What Is the Process for a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you have been in an accident that was the fault of someone else and have suffered serious injury, you may be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit. A lawsuit can provide the compensation you need to pay for your medical bills, make up for lost income, and more.
Injured individuals are often unsure about the process of filing a lawsuit and how long it will take. While no one can say with certainty how long a case will take without fully reviewing the facts, there are some basic steps taken in every personal injury case.
Step 1. Free Consultation with an Attorney
The personal injury process in Texas begins when you contact an attorney. When you call, the attorney will likely set up a consultation with you that is free of charge. This meeting will take approximately 30 to 60 minutes. During the meeting, the attorney will review the facts of your case and advise you of your legal options. You will also determine whether you think you and the attorney are a good fit to work together.
It’s a good idea to bring as much documentation to the consultation as you can. This can include police reports, medical bills, X-rays, and pictures. All of this will help the attorney determine whether you have a valid claim.
Once the consultation is over, the attorney will let you know if they can represent you. If you both agree that the attorney is the right choice to help with your case, you will both enter into an agreement to start the working relationship.
Step 2. Investigation of the Claim
After you and your attorney have agreed to work together, the lawyer will get started right away on your case. Although there has already likely been an investigation into the accident, such as if you were in a car crash, your attorney will begin their own investigation.
To do this, they will reach out to anyone else involved in the accident and ask for a statement. They will speak with witnesses who saw the accident, collect accident reports, and reach out to their network of experts. An attorney may, for example, use an accident reconstruction expert to determine what happened. These experts use photos from the scene and computer technology to determine liability.
Liability is one of the concepts all personal injury cases rest on. While your attorney is conducting the investigation, he or she is also trying to determine who is liable.
Step 3. Documenting Damages
Another concept all personal injury cases rely on is damages. In a personal injury lawsuit, the damages are any losses you incurred as a result of the accident. When there are no losses, there is no case.
Accurately assessing these damages is important. If you ask for too little in damages, you may end up paying out of pocket for injuries and losses you are not responsible for. If you ask for too much, the insurance company or judge may hold that against you.
As such, your attorney will work hard documenting the actual damages you have incurred. To do this, they will collect medical bills and invoices, pay stubs indicating how much in wages you have lost from work, accurately evaluate your pain and suffering, and more. All of this indicates how much you should ask for in your personal injury lawsuit.
Step 4. Filing the Lawsuit
Before a lawsuit is filed, your attorney will notify the defendant, and their insurance company if necessary, of your claim. At this time, they will try to reach a settlement. Your attorney and the other side will enter into negotiations, with each side presenting numbers they are comfortable with and either accepting or rejecting the offer.
Most personal injury cases settle at this point. This is often to the injured party’s advantage. Through a settlement, those hurt typically receive their compensation sooner, and it helps pay for medical bills and other expenses that are likely piling up. However, there are cases when the at-fault party and your attorney cannot reach an agreement.
When this happens, it’s better to take the case to trial. Even after you file a lawsuit, you will still have another chance to settle in most cases. It’s important to let the other side know you are serious about the case and about getting the fair compensation you need. Filing a lawsuit certainly sends this message.
The first step when filing a lawsuit is to file a summons against the at-fault party. You attorney will know which Texas court to do this in. This formal complaint will list out the damages you have incurred for both the defendant and the court. The defendant then has a certain amount of time to respond to the summons.
Step 5. Discovery
All civil trials will go through a discovery process. This is one of the longest periods of any trial, as it can take weeks, months, or even sometimes, years. Discovery is the process when the attorneys for both sides exchange facts, documentation, and information.
The purpose of discovery is to allow both sides a chance to understand the facts and arguments the other side will use against them. This is so there are no surprises at trial, although a few do sometimes still happen.
As discovery draws to a close, the attorneys for each side may enter back into negotiations. This is often particularly true if one side determines that the other has a better case. If one party believes they won’t win at trial, it becomes an additional incentive to reach a settlement.
Step 6. Mediation
In Texas, most civil cases are ordered to go through mediation before litigation. During mediation, the two parties will meet with a mediator in an attempt to facilitate a settlement. The mediator is experienced with many ways to resolve a dispute, but they cannot order a final judgment or provide legal advice. They are simply there to try to bring the two sides to an agreement.
Although mediation can slow the personal injury process down, particularly if it doesn’t work, it is often cheaper and faster than going to trial. This is especially true if it’s successful and, therefore, one of the last steps of the personal injury process.
Step 7. Settlement
The willingness of either side to settle in your personal injury case will greatly depend on the facts and evidence of the case. If you have a significant amount of evidence that implicates the at-fault party, they may be more willing to settle. On the other hand, if they have evidence that shows you were partially liable for the accident, you may be more willing to settle for a lower amount.
If you do settle, particularly if it’s with an insurance company, the other side may ask you to sign a release. This release states that the case has been settled and is final. Once you sign this, you cannot go back and ask for more compensation in the future. Due to this, it is crucial that you understand the total extent of your injuries, and how much they will cost now and in the months and years to come.
Step 8. Trial
If mediation did not work and the two sides cannot agree on a fair settlement, the case will go to trial. These civil trials are heard by either a judge or a jury, depending on what was requested and what was provided. At trial, you are at the mercy of the Texas courts. The case will proceed according to the timeline and schedule of the courts, and hearing dates can be scheduled and then rescheduled. This is one of the main reasons trials take so much longer than settlement negotiations.
After all sides have had a chance to present their arguments, a judge or jury will then determine who was at fault. If they decide in your favor, they will also determine how much compensation you are entitled to receive.
Statute of Limitations on Personal Injury Claims
Texas, like all states, has a statute of limitations on personal injury claims. This is the time limit you have to file a lawsuit. In most cases, accident victims in the Lone Star State have two years from the date of the accident to file their claim.
Keep in mind, this means you have two years to file your claim with the courts. The entire case doesn’t have to be finalized in that two-year timeframe. You simply have to file within that time. If you don’t, your case will likely be thrown out of court and you won’t receive any compensation.
Many accident victims think this is a long time, but it’s not. Remember that your attorney will first need to investigate the accident and determine your damages before filing your claim. This takes time, so you should speak to an attorney as soon as possible after an accident.
Need Help Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you’ve been hurt and want to file a personal injury lawsuit, don’t do it on your own. At Ketterman Rowland & Westlund, our personal injury attorneys can help.
While you’re focusing on getting better and recovering from your injuries, we will take care of every detail of your claim. We will collect evidence, document your damages, and effectively negotiate with the other side in pursuit of a full and fair settlement. If the other side refuses to settle for a fair amount, we will go to trial in pursuit of the compensation you deserve.
Contact us for your free consultation to learn more about how we can help with your case.