Unfortunately, accidents occur all the time, and often result in injury. Because of an accident, you might have to deal with large medical bills, lost wages from time off work, and other expenses. When your accident was caused by another party, you may be entitled to recourse and compensation through the law. That’s why personal injury lawsuits exist.
If this has happened to you and you’ve hired a personal injury attorney, you might be feeling anxious or nervous about the process. That’s okay! It can certainly seem daunting. Fortunately, a good personal injury lawyer will make the process easy to understand. To help you further, we’ve created a comprehensive overview of personal injury lawsuits, so you know what you can expect during your case. Read on to find answers to some of the most commonly asked personal injury questions.
What is a personal injury case?
Personal injury lawsuits are legal disputes that often arise when an individual suffers harm from an accident or injury, and another party might be legally responsible for that harm or any damages. Common types of personal injury cases include:
- Car accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Medical malpractice
A case will involve two parties: the plaintiff (the injured person) and the defendant or their insurance company (the individual who is responsible for the accident). Personal injury cases become formalized when you are represented by a personal injury lawyer in a civil court proceeding. This proceeding seeks to find which party is legally at fault and responsible for any monetary damages. However, such disputes can be resolved through an informal settlement before a lawsuit is formally filed.
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What are the steps in a personal injury lawsuit?
If you have a pending personal injury case, it’s normal to be nervous and wonder what to expect. Remember that every personal injury lawsuit is unique. However, most cases will have several common steps:
- Complaint: The first document filed in personal injury lawsuits is called a complaint. Filing a complaint is what initiates the lawsuit.
- Discovery: This is the period in which both sides research the accident by obtaining documents and witness accounts. This includes the deposition, where the plaintiff answers questions issued by the defense.
- Pre-trial negotiations: At this stage of a personal injury case, the plaintiff and defendant’s representation will often attempt to negotiate and reach a settlement. In some cases, a mediator might be selected to help both parties reach an amicable agreement. Other cases may go to arbitration, in which a neutral third party will resolve the dispute. Arbitration is binding and usually cannot be appealed in court.
- Settlement: Many times, personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court before making it to trial. In these cases, the plaintiff and defense reach an agreement and a settlement amount is decided. This prevents a lengthy trial and appeal process for both parties.
- Trial: Cases that do not settle out of court move on to the trial phase. In this stage, a decision-maker, most often a jury, will review the facts, details, and circumstances of the case to determine fault and, if their decision is in favor of the plaintiff, to award damages.
- Appeal: In certain cases, the losing party may appeal a judgement. This is known as the appellate process. An appeal is usually much different from the trial process, and depending on the specifics of the case, could take an additional several years to resolve.
The legal process for personal injury cases can be lengthy and very involved. No two cases are alike, and, depending on the circumstances and parties involved, they can be complex. That’s why it’s important for injury victims to have an experienced legal team on their side.
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What percentage of personal injury lawsuits go to trial?
According to the American Bar Association, only around 3% of all civil suits go to trial. Additional statistics show that between 95 and 96 percent of personal injury cases are settled out of court, meaning only 3-4% usually make it to trial.
Few personal injury cases make it into the courtroom for several reasons:
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- Cost: Taking a personal injury case to court is expensive for defendants or insurance companies, both of whom are trying to mitigate legal costs. It can also be expensive for the plaintiff, such as when experts are required. Even in cases where a defendant feels they have a defense that can defeat the plaintiff’s claim, they still may decide to settle out of court, as the legal costs could potentially be more expensive.
- Certainty versus Risk: Both juries and judges can be unpredictable. Even when a defendant feels they have a sound case, there is no guarantee a ruling will be made in their favor, or, if a plaintiff is awarded damages, how much that amount may be. Therefore, it’s often safer to settle out of court, where a defendant or insurer will have more control over the cost of damages.
- Avoiding a protracted trial: Both the plaintiff and the defendant may find reaching a settlement a more attractive option than going through a lengthy trial. Even in the event that a plaintiff wins the case, the ultimate outcome can be left undecided for months due to appeals.
While the majority of personal injury lawsuits never go to trial, you should still prepare for that possibility. In the event your lawyer is unable to secure a settlement through negotiations, they’ll explain to you what happens next, and help prepare you for the trial process.
What is a personal injury deposition?
For many injury victims, the deposition can cause anxiety. However, deposition is a crucial part of every personal injury case. Your lawyer will work with you to help you prepare for the questions you might be expected to answer.
A deposition involves answering questions from the defense attorney about the case. The defense will likely ask questions to determine the circumstances and details of your accident and injuries. This will happen at a specified date, time, and place. You’ll know in advance where and when it will occur. Generally, it will take place in an attorney’s office. Your attorney will help you prepare and will be with you during your deposition.
A deposition happens after a lawsuit is filed, but prior to trial. It’s an important part of the discovery phase of a personal injury case. You’ll receive a legal request known as a notice of deposition. After you’ve received a notice of deposition, it’s mandatory that you participate.
While giving your deposition, you’ll be under oath. This means you’re required to provide truthful answers to the best of your ability. There will be a court reporter present who will record everything that is said and happens during your deposition. In general, what you say during your deposition testimony can be used in the event your case goes to court.
How long does a personal injury lawsuit take?
The duration of personal injury cases can vary considerably. Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer to how long you should expect your personal injury lawsuit to last. Some can reach settlement in as little as six months, while others can take several years. In complex cases that involve a large amount of money, it can take more than three years before a settlement or trial verdict is reached. After a trial verdict is reached, there is an appeal period which can add additional time to your case.
Contacting an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible can help to move the process along. In any case, proper preparation is a vital part of an efficient claims process. This is something an experienced attorney can help you with.
Personal Injury Law at May, Herr & Grosh
If you have been injured as a result of another person’s negligence, the expert legal team at May, Herr & Grosh are here to help you. Our attorneys have decades of experience representing residents of Pennsylvania. With law offices located in the heart of Lancaster City, PA, we are able to help clients across central Pennsylvania with personal injury cases. To have a discussion about your case, contact our team today and learn how we can help!
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