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Understanding the Various Procedural Steps of a Personal Injury Case

Many people are understandably hesitant to pursue a civil lawsuit following a personal injury. For some, the potential time commitment seems to be an undertaking that’s hardly worth the effort and end result. However, by working with a dedicated lawyer who places client communication as a top priority, you can enjoy a painless and likely rewarding civil litigation experience.


One of the best ways to prepare for a civil lawsuit is to better understand the procedural aspects of the process. The steps listed below are provided as a general timeline of the how cases typically progress; however, yours may involve more steps, fewer steps, or additional procedural detours. Additionally, it is difficult to surmise at the outset of a lawsuit whether it will end in settlement (most do) or proceed to trial.


Step One - File the Complaint: A lawsuit cannot begin without a complaint. The complaint is the official document laying out the facts giving rise to your right to financial compensation. While the complaint need not be a fifty-page dissertation of your entire experience, it must adequately, yet concisely, provide a chronological detail of events, information about your injury, and the type of relief you request.


Step Two – Serve the Defendant: Service of process must be done correctly and in exact adherence to the applicable statute. You, as the plaintiff, may not serve the defendant yourself. You may arrange for anyone else to serve the defendant or you may contact a professional service company. The county sheriff or marshal can also effectuate service on your behalf. Once the defendant receives a copy of the complaint and summons, he has 30 days within which to file an answer, known as a responsive pleading.


Step Three – Discovery: A large portion of the litigation timeline is devoted to discovery. This is a process wherein both parties exchange relevant, non-privileged information with one another through the use of depositions, requests for documents, interrogatories, and requests for admission. Many cases are settled during the discovery process as one side or the other comes to realize that their case is not as strong as they once thought.


Step Four – Motion Practice: Motions are requests for a hearing based on a limited procedural or substantive issue. A hearing does not discuss the entire case. If your attorney believes your case is a clear winner, he may motion the court for summary judgment. Other common motions include motions to dismiss and motions to compel discovery (in the event the other party is not cooperating).


Step Four – Settlement: The vast majority of cases settle before reaching trial. A settlement is a mutual agreement, like a contract, wherein both parties sign a document containing the provisions of the agreement. If either party does not hold up his side of the settlement, the other may petition the court for enforcement. In most cases, both sides must concede certain issues in order to arrive at a compromise. However, if one or both parties is unwilling to budge on a particular issue, it may come time for a trial.


Step Five – Trial: The trial is the final stage of the litigation (assuming neither party opts to appeal the ruling). At the trial, the plaintiff’s attorney gets to present evidence first. In a personal injury case, your attorney will be presenting evidence to meet each element of negligence: duty, breach, causation, and damages. If your case centers around product liability (i.e., you were injured by a defective product), your presentation will be slightly different.


At the conclusion of the trial, the jury (if you chose to have one) will decide whether or not the defendant owes you money for your injuries. The jury will also decide a proper dollar amount, which the judge can adjust under certain circumstances.


Contact an Experienced Attorney Today


The above is a general timeline of a typical personal injury case. For more specific details about you case, consider speaking with Nelson Barry today. To make an appointment, call (415) 587-0550.


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