What Happens After a Personal Injury Lawsuit is Filed?
Growing up, my family never had a lawyer. We never had any personal injury claims or other legal issues to deal with. I knew a few lawyers who were friends of my parents, but I had no idea what they did – and I certainly had no idea what it would mean to file a lawsuit against somebody or a company who had injured me.
I find that a lot of our clients today are exactly the same as I was – they never thought they would be injured due to the negligence of someone else, so they have no experience dealing with lawyers or with the court system.
A “lawsuit” is simply one step in the overall process of making a claim to get compensated for your injuries. By the time a lawsuit is filed with a court, many things have already happened – we have gathered your pertinent medical bills and records; we have informally interviewed important witnesses; we have attempted to negotiate with the opposing party’s insurance company; and we have kept you advised as to the status of negotiations and what we recommend happen with the claim. Those steps normally take several months. Sometimes, filing a lawsuit is then necessary to help us try to get adequate, fair compensation for you.
“The lawsuit” is a document more formally called a Petition or a Complaint, which we prepare and file with the appropriate court. It describes what happened to cause your injuries, and what injuries and damages you have suffered as a result.
The first things that happen immediately after a lawsuit is filed are handled by us as your attorneys – we obtain service of process on the defendant; we monitor the file as to when the defendant files an answer pleading (or fails to file one and goes into “default” on the claims); we work to line up what written documents and written questions we want from the defendant; and we start the process of reviewing witnesses and lining up their depositions.
The next things you will probably have to do – besides continuing with your treatment and recovery, if it’s still on-going – will be to help us answer written questions and gather documents to respond to “written discovery” the defense sends to us. The written questions are called “interrogatories.” Doing these things is not usually difficult, but it can be time-consuming, so some planning and preparation is necessary to make sure you answer the questions fully and completely. Gathering documents can also take some time.
Eventually, you will be produced to give your “deposition.” This is very similar to testifying in court. But it will simply take place in a law firm’s conference room, and there will not be a judge or jury present. This is the other lawyer’s chance to ask you questions about your case, your background, your injuries and damages, and so forth. Sometimes depositions last several hours; at times and under some circumstances they can last more than a day. But we work with you not only to prepare thoroughly for the deposition, but to be with you during the questioning and object to any legally unjustified or unfair types of questions.
You should also know that settlement discussions about a lawsuit can take place at any time. Sometimes they are planned for a formal “mediation” or “settlement conference,” where you will be with us and we will actively negotiate the claim during the day. Other times, the lawyers on the case might talk about potential resolutions, and we will work with you to make sure you understand what is being suggested and whether it corresponds with our advice and beliefs about your claims.
Overall, there will be many periods of time after a lawsuit is filed where you might not notice many things happening. But the lawyers are busy working. And there will be other times when your active help will be needed to make sure we have the opportunity to get you the best result possible – including to try the case if necessary.