Understanding the Personal Injury Lawsuit Settlement Process
Accidents happen all the time – at school, at work, and especially on the road. While many people have been in a motor vehicle accident, few people have ever filed a lawsuit. The process of a personal injury lawsuit is complex but it should not be stressful. Most people choose to hire a personal injury attorney to ensure insurance companies and other parties involved in their case don’t use the legal system to take advantage of them. The personal injury lawsuit settlement process consists of eight simple steps.
1. Meet with your personal injury lawyer
Although it is permissible to settle small claims without legal representation, a lawyer can be very useful in these situations. The first step is to meet with, evaluate, and hire an attorney after you have received medical treatment for your injuries.
Not all attorneys have the same skills. You will be spending a significant amount of time with your attorney as your case progresses. Your attorney plays a large role in whether you win or lose your case, so choose carefully. You have the right to ask about his or her expertise, track record, how long they have been in practice, and you may want ask to speak to previous clients. Once you are confident in your decision, hire your lawyer. You will then sign a contract outlining contingency fees and other costs. Be sure you are clear about the terms of your fees.
2. Allow your lawyer to investigate your claims
Once you’ve hired your attorney, he or she will want to thoroughly understand your case. This may include an in-depth interview, a background check, and access to your medical records and bills. It is important to be as truthful as possible. This process can take a few weeks to a few months. Your lawyer should be able to determine early on whether or not you have a solid case.
3. Consider negotiations with a settlement
Everyone wants a peaceful settlement in the end. This includes you, your attorney, and the attorney for the other party. Often both attorneys will try to reach a settlement before going to trial. A settlement is beneficial for both sides because the defendant receives compensation for their damages and it removes the plaintiff from liability. A settlement begins with a request from you and your lawyer, until the other party responds. This process may go back and forth several times, but the ultimate goal is to reach terms that both parties can agree to. In this event, no one ever goes to trial.
4. File your lawsuit (pretrial)
In some cases, the parties cannot reach a settlement and your attorney will file a lawsuit with the court. The pretrial phases that take place before you are in a courtroom can take months, possibly years, depending on the complexity of your case.
5. Conduct the discovery process
The longest part of the pretrial phase is the discovery process. During this time, both parties investigate each other’s claims. This may include asking questions, conducting interviews, requesting documents, and interviewing all the relevant witnesses. This process can take from six months to a year, based on the deadline given by the court.
6. Go to trial
A personal injury trial generally has six phases.
- Jury selection
- Opposing counsel opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instructions
- Deliberation and the verdict
Each party will make their claims, which eventually lead to the jury determining the plaintiff’s liability and the defendant’s amount of compensation. If a verdict not in your favor, you may request a higher court to review the verdict. The defense can appeal the verdict as well, which can extend the amount of time before a final judgement occurs in the case.
7. Collect your judgment or settlement
Your lawyer will collect and distribute funds once your case reaches a final judgement or settlement, following several months or years of working on your case. Keep in mind that a portion of this will go toward your lawyer’s contingency fees.
8. Conduct the post-trial process.
After the distribution of your settlement has to pay those you owe, you will receive a check written in your name. Your personal injury lawsuit is now over.