that future accidents, injuries, and deaths can be prevented. These posts are gathered from recent stories in the news. As new developments occur, these stories are often updated. If information contained within this article is false or outdated, please contact us so we can include the new information or make a correction.
Disclaimer: Williams Hart hopes that by showing how often catastrophic accidents occur, we can begin a conversation about how to reduce or prevent them. We sincerely hope that the articles on our blog arm readers with the information needed to avoid being involved in such accidents. Content on this blog should not be construed as legal advice.