What happens in a personal injury lawsuit?
At Chain | Cohn | Clark, 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 that the attorneys and staff at Chain | Cohn | Clark 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 | Clark. “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.”
Chain | Cohn | Clark has compiled a thorough outline of a personal injury lawsuit, which we have reproduced below. For a more interactive learning experience, visit the website, chainlaw.com/steps-of-a-lawsuit.
Step 1: Contact a Personal Injury Attorney from Chain | Cohn | Clark
Before anything, contact our team of Chain | Cohn | Clark personal injury attorneys. Make sure you contact your attorney before you contact insurance companies or do any kind of negotiating with the Defendant. 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 | Clark, 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 Settlement is an agreement that can sometimes be made between the Plaintiff and the Defendant 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 | Clark, 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 Complaint 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 Answer the Complaint, or file another responsive pleading, such as a Demurrer or Motion to Strike.
Step 4: Discovery
After the Defendant answers the complaint, the discovery process begins. During Discovery, information will be gathered and presented in a legal setting to both parties of the suit. Information gathered will include:
- A Request to Produce Documents
- A Request for Admission
- A Defense Medical Examination
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 Conference. 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 Procedures. 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).
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 Procedures fail to produce a settled case, then the lawsuit will go to Trial. During a trial you can expect a Jury to decide the case. Once the jury is selected through Voir Dire, the parties have the opportunity to give Opening Statements, present their evidence in turn, and then give their Closing Arguments. Following the Closing Arguments, the Jury will Deliberates and returns to the courtroom to announce the Verdict.