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Very often clients hiring a personal injury attorney have very little prior experience with the legal system. So many do not know what to expect. The law is highly complex, involving many procedural steps before the ultimate settlement or verdict. The time from start to finish can be frustrating for personal injury clients and their attorneys. I spend a great deal of time explaining every step of the process to my clients, including all of the things that they can do to maximize the value of their claim. But this blog post should give you a basic idea of what to expect during a personal injury lawsuit. All lawsuits are unique so can involve variations on the basic timeline below. The steps involved in your case may not be 100% predictable but there are always some basic similarities from case to case.
Although every case is different, you can expect these basic events to take place:
Investigation of Personal Injury Claim & Attempt to Settle Without Filing Suit
Immediately after an accident, hopefully you were evaluated by a medical professional (which should happen as soon as possible after an accident, ideally either immediately or within 48 hours). Then hopefully you also called me to serve as your Orlando personal injury attorney. Once you sign my retainer agreement, I will begin investigating the case, telling you how to preserve what evidence, and explaining how you can best maximize the value of your claim. I will notify your insurance company and the defendant(s) to preserve evidence and that I am your representative. I will also determine whether there might be any other applicable insurance coverage. We will then begin a long relationship working closely together to determine all of the ways the accident has impacted your life. I will focus on advising you, step by step, how to maximize the value of your claim. This typically involves ongoing conversations over the course of your medical treatment. After hearing your story, and talking to any witnesses, as well as requesting and reviewing the accident report, and any of your medical records, I will draft a detailed demand letter to send to your insurance company, explaining why I think you are entitled to whatever amount we have determined together you should receive. Typically, insurance companies remain unreasonable at this stage of the game, and a lawsuit is often needed. (However, a lawsuit may not always be a good idea, depending on the facts of your case, for example, if you were not permanently injured.)
Personal Injury Lawsuit Filed
Once we file a lawsuit on your behalf, we have to serve the appropriate documents on all of the defendants, which includes something called the “Complaint,” which is the document that officially begins the lawsuit. The defendant(s) then file their response to the lawsuit, with a document called an “Answer.” The defendant(s) may also file something called a “Motion to Dismiss,” which can cause the court to drop your case entirely if you cannot establish that you have stated a valid claim or if you have other procedural problems, such as filing in the wrong location.
Discovery During A Personal Injury Lawsuit
After the complaint and answer are filed, the parties generally begin a fairly lengthy process called “discovery.” During discovery, both parties are entitled to ask questions, written and oral, of the other parties and other witnesses, but must comply with very detailed procedural rules governing what questions can be asked, of whom, regarding what topics, and when. For the most part, each party submits written questions called interrogatories and/or “requests for admissions” or “requests for production of documents” to the other party. Attorneys assist with answering these questions, as well as objecting to those questions that are not permissible for whatever reason. Attorneys might also have to file motions to get other parties and their attorneys to fairly answer these questions.
Depositions: Oral Questions Under Oath
Typically, all parties also want to ask other parties or witnesses oral questions under oath. We call these oral examinations “depositions.” Depositions are not held in court, but they are transcribed by a court reporter. In many ways, depositions can have the same impact as trial testimony because sometimes deposition transcripts are admissible in court. Depositions can also be very important to settlement discussions because, during them, for example, the plaintiff either convinces the defense counsel that he or she will get a lot of money from a jury (or not). Or defense counsel learns that his or her own witness is not going to play well before a jury.
Why Are Depositions Important? And When Do They Happen?
Deposition testimony can also be important when defending another motion that can lead the court to dismiss the case entirely, which either party can file later in the case (similar to a motion to dismiss, which is filed earlier in the case). These motions, called “motions for summary judgment,” are highly complex requiring extensive legal research, analysis and argument. So depositions are very important, which means that preparation for depositions takes the lawyers a lot of time. They often must research how the specific facts of the case could impact the ultimate outcomes (because all cases are factually unique so the law is at least *slightly different* in each and every case), so that they can ask the necessary questions of all witnesses, as well as properly prepare their clients for their own deposition. As a general rule of thumb, depositions happen within 6 months of filing the lawsuit (this time frame can vary). Usually depositions take place in a lawyer’s office, with both attorneys present, where one attorney asks the other attorney’s client various questions, and a court reporter transcribes both the questions and answers. If you hire me, when you are deposed, I will be present, and generally my co-counsel will also be present, to make sure the questions are proper and to instruct you not to answer if the questions are improper. I also try to prepare you ahead of the deposition for the likely questions, so that you can be well prepared. And either myself or my co-counsel would take the deposition of the defendant(s) and any important witnesses (we utilize a team approach, which means the best person for that particular witness deposes them).All parties typically request and review the medical records during discovery. Sometimes the defendant(s) also requests that a defense doctor have a chance to evaluate the plaintiff.
Expert Witnesses In Personal Injury Cases
If either liability or damages are contested, and they usually are, the parties begin to hire expert witnesses. Experts might involve proving medical conditions or proving fault (such as an accident reconstruction expert in a car accident case). The attorneys for both sides generally depose these witnesses (each attorney deposes the experts for the other side). Preparing experts for these depositions, as well as preparing to depose the other side’s expert witnesses, are also very complex and involve extensive preparation. All the while, the lawyers may be arguing over the scope of an experts’ opinion, whether someone even qualifies as an expert, and a long list of other issues related to the rules governing permissible discovery and expert witnesses.
Settlements & Mediation
Throughout this process, settlement discussions may be taking place. Sometimes the parties will attend mediation, which is a less formal settlement conference, typically conducted by a skilled third party mediator, with the hopes that the case can be resolved. Insurance companies may offer more money if they lose various important motions, such as motions to compel discovery, motions to preclude the admission of evidence, motions for summary judgment, etc. Thoroughly preparing to go to trial (and being ready, willing and able to pull that trigger) is the best way to either force settlement or, if settlement is not possible, have the best chance of convincing a jury that you deserve the most money. As just one of many examples, an attorney who is thoroughly familiar with all of the ways the accident has impacted your life, because they have taken the time to really learn your case, will have the best chance of persuading a jury that you really have suffered because they will have many concrete examples of how the accident has impacted you, and can elicit that information from you or other witnesses during trial testimony.
Going To Trial
Most cases settle. However, if your case does not settle, you can expect your trial to take anywhere from (roughly) four days to three weeks, generally depending on complexity and amount in controversy. My firm and co-counsel prepare extensively for trial and stand ready to advocate very strongly on our clients behalf during any trial. If the case is tried before a jury (and most are), then the jury may deliberate anywhere between a few hours and several days. Parties can also file a long list of important motions (and sometimes even appeals to other courts) before, during and after trial, which can all have either a positive or negative effect on the ultimate outcome in your case. Some examples include motions to include or exclude important evidence or witnesses, motions to limit the scope of expert testimony (or eliminate certain experts altogether), and many other potential motions. Total time from start to finish generally ranges anywhere between a few months (if settled before trial) to a couple of years or even more in higher value or more complicated cases.
Call Me Today: (407) 383-7290
If you need an attorney to zealously advocate on your behalf, and provide highly personalized service, for your personal injury lawsuit, please call me today. Consultations are always free. I am an Orlando personal injury attorney, but I also accept cases from Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Valdosta, Macon, Atlanta, and all points above and below. I’m licensed in both Florida and Georgia.