Personal injury law is a branch of civil law that covers disputes between private parties. The basis of a personal injury claim is negligence – an event in which one party injures another due to a lack of reasonable care. If you or someone you know recently suffered an injury while visiting someone else’s home, while shopping in a retail store open to the public, or in a car accident, you may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.
The civil claims process is relatively straightforward, but the reality of actually going through the litigation process is more challenging than most people realize. If you expect to be involved in a personal injury case in the near future, you should have an idea of what to expect, how your case might proceed, and the potential recovery you might secure if you win.
The Complaint and the Response
The first step in a personal injury case is the filing of the formal Complaint. This document, drafted by the plaintiff and their legal counsel, outlines the plaintiff’s claim for damages against a named defendant. For example, if you suffered an injury in a car accident caused by a reckless driver who did not have auto insurance coverage, you cannot recover your losses through an insurance claim and would need to sue them for your damages. The Complaint provides the defendant with the full scope of the claimed damages and legal reasoning as to why the defendant is liable for those damages.
The plaintiff and their attorney file this Complaint with the local courthouse, and a court process server typically delivers the Complaint to the defendant. This provides the defendant and their legal counsel the opportunity to issue a Response. Basically, the contents of the Response inform the plaintiff’s legal team whether the defendant contests any elements of the Complaint and whether the defendant is willing to negotiate a settlement.
After the initial exchange of the Complaint and Response, the two sides will likely agree upon a meeting place, sometimes with the assistance of a neutral mediator. The two parties will then go over the elements of the Complaint and the Response until they reach mutually agreeable terms. It’s generally in the best interests of both parties to reach a settlement as quickly as possible. This saves both parties a substantial amount of money in legal fees.
The ideal situation for a defendant in a personal injury claim is to finalize the matter while giving up as little as possible. However, protracted legal battles are expensive, and a defendant will most likely agree to a higher settlement than they had anticipated if it means a speedy resolution to the issue. On the same note, a plaintiff’s best-case scenario is for the defendant to offer no contest to their alleged responsibility for the damages listed in the claim. Some plaintiffs may be willing to agree to lower-than-expected settlement sums if it means quicker recovery in the face of mounting bills and lost income due to their injuries.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that a speedy settlement would be in both parties’ best interests, settlement negotiations do not always lead to mutually agreeable terms. If the defendant denies liability or contests other elements of the Complaint, then settlement negotiations may end, and the case will proceed to the trial phase.
There are no surprises in the courtroom, really. The law requires both sides of a personal injury case to begin the litigation process by completing Discovery, a process through which both sides disclose their available evidence, documentation, and witness statements. Discovery can take a long time. During this phase, each legal team will be carefully reviewing their evidence in an effort to find something that weakens the other side’s argument.
Personal Injury Litigation
When settlement negotiations fail and a personal injury case proceeds to trial, there are a number of pretrial motions and hearings that might take place before the case proper. Both sides will also conduct depositions, or sworn recorded testimony, that will come into play during the trial. During litigation in the courtroom, both sides of the case will have the opportunity to share their sides of the events in question, offer evidence, and question eyewitnesses. Both sides will also have the opportunity to call on expert witnesses from related professional disciplines to weigh in on the case, if appropriate.
Some personal injury lawsuits resolve at the negotiating table while others may take months or even years of litigation to reach conclusions. One of the most important aspects of navigating any personal injury lawsuit is finding the right legal representation to protect your interests. If you believe you have grounds for a lawsuit and need to hire a Folsom personal injury lawyer, contact the Law Office of Black & DePaoli, PC today to schedule a case evaluation with an experienced personal injury attorney.