There are an estimated 25,000 civil trials before state courts per year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and these represent only a small percentage of the estimated hundreds of thousands of cases filed since many claims end up settling out of court or otherwise never reach the courts. These lawsuits represent claims arising from car accidents, workplace injuries, and other claims of negligence.
If you find yourself injured and are wondering whether to file a personal injury lawsuit, understanding the process may help you make the right decision for your future.
How Do You Know If You Have a Personal Injury Case on Your Hands?
Before determining how to file a personal injury lawsuit, you need to know whether you have a claim. In general, you may file a lawsuit if you have been injured by someone’s wrongful act or negligence and your injury causes losses, such as medical bills or lost wages.
A simple way to establish whether you have a personal injury case is to contact a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury lawyer has worked with many plaintiffs and understands not only whether a specific situation can lead to a lawsuit but may also have a sense of the strength of the case and how much the claim may be worth. When you contact Johnson Garcia Law, your initial consultation to review your situation is free, so you risk nothing.
What Are the Different Steps of The Process?
To file a personal injury lawsuit, you need to inform both the courts and the parties you are filing a claim against about the case. You also need to provide evidence to establish your case. Depending on the case, your claim may be settled or may work its way through the courts. The specific steps of filing a claim include:
- Filing a petition. Also known as a complaint in federal court, the petition is the document that establishes the claim. This formal legal document has several parts. The caption includes the identity of the defendant, the identity of the plaintiff, and the court where you are filing. The next part of the document will outline why the court has jurisdiction and also the facts of your claim. You will also explain what legal basis you are using to make the complaint, which in a personal injury lawsuit is usually negligence. This part of the petition will also explain what damages and relief you are seeking in the case and will end with either your attorney’s signature or your signature, depending on who is filing the complaint.
- The summons. In some situations, you need to file a summons. This document contains a court seal, the signature of the clerk of court or other authority, and an explanation of the case. This document is what formally lets the defendant know that they are being sued and what they are being sued for. As part of preparing and filing the complaint and summons, you will need to pay filing fees but an experienced personal injury lawyer will handle all of the expenses for you until there is a resolution so you do not have to pay out of pocket.
- Service of Process. Once you have filed the summons and complaint, you need to ensure every defendant in the case gets these documents. This is done through service of process, which can be completed by a professional process server or another eligible party in your jurisdiction. Different states have different regulations about who can serve documents in this situation, and it is important to follow the regulations since any errors can be important and delay the process A common issue with process service is that it can be difficult to find the defendant and in some jurisdictions, there may be a time limit on when you must serve the documents.
- The response. Once a defendant has received the documentation outlining the case, they have a chance to respond. They will file an answer with the Court and assert various defenses.
- Discovery. During the discovery process, both sides will share information about their case with each other. The discovery process may include subpoenas, or a legal request for the other side to produce evidence. It can also include asking parties to submit to physical examinations or may involve depositions, which are formal interviews to gather evidence.
- Negotiations. Both sides and the judge will typically communicate to discuss trial dates and to give each side a chance to reach a settlement. It is not uncommon for a plaintiff to make a demand, for the defendant to make an offer, and for the plaintiff to respond to the offer. This back-and-forth process may continue for some time as each side seeks the best outcome. Sometimes this process is conducted through a mediation which uses a third party–the mediator–the facilitate settlement discussions in a formal setting. If a settlement is reached at any point before the trial date, the case will stop working its way through the courts and will be dismissed.
- Trial. In cases where settlements cannot be reached, the case goes to trial. This typically involves a jury trial where a jury is first selected and then hears the evidence. The jury determines whether the defendant is liable and what damages, if any, should be awarded to the plaintiffs in the case.
- Collection. If damages are awarded, a final judgment will be issued that sets forth the total amount that is owed. At that point, the judgment is usually paid by the other side unless an appeal is involved.
Each personal injury lawsuit is different. Some may require additional steps, depending on the requirements of the jurisdiction and the complexity of the case. As a result, the timeline of these cases can vary widely, from a few months to years.
Can You Do It on Your Own, Or Is Hiring An Attorney A Good Idea?
While it is technically possible to file a personal injury claim on your own and while you can learn how to file a personal injury lawsuit, it is not a great idea in almost all cases. There is no legal requirement that you work with an attorney, but there are several reasons why hiring an attorney may help you recover compensation for your injuries:
- Unless you have a legal background, you may make mistakes in filing your claim, which can hurt your chances of reaching a settlement
- You may not know when a settlement is a good idea
- The other side, which may include large insurance companies, will typically have attorneys or even entire teams of attorneys
- Attorneys know how to negotiate and how to prepare for trial, and this level of experience can help you secure a fairer settlement
- Personal injury lawyers can reduce the risk you will lose a claim due to a technicality because they know how to file paperwork and how to present a case in accordance with laws
- The attorneys on the other side will typically be more willing to negotiate and to make fair offers in cases where they see a plaintiff is represented by a respected, experienced attorney
Many plaintiffs are concerned about legal costs. If your worries about legal and attorney fees are making you consider filing on your own, you should know that many personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you only pay if and when you reach a settlement or win in court.
What Else Should You Know About Filing a PI Lawsuit?
One consideration with personal injury claims is that most states have statutes of limitation. This means you have a limited amount of time to file your lawsuit from the time you are injured and if you wait past this time, you may lose the chance to seek compensation. In Texas, with some exceptions, most personal injury lawsuits must be filed within two years of the date of injury.
How Can Johnson Garcia Make the Process Easier?
The legal team at Johnson Garcia Law not only lifts the burden of needing to learn about the law and needing to file paperwork, but we smooth the process for you. We take care of all the details of filing your claim when we represent you and we take our commitment to you seriously.
At Johnson Garcia, we have already secured more than $100 million on behalf of our clients, and we have decades of combined experience, including trial and negotiation experience, we can put to work for you. We work to secure the best outcome for you and our goal is always to seek the fairest compensation for your injuries. If you have been injured, contact Johnson Garcia Law for a consultation.