Steps of a Lawsuit

What Happens in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

At Chain | Cohn | Stiles, we meet with clients every day who have never been involved in a lawsuit. Simply, they don’t know what to expect or how the legal process works. The truth is, lawsuits are exceptionally complicated and involved processes. The good news is the attorneys and staff at Chain | Cohn | Stiles have decades and decades of legal experience.

“Our job is to take the burden of worrying about the lawsuit off your shoulders,” said David Cohn, managing partner at Chain | Cohn | Stiles. “We want you and your family to focus on healing and leave the lawsuit to us. That being said, we want you to understand how the system works and how a lawsuit works through the legal system.”

It is IMPORTANT to us that you understand:

  • Why a lawsuit can take up to and more than 2 years;
  • What the different stages and steps of a lawsuit are;
  • What will be required of you as a PlaintiffThe person making the claim throughout the duration of the case;
  • And the legal terminology that is involved in personal injury lawsuits.

On this page we will lay out a personal injury lawsuit step-by-step. Don’t worry if this seems confusing at first. After reading this and meeting our team of personal injury attorneys, you’ll have a great understanding of just what goes on behind the scenes during personal injury cases.

*** The following describes the steps of a personal injury lawsuit, which is different for workers’ compensation claims. To learn all about the workers’ comp legal process, read this infographic: 12 steps of the workers’ compensation legal process ***

Step 1: Contact a Personal Injury Attorney from Chain | Cohn | Stiles

Before anything, contact our team of Chain | Cohn | Stiles personal injury attorneys. Make sure you contact your attorney before you contact insurance companies or do any kind of negotiating with the DefendantThe person at fault for your injuries. Once you have made contact with our law firm, your attorney will guide you on all the necessary information we need for successfully litigating a case against the defendant. During this initial gathering of information, your attorney will ask you to provide:

  • Medical records and bills
  • Records of loss of earnings and future loss of earnings
  • Police report (if there is one)
  • Insurance policy information and proof of coverage (if applicable)

In addition, your legal team, including a professional investigator employed by Chain | Cohn | Stiles, will gather more important pieces of information including:

  • Taking witness statements
  • Scene and other photographs
  • Gather data from the vehicles in auto accident cases
  • Obtain expert witnesses as necessary

Step 2: Pre-Lawsuit and Settlement Negotiations

After your attorney gathers all of the possible and necessary information so that we can fully evaluate your case, including all of your medical and billing records.  At this stage, you have either completed your medical care and treatment, or you’ve reached a point in your care and treatment where we can reasonably anticipate what your future medical needs may be. Once we have all of this information, we will schedule a meeting with you.  The purpose of the meeting is to formulate a settlement demand, or depending on your case, we may recommend filing a lawsuit before submitting a formal settlement demand.

A Settlementa resolution between disputing parties about a legal case, reached either before or after court action begins is an agreement that can sometimes be made between the Plaintiff and the DefendantThe person at fault for your injuries without having to go to Trial, or before a lawsuit is filed. Once the settlement demand is drafted, it will be delivered, in the form of a letter from Chain | Cohn | Stiles, to the Defendant’s insurance company. A settlement can be negotiated and accepted by both parties or refused by one party or the other. If a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will begin to draft a formal ComplaintA pleading that is filed with the proper court and states (the plaintiff's claim for damages) and submit it to the appropriate court.

Step 3: Complaints and Answers

Once the formal Complaint has been submitted to, and reviewed by, the appropriate court, the document will be Served to the Defendant. This formal service of papers will inform the Defendant that they are being Sued and of the reasons why. After the Defendant has been Served, they will have several weeks from the date the documents were officially given to them to Answera pleading filing by the Defendant with the proper court the Complaint, or file another responsive pleading, such as a Demurrer or Motion to Strikeother formal pleadings filed by the Defendant with the proper court.

Step 4: Discovery

After the Defendant Answers the Complaint, the DiscoveryGathering of information from all sides (Plaintiff and Defendant) process begins. During Discovery, information will be gathered and presented in a legal setting to both parties of the suit. Information gathered will include:

  • InterrogatoriesInterrogatories are questions sent by one party to the other party in a lawsuit in which a party provides written answers to written questions under oath. The client’s participation in answering Interrogatories is mandatory.
  • A Request to Produce Documents
  • DepositionA question-and-answer session conducted by the lawyers who interview witnesses and parties.
  • A Request for Admission
  • A Defense Medical Examinationwhen a doctor, psychologist, or other licensed healthcare professional conducts an examination of an individual to help answer specific legal or administrative questions related to a variety of situations

It is important to understand that the discovery process can last many months.  After a party makes a request for information, it generally takes 30 days or more before they will receive a response.  These timelines are dictated by the California Code of Civil Procedure, and every case must proceed in accordance with the code.

Step 5: Case Management Conference

An in-between step to your lawsuit is the Case Management Conferencewhen both sides, the lawyers (if any), and the judge meet to talk about how to handle the case.. The purpose of this conference is primarily to set a trial date.  Your attorney will attend this conference for you – you do not need to attend.  After a trial date is assigned by the judge, your attorney will send you a letter confirming the trial date. In Kern County, it is common for the Court to assign a trial date to occur approximately 18 months after the filing of the lawsuit.  This time period can vary though. In other counties, such as Los Angeles, it is not uncommon for a Court to assign a trial date 2 years or later from the date the lawsuit was filed.

Step 6: Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedures

Once Discovery and the Case Management Conference are complete, the court and parties to the lawsuit will likely engage in some form of Alternative Dispute Resolution Proceduresany means of settling disputes outside of the courtroom. ADR typically includes mediation or arbitration, and a Mandatory Settlement Conference. Different jurisdictions handle ADR differently. In Kern County, you are almost always ordered to attend a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC).  These are typically scheduled 30-days before the trial date. You are required to attend the MSC with your attorney.  At the MSC a Superior Court Judge will meet with your attorney and the defense attorney, and make an effort to settle your case (although the Judge does not have the power to make either side settle).

  • Arbitrationa method in which the disputing parties agree to abide by the decision of an arbitrator who is an impartial third person. When parties submit to arbitration, they may agree to be bound by and comply with the arbitrator’s decision, unless the court orders the case to arbitration in which case the arbitrator’s award is non-binding. The arbitrator’s decision is given after an informal proceeding where each side presents evidence and witnesses
  • Mediationa method in which a neutral third party helps resolve a dispute. The mediator does not have the power to impose a decision on the parties.

Often times, cases will go to both mediation, and if the mediation is unsuccessful, the parties will still attend an MSC with the Court.

Step 7: Trial

If the Alternative Dispute Resolution Proceduresany means of settling disputes outside of the courtroom. ADR typically includes mediation or arbitration, and a Mandatory Settlement Conference fail to produce a settled case, then the lawsuit will go to Trial. During a trial you can expect a Jurya body of people typically twelve in number sworn to give a verdict in a legal case on the basis of evidence submitted to them in court. to decide the case.  Once the jury is selected through Voir DireThe process where the judge or parties ask jurors questions in order to determine their biases and opinions, the parties have the opportunity to give Opening Statements, present their evidence in turn, and then give their Closing Argumentsthe concluding statement of each party's counsel reiterating the important arguments for the trier of fact, often the jury, in a court case. Following the Closing Arguments, the Jury will Deliberatesthe phase of a civil or criminal trial in which the jury meets in private – usually in a jury room set aside specifically for this purpose – to discuss the evidence presented in court and decide whether the defendant is liable in a civil case, or guilty in a criminal case and returns to the courtroom to announce the Verdict.