This is a step by step guide to your personal injury lawsuit if you never have been involved with the court system before and suddenly find yourself filing a personal injury lawsuit for your personal injury claim. You might feel anxious or even intimidated, and you may worry about what to expect.
Fortunately, though the details of each case are unique, all personal injury lawsuits follow the same general step-by-step process. Your personal injury attorney will be with you throughout your journey, explaining what you need to do. For those who like to understand an overview of the general process after filing a personal injury lawsuit, this is a step-by-step guide to personal injury lawsuits in Texas.
Filing the Personal Injury Lawsuit
When the insurance company will not offer enough to settle your personal injury claim whether it’s a car accident or other claim a lawsuit must be filed. The person with the personal injury claim who is seeking compensation is called the plaintiff, and the other party is the defendant. As the plaintiff, you start the ball rolling by filing a personal injury lawsuit with the court. The court will issue a citation and your attorney will serve the defendant with it.
The citation gives the defendant approximately three weeks to give a copy to the insurance company and respond. In most cases, the first response is “general denial,” in which the defendant claims that your allegations are false or that the plaintiff with the personal injury claim caused or contributed to the cause of the accident.
Most defendants to personal injury lawsuits are covered by insurance, and their insurance company hires a defense attorney. Other defendants hire their own lawyer. Regardless of who pays for the defense counsel, though, after an answer is filed and the defendant makes an appearance the next stage is known as “discovery.” Discovery is the opportunity for both parties to learn as much as they can about the case that the other side is building.
Written discovery in a personal injury lawsuit
Interrogatories – Written Questions and Answers
Stacks of written documents may be exchanged by the opposing lawyers. Your personal injury attorney or part of his legal team will ask you to fill out forms and questions called interrogatories. Informally, an interrogatory is a written list of questions about your claims, witnesses, and other details of your case which you have to answer under oath.
Requests for Production of documents or records for your personal injury claim
Requests for production are formal written requests from the other party which asks for documents to support your claim. These can also be used to dispute or contest your claim. An example of the documents requested are typically your medical records, medical bills, employment documentation such as information for lost wages.
Requests For Admissions
Requests for Admissions are written requests for a Plaintiff or Defendant to “admit” to a fact. Requests for Admissions are used to narrow the facts which are in controversy or disputed.
Time to Respond to Written Discovery
The “paperwork” may seem overwhelming but your personal injury attorney will be there to assist you. It is important to answer everything as completely and truthfully as you can. If you are not sure of something ask your personal injury lawyer.
Please note that you must answer all written requests as soon as possible. Failure to respond could damage your case. For example, you might receive a “request for admission,” which asks you to admit that a certain statement is true. If you don’t answer in writing within the designated time frame, you will be deemed to have admitted that the statement is true.
Depositions in your personal injury lawsuit
Depositions are also a normal part of discovery. This is a recorded statement in which someone connected to the lawsuit is questioned under oath in front of a court reporter. This statement can then be admitted as evidence during the trial. You, the defendant, eyewitnesses, and various experts may need to provide depositions.
Depositions are important for a Plaintiff and it is the most “work” they will have to do in the lawsuit. As the person with the personal injury claim, you should be prepared to know basic facts about your case. This is also an opportunity for you to show the insurance company that you will make a credible and sympathetic witness. An experienced personal injury attorney may not take the defendant’s deposition and take the “defendant” live at trial.
Near the end of the discovery phase, either party may file a motion for summary judgment. This is a request that the court find in that party’s favor based on the law, without digging into the specific facts of the case. Summary judgments are rarely filed in typical personal injury lawsuits although they are more common in trucking accident lawsuits where they are used to narrow issues and not dispose of the entire case.
Mediation is a settlement conference facilitated by a lawyer or a former judge with special training. Either party may request it in an attempt to avoid going to trial. If you file a lawsuit it is likely the court will require mediation for a personal injury case.
Both parties, accompanied by your attorneys, will sit down with the personal injury mediator to try to reach a resolution. Both sides will be given the opportunity to make an opening statement. Your attorney will present your personal injury case (you should not say anything and look serious and sweet as the day is long) and you will then be separated into different rooms. The mediator will go back and forth between the rooms talking to each party to try to negotiate a settlement. Now due to the Covid-19 pandemic Zoom mediations are become more and more frequent and have been effective.
Most personal injury cases can reach a settlement at mediation. If not, then the case proceeds to trial. However, the mediation session is considered confidential, and nothing from it can be used at trial.
The trial is separated into five distinct phases:
Jury Selection: Officially known as Voir Dire, jury selection decides who will hear the case. Potential jurors are brought into the courtroom and questioned by both attorneys as well as the judge. Either side can dismiss, or “strike,” a juror. There are two types of strikes—peremptory and “for cause.”
Peremptory strikes allow the attorney to strike a juror for any reason (except prohibited reasons such as race), or even “just because.” However, they are limited in number. “For cause” strikes occur when the juror shows bias or prejudice against the case or the client, and there is no limitation on the number of “for cause” strikes. Jury selection continues until the lawyers agree on 6 jurors plus alternates (county court) or 12 jurors plus alternates (district court).
Opening Statements: Both lawyers get an opening statement in which they tell the jury what they intend to prove. Technically, they are not supposed to present arguments as part of the opening statement, but this is a murky area.
Evidence: The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that 1) an injury occurred, 2) the defendant was responsible, and 3) damages occurred. Your lawyer will go first, calling witnesses and introducing exhibits as needed. The defense attorney has the right to cross-examine each witness. This process continues until your lawyer is finished and “rests” his or her case. Then it is the defense lawyer’s turn, and your lawyer may cross-examine each defense witness.
Closing Arguments: Closing arguments are what most people think of when they think of trials because they are often the most dramatic parts of movies. Then both attorneys will make their closing arguments which is the last thing the jurors will hear before they start deliberations.
Deliberations: The jury will make their deliberations in the privacy of the jury room. Depending on the complexity of the case, it could take minutes, hours, or days for the jury to reach a verdict. Everyone will return to the courtroom to listen to the verdict.
Additional motions and hearings may be involved in your case, and the losing party has the right to appeal. In general, though, the basic steps above are what you can expect from a personal injury lawsuit in Texas.
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If you need a passionate and experienced personal injury attorney in the Houston area, contact Jerome O. Fjeld, PLLC today at (713) 572-6446 to schedule your free consultation. Categories personal injury claims, personal injury lawsuits,
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