The steps in a personal injury lawsuit can differ from one case to the next. Many personal injury cases will follow a similar pattern, though, with the sequence including:
1. An Event That Harms the PlaintiffThe person who will become the “plaintiff” in a personal injury lawsuit is, at first, merely someone who has been hurt or killed by another. Another term for plaintiff is the claimant or the one making the claim. That person will generally consider a personal injury lawsuit if they suffer injuries. You may also consider a wrongful death lawsuit if your loved one was killed by the fault of another. Events that can start the process of a personal injury lawsuit include:
- A car crash
- A truck crash
- A pedestrian accident
- A slip and fall
- A trip and fall
- An animal attack
- A medical error
- Injuries resulting from a defective product
- General negligence
- A physical assault
2. The Hiring of an AttorneyWhile a person may technically file a personal injury lawsuit on their own, hiring a qualified and proven attorney is really the best way to go. A good lawyer (not your typical TV lawyer) will assert the injured person’s (or family of a deceased person’s) right and negotiate the claims and lawsuit minefields. When you hire a good lawyer, you’ll know that your rights are protected. Your lawyer may assert your rights and protect your interests by:
- Handling communications with the insurance companies and corporate defendants;
- Advising you regarding things you can do to improve, and not harm, your claims;
- Preventing hostile interests from contacting, misleading or taking advantage of you;
- Advising you of reasonable settlement ranges.
3. Investigation of the Circumstances That Prompted Your LawsuitYour attorney will investigate the cause of your current circumstances. Whether the inciting event was a car crash, slip and fall, or other circumstance, your attorney will pursue all relevant details. During the investigation, your attorney may also:
- Gather video footage, incident reports, witness accounts, photographs, and other types of evidence;
- Obtain evidence from and/or about at-fault parties;
- Contact law enforcement to get a copy of police reports;
- Gather your medical records and bills;
- In some cases, hire experts to help with issues of fault or harm in your case.
4. Identification of Your LossesIdentifying a client’s losses is an essential role of any personal injury attorney. The types of losses you’ve suffered, and the severity of those losses, will directly determine how much compensation you may recover. Recoverable losses in a personal injury case may include:
- Medical expenses: Personal injury victims generally require medical attention. Emergency treatment, medical imaging, hospitalization, medical equipment, doctor’s appointments, medication, therapy, in-home care, and other healthcare costs are commonly part of the compensation recovered.
- Non-economic damages: Commonly referred to as just “pain and suffering,” these recoverable damages are much broader than that in scope and include such things as anxiety, depression, disability, disfigurement, inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life. Some refer to these types of damages as “harm to the person” where economic damages such as medical expenses and lost wages are “harm to the pocketbook.” While often difficult to assess, these damages are often the lions share of personal injury recoveries.
- Property damage: Certain personal injury cases, like car crashes, involve property damage. You may recover money to help pay for the repair or replacement of your property.
- Lost income: If injury or illness prevents you from working, your financial recovery may include coverage of lost income, lost bonuses, and other professional damages. These can often be recovered even by those who have generous employers who pay employees their regular pay and benefits while they are out work due to the injuries or illness caused by the defendant(s).
- Lost earning capacity: If you can return to work after your injury or illness but cannot earn as much as you did before your injury or illness, then at-fault parties may have to pay you the difference between what you would likely have made without the injury/illness vs. with it.
5. Determination of LiabilityYour attorney will determine who is liable, or legally responsible, for your losses. More than one party may be at fault for the negligence or other unlawful conduct which caused your harm. Someone is generally negligent if:
- They had a duty of care that requires them to act reasonably;
- They breached their duty of care by acting in an unreasonable manner;
- You (or a loved one) were physically;
- Their breach of duty was a substantial factor which contributed to causing you harm.
6. Determination of How to Pursue CompensationAt this stage, your attorney may determine the most appropriate way to pursue compensation. An insurance claim is sometimes an option. In your case, a personal injury lawsuit may be the most appropriate option.
7. Notification of Liable PartiesWhatever path your lawyer pursues, they will notify liable parties of their intended course. In personal injury cases, the attorney will need to “serve” the defendant with the legal Complaint against them.
8. Settlement negotiationsSettlements can be an ideal way to resolve a personal injury case. Settlement negotiations are not always easy, though, and may require a long period of deliberation. During settlement negotiations, your attorney may:
- Present evidence that he gathered during the investigation;
- Explain the types and calculation of your damages;
- Present favorable witness accounts and expose the weaknesses of hostile ones;
- Present testimony from any experts they hire for your case;
- Refute claims that you are at fault for causing your injuries;
- Make a comprehensive presentation of your case to an adjustor, lawyer, judge or risk management professional.