Simply stated‚ a personal injury lawsuit is a legal action brought by someone who has been injured‚ either physically or emotionally‚ by another person’s negligent or intentional act. This is usually from an auto accident‚ a fall‚ or a product malfunction. There are many phases to a personal injury lawsuit‚ and it’s often difficult to predict how long it will take to resolve a case.
When an accident occurs‚ it is important to record as much data as you can about the circumstances of the accident‚ including facts about the other party.
For example‚ if you are in a car accident‚ you’ll want to call the police to have them file a police report. If possible‚ take photos and videos of the scene and the damage caused. Also try to get the names and contact information of any witnesses that may be helpful in your case later on. Seek medical attention soon after the accident to have your injuries assessed and documented by a doctor.
These details will help you and your personal injury attorney determine key factors‚ such as fault and amount of damages.
Contacting a Personal Injury Attorney
When filing a personal injury claim‚ it is wise to have a good attorney by your side. He or she will gather key pieces of evidence and develop a winning strategy for your case. Under no circumstances should you talk to the other party’s attorney‚ their insurance company‚ or sign any documents without first talking to your attorney.
Drafting the Demand Letter
If you believe you are entitled to compensation due to the injuries you sustained because of another party’s negligence‚ your personal injury attorney will send a demand letter to the other party‚ their attorney‚ or their insurance company.
The letter will state relevant facts about the accident‚ describe your injuries‚ and ask for a specified amount for settlement. The letter will also give them a deadline to respond.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If the other party refuses to settle‚ the next step is to file a lawsuit. The person filing is called the plaintiff and the document you file is called a complaint.
The party being sued is called the defendant. The defendant has a specified amount of time to respond‚ or answer. All documents are filed with a local court that the plaintiff usually chooses. In some cases‚ however‚ a defendant may ask to have the lawsuit moved to a different court.
What is Written Discovery?
After the lawsuit has been filed‚ the parties then have the opportunity to get information from each other about the case. During the discovery process‚ each party requests relevant information and documents from the other in order to “discover” pertinent facts about the case in hopes of either raising or lowering their settlement offer. The purpose of discovery is to find out the other side’s version of the facts‚ what witnesses know‚ and other evidence.
Discovery is one of the most important and time-consuming parts of the litigation process. The questions you ask and the answers you give in response may make or break your case.
Types of Discovery
- A deposition‚ in which a party will have to answer questions verbally‚ under oath in front of a court reporter.
- Form interrogatories or special interrogatories‚ in which a person will have to respond to written questions under oath.
- Requests for Admission‚ in which a person will be asked to admit to certain facts‚ and basic issues can be agreed upon so they do not have to be proven in court.
- Request for Physical Examination‚ should a person need to verify he is sound enough to make a decision. This is otherwise known as an independent medical examination (it is not independent; the doctor is hired by the defense. But it is independent of your doctors).
- Request for Documents‚ in which a person will have to provide requested documents to the court.
- Request for Inspection‚ in which a person will have to agree for police to inspect tangible items such as houses‚ cars‚ appliances‚ etc.
- Subpoena‚ an order telling a witness to appear in court or at a deposition. If the witness fails to do so‚ then he may be held in contempt of court.
- Subpoena duces tecum‚ an order telling a witness to turn over certain documents to that party or bring them to a deposition. If the witness fails to do so‚ then he may be held in contempt of court.
How Much Information Can I Get Through Discovery?
The scope of information that a party can obtain through discovery is very broad and not limited to what can be used in trial. Federal courts and most state courts‚ including California’s‚ allow a party to discover any information “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Because this is so wide-ranging‚ parties often disagree about what information must be exchanged and what may be kept confidential. These disputes are resolved through court rulings on discovery motions.
What Do You Do If You Don’t Want To Respond?
The law states that you can object to discovery if:
- It is not within the scope of discovery‚
- It is not a permissible form of discovery‚
- The information is not reasonably available‚
- The request lacks specificity‚
- It is an improper request for discovery‚
- It is duplicitous/repetitious‚
- A request is unduly burdensome‚ harassing and/or overly broad.
Unfortunately‚ if this is not the case‚ you must answer the party’s request.
What Happens If I Don’t Respond?
There are consequences to not responding to discovery requests. If you do not respond‚ the opposing party can file a Motion to Compel‚ requesting the judge to order you to respond by a certain date.
If you do not respond by this date‚ the court can order you to pay your opponent’s attorney’s fees. The court can also rule to not allow you to present any evidence that would have been produced under discovery requests. Lastly‚ the court is allowed to presume that because you did not respond to the questions‚ the requested items would be contrary to your position and rule in the other party’s favor.
Therefore‚ it is important to ALWAYS respond‚ provided your attorney tells you to.
Quick Tips on How to Respond to Discovery
- Answer truthfully. Remember‚ you are answering under oath. Many companies have access to a lot of information. If you lie‚ they will find out.
- Read each question carefully and answer it completely.
- Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know.
- If you are making a guess or estimate‚ tell them.
Before the case goes to trial‚ both parties’ attorneys may make legal arguments‚ known as motions‚ to the court. They may bring up concerns about the adequacy of the complaint or answer‚ disputes about discovery‚ or argue that one party’s case is so strong that they are entitled to damages without going to trial.
Settlement Conference and Mediation
When the case is finally ready for trial‚ many courts require the attorneys to meet with a judge for a settlement conference to try to reach an agreement. Some courts refer the parties and their attorneys to mediation to try to reach settlement before trial.
If settlement and mediation fail‚ the case will go to trial before a judge or jury. The choice between a judge or jury is up to the plaintiff. At trial‚ the parties will present witnesses‚ cross-examine each other‚ show evidence‚ and make arguments. After this is all said and done‚ the judge or jury will enter a verdict for either the plaintiff or the defendant. If it is in favor of the plaintiff‚ then the judge or jury will decide on the amount of damages.
In some cases‚ both parties will go to arbitration‚ which is similar to a trial but conducted before an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators. It is as final as the trial court’s verdict‚ and is usually less expensive and quicker than litigation.
Both parties may agree to enter arbitration or may be required to go to arbitration if their contract binds them to it.
Why Hire a Personal Injury Attorney?
As you can see‚ the process of filing a claim and going to court can be very complicated. This is why you need quality legal representation. The attorneys at Jurewitz Law Group Injury & Accident Lawyers will see you through the process and make sure you are taking the right steps to get the damages you need and deserve. Call our San Diego personal injury law office at (888) 233-5020.