What is the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit?

If you have been injured and you’ve gotten nothing but the runaround from insurance companies, you may be thinking about filing a lawsuit to obtain fair compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and other damages. For most people the idea of taking legal action is overwhelming, but it is your right and it may be necessary to move forward with your life in the best position possible. Knowing a bit more about the process of filing a lawsuit can make the prospect a little less daunting.

Eight General Steps to Filing a Lawsuit
  • Complaint – A lawsuit starts when the plaintiff (the person making a claim for compensation) files a complaint against a defendant (the person or entity being sued). The complaint gives the reason the plaintiff is suing the defendant and the remedy the plaintiff wants.

  • Summons – Once the complaint is filed, the defendant will receive a summons, notifying him or her of the lawsuit. The summons also tells the defendant when and where to appear in court.

  • Defendant’s Answer – Within a limited number of days, the defendant can file an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, which sets out any defenses to the claim. If the defendant doesn’t file an answer, the plaintiff will usually win a default judgment.

  • Counterclaim – If the defendant believes he or she has a claim against the plaintiff, the defendant may file a counterclaim in addition to an answer.

  • Discovery – During discovery, both parties are able to gather information about the case through interrogatories (written questions), depositions (oral questions), and document requests. It’s also a time when information can be gathered from surveillance videos, and when accident reconstructionists may be brought in to determine who was at fault.

  • Trial – Either side can request a jury trial (i.e. verdict), but if neither side asks for a jury, the trial will take place before a judge. During trial, both parties present evidence and may call witnesses to testify.

  • Judgment – After the judge or jury makes a decision based on the evidence presented at trial, the court issues a judgment—its official announcement of the decision. The judgment also provides for the recovery the plaintiff is entitled to, if any.

  • Appeals & Motions after the Trial – After the judgment is handed down by the court, parties may ask for a new trial and make other motions to persuade the judge to change the judgment. If either party believes a legal error was made during the trial, he or she may appeal to a higher court.

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