The civil court system exists in California to compensate victims who are injured by someone else’s wrongful conduct. Often, you can negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party out of court for compensation. But when settlement negotiations break down, you will need to file a lawsuit in court.
At RMD Law, we have drafted this brief guide to clarify the steps taken to file and win a personal injury lawsuit. Read on for more information about the personal injury lawsuit process.
Step One: Hire a Personal Injury Attorney
Many people in our DIY culture want to represent themselves in a legal dispute, but a lawyer is often helpful. And, if you have suffered serious, permanent injuries, then a lawyer is a necessity.
Before hiring an attorney, meet with a few for a consultation. You can ask about the lawyer’s experience and anything else you want to know. Remember to nail down how the lawyer charges for his services. At the consultation, the lawyer will ask basic questions to better understand whether you have a legal case.
Step Two: File Paperwork in Court
You start a lawsuit by filing a complaint in court. This document lays out basic information regarding your case, such as the name of the person you are suing and background details on what happened. You also make a claim for compensation.
Complaints are legal documents, so they are complicated to draft. If you have a simple dispute and don’t use a lawyer, you can use printed, fill-in-the-blank forms the California courts have created. When filing, you must pay a fee and arrange to have a copy served on the defendant (the person you are suing). The defendant then has a chance to answer your complaint.
Step Three: Discovery
Once each side has filed and served its initial paperwork, the case enters a fact-finding stage called “discovery.” The purpose of discovery is for each side to get as much factual information as possible from the other. Although Hollywood movies might convince you that lawsuits are full of surprise witnesses, the court system actually works to minimize surprises.
During discovery, you might have to answer questions under oath in a deposition, which will be recorded. You will probably also have to turn over relevant documents to the other side. Discovery is often the most consuming part of the personal injury lawsuit process.
Step Four: Pretrial Motions
Pretrial motions serve many purposes. They can narrow down the issues in dispute and keep out unduly prejudicial information that might mislead a jury.
One popular motion is the motion for summary judgment. Basically, your lawyer asks the judge to decide the case in your favor because there are is no way the other side can win the case based on the facts unearthed in discovery.
Step Five: Trial
If the judge does not grant summary judgment to either side, you will proceed to trial. Trials can be held in front of a jury or the judge. Each side presents evidence, and at the end of the case the jury or judge determines who prevails.
If you win, then you have the task of trying to collect your judgment from the defendant. That process deserves its own blog post.
RMD Law is Here for You
We are leading personal injury lawyers in Irvine and Orange County with in-depth experience of the personal injury lawsuit process. If you have been injured, we want to hear from you. Please call (949) 326-5000 to schedule a free, confidential case review.