Most people have never been involved in a lawsuit. As such, many accident victims and their families are anxious about pursuing a personal injury claim. It is true that a lawsuit could result in a trial before a jury, but most don’t, and the process should not be a stressful one. The steps below will help you understand the various stages of a personal injury lawsuit, from the initial consultation with an attorney through the resolution of your case.
Meeting with a Personal Injury Attorney
If you’ve been injured because of someone else’s carelessness, the first step, after getting medical treatment, is to consult an experienced personal injury attorney to get a professional opinion as to whether you have a valid claim. Bring any supporting documentation, medical records, and notes you’ve taken about your situation. Most personal injury lawyers provide free consultations, so steer clear of lawyers who charge fees just to meet with you.
Evaluating the Attorney
Having the right personal injury attorney on your side can mean the difference between winning and losing your case, so choose yours carefully. Ask the attorney about his or her level of expertise and track record handling your type of case, their policy regarding communicating with clients, and any other questions you might have. At the initial meeting, the attorney will ask you many questions in order to get a full understanding of your case. Be wary of any attorney who, during the initial meeting, makes promises about how much money you can expect to receive. Good lawyers need more time to truly evaluate the value of your case, and they sometimes need to get experts involved too.
Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney and Understanding How They Get Paid
Most personal injury attorneys are paid on a contingency basis, which means there is no fee unless your case is successful (i.e., they don’t get paid unless you get paid). If you are awarded monetary compensation, the lawyer’s fee is based on a percentage of the total recovery, usually 25% to 40%, and is paid at the very end of the case. Once you agree to hire an attorney, you will be asked to sign a client contract that specifies the exact attorney fee. Make sure to ask any questions you have about the fee before you sign the contract.
Investigating Your Case
Your attorney will research your case at this stage to fully understand how you were injured and the extent of your injuries, damages, and costs. He or she will then contact and deal with the insurance company directly and possibly with the attorney representing the party who injured you. Your attorney will keep you aware of any negotiations and significant developments throughout the lawsuit process. Your focus should be on getting the medical attention you need and returning to your normal routine.
Settling Your Case Prior to Filing a Lawsuit
Many personal injury claims, especially ones involving car accidents, are resolved before a lawsuit is filed. As your attorney negotiates with the insurance company representing the party who injured you, a monetary offer may be presented to your attorney to settle the case. If a settlement offer is made, your attorney will inform you about the offer and give his or her opinion on whether you should accept it. You ultimately decide if the settlement is acceptable.
Filing Suit In Court – Pretrial Phases
If an adequate settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will file a lawsuit in court. A judge will then set a deadline for each phase of the lawsuit process. The process can take several months to several years depending on the complexity of your case.
• Complaint and Answer Phase: The Complaint is the document detailing your allegations regarding how you were injured and the extent of your damages. It is usually filed in the county where your injury occurred or where the party who injured you (defendant) resides. After filing, the Complaint is personally served on (delivered to) the defendant(s). The defendant must answer the Complaint in a set period of time, usually 30 days. The Answer is the document in which the defendant admits to or denies the allegations of the Complaint.
• Discovery Phase: During this phase, each party gathers testimony, evidence, documents and information from each other and from third parties regarding the case. Written discovery includes questions, also known as interrogatories, and requests for documents. Oral discovery, known as depositions, also takes place. During a deposition, witnesses, experts, and each party are questioned by a lawyer. Your involvement is crucial, so be sure that your attorney has your latest contact information.
• Motions Phase: The defendant can file a motion before or after discovery is complete to get the Court to take action on their behalf. The motion can ask the Court to dismiss one or more of your claims or even the entire case. Your attorney typically has 28 days to file a written response in opposition to the motion. Sometimes a hearing is held so that the Court can consider both sides of the arguments.
Going To Mediation
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution that can be requested at any time during the court case. It involves both parties, their attorneys, and a neutral mediator who acts like a referee between the parties. During mediation, both sides present their case and engage in settlement negotiations as facilitated by the mediator. Mediations are non-binding, meaning that the parties can accept or reject the offer.
Going to Trial
When a case goes to trial, your attorney presents his or her side to the judge or jury, then the party who injured you (defendant) puts on their defense. After each side presents their arguments, the judge or jury determines: if the defendant is liable (legally responsible) for your injuries and harm, and if so, the amount of damages the defendant must pay you.
A personal injury trial usually consists of six phases:
• Jury selection
• Opening statements
• Witness testimony and cross-examination
• Closing arguments
• Jury instruction
• Jury deliberation and verdict
Sometimes your case is not over even if a jury gave a verdict in your favor. The defense could appeal the case and ask a higher (appellate) court to reconsider the verdict. If an appeal is not brought, it can still take some time to distribute the monetary award. Before you get paid, your lawyer is required to first pay any companies that have a legal claim to some of the money, known as a lien, out of a special escrow account. After that, your attorney simply writes you a check and the money is yours to keep. Your personal injury lawsuit is now over.
How To File A Lawsuit
Every day in Utah, lawsuits are filed on behalf of those who feel they have been wronged by another person, party or entity. A lawsuit is a civil action that is brought forth in a court of law where a party claims to have incurred loss as a result of another parties action. The person or party filing the claim is called the plaintiff and the person who the claim is against is called the defendant.
Here’s how to file a lawsuit:
• Search for potential lawyers with experience handling your type of case.
• Research the lawyers’ background and history of case results.
• Set up a consultation with any lawyer you are considering hiring.
• If you are comfortable with the billing arrangement, hire the lawyer.
• The attorney will file the lawsuit on your behalf.
You have a time limit on when you can file a lawsuit. The statute of limitations varies by state and by type of case. For example if you are injured in a car accident in Utah but the accident occurred 3 years ago, you are out of luck as the statute of limitations in that state is 2 years for a personal injury claim.
Contact An Attorney For A Free Consultation
It’s always best to speak to an attorney to get a free case evaluation regarding your case. They can let you know if you have a legitimate claim or not. And not all attorneys are the same. There are good ones and bad ones. Choosing the right attorney can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Not only if you win or lose, but how much you win. It’s important to choose an attorney who specializes in the area of law relating to your case. Additionally you want to make sure they have a proven track record of winning cases similar to yours. You may also be wondering how much your case is worth. There is no simple answer as all cases are different and depend on many factors. A great attorney can help take a case that is offered no settlement or a tiny settlement into a very large settlement.
Attorneys That Work On A Contingency Fee Basis
The great thing about a contingency fee arrangement is you don’t need to pay any money up front to hire a lawyer. They will take a percentage of the amount they recover for you. This typically ranges from 30%-45%. If the case goes to trial it will be in the higher part of that range since trial gets very expensive. If you think that sounds like a lot, there are times when the insurance company will offer someone who doesn’t have a lawyer representing them pennies on the dollar of what their case is actually worth. Here’s a hypothetical situation. Person A is injured in a car accident and the insurance company offers them $20,000 to settle their claim since they don’t have an attorney. Person B gets into a similar accident with similar injuries but they hire a lawyer who is able to negotiate a $120,000 settlement. The attorney charges 33% and after attorney fees person B gets a check for $80,000.
Some attorneys that normally work on contingency include:
• Personal injury lawyers (representing the injured party or their family if the victim is deceased)
• Employment lawyers (representing the employee)
• Food poisoning lawyers
• Product liability attorneys
• Class action lawyers
Attorneys That Work On An Hourly Fee Or Flat-Fee Arrangement
Examples of attorneys that usually charge flat fee or by the hour:
• Divorce lawyers
• Business & contract lawyers
• Criminal defense lawyers
• Estate planning attorneys
How To File A Lawsuit Without An Attorney
Although in most cases it is the smartest choice to seek the professional legal counsel of an experienced attorney, there are many reasons that people want to represent themselves when filing a lawsuit, with saving money in attorney fees being the most common. Anyone in Utah has the right to represent themselves in court and file a lawsuit without an attorney. In fact, when it comes to small claims court people are even encouraged to represent themselves, because small claims court was designed to be accessible to both lawyers and non-lawyers. If you are considering taking on the task of representing yourself, an action known as pro se litigation, there are some measures that you can take to immensely benefit your case.
The following is a simple step-by-step instruction manual intended to ease the process:
• Identify the Five W’s: Who, what, when, where and why? Although a simple enough question, it is important that you make the distinction of who you are filing your claim against. For example, if you were in a car accident and either you incurred an injury or damage was done to your vehicle, you will have to decide whether you are going to file a claim against the other driver, the owner of the vehicle (if not the driver) or their insurance company. You will also need to identify on what grounds your lawsuit is based and why you are seeking compensation. When, the issue of timing needs to be addressed because most claims are subject to a statute of limitations. This means that you have a fixed time in which to bring about a lawsuit, from the time the event occurred. Lastly, you will need to figure out where you will be filing your lawsuit. For example, many issues can be resolved in small claims court. The question of “where” also refers to the geographic region in which a case may be tried. You should research where the defendant lives, because you can file a suit either where they live or where the incident took place.
• Filing the Petition: The petition is a document that acts as the foundation of your lawsuit. Your petition needs to include pertinent information regarding your case. In it you should provide your name and basic contact information such as phone number, home address and email address. You will also need to identify the defendant(s) you have chosen to sue. If you are suing an individual you may enter their residential address. For businesses and organizations you can list the address of the company. Explain your proposition and make an argument in favor of your proposal, citing that it would be in the best interest of the general public. Supply any evidence that supports your case, such as photos from an accident, signed witness statements and any indication of injuries you suffered due to the event. Next in the petition process, you must list your causes of action, or the claims that you are suing for. Also referred to as compensatory damages, these can include pain and suffering, lost income, projected lost wages, loss of consortium, compensation for hospital costs, mental anguish and many more. Punitive damages are those that are awarded by a judge to set an example and punish the defendant beyond compensatory damages. If you wish to demand a trial by jury you will then need to make that declaration and whatever fee is imposed for doing so. Finally, you will need to sign the petition and write “Pro Se Litigant” or “Pro Se Plaintiff” in the area that signifies the signature of an attorney. Upon completion, submit your Petition to the District Clerk’s Office. Once a decision has been made you will be notified of the outcome.
• Discovery: This is a part of the litigation process during which you may request information from the defendant that is relevant to your case. You will usually have 30 days to retrieve this information. The purpose of discovery is to allow you to find out pertinent information such as the defendant’s version of the facts, witness testimony they may have and any other documents or evidence. There are numerous methods of retrieving this knowledge:
III. Request for admission
IV. Request for production of documents
V. Request for inspection
• The Trial: Representing yourself in trial without an attorney present can seem scary and intimidating. Fortunately, more than 95% of cases reach an out-of-court resolution, so the chances of you having to appear in trial are slim. If the time arrives that you find yourself having to prepare for trial, you will typically have an ample amount of time to set up your opening statement, prepare for witness testimony, learn when and why to object, and all about direct and cross examinations. Numerous resources exist on the Internet to help people ready themselves for trial.
• Judgement: The court will decide whether or not you will receive the damages you have sought. If you are not satisfied with the court’s determination you may appeal the decision within a set timeline. To appeal a court’s decision you must either provide evidence that the court originally overlooked, or have adequate reason to believe that a judge interpreted something inaccurately during the trial. The appellate court will then make the final judgement.
Lawyers in 84604
It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506