If you suffered injuries because of negligence or intentional harm, you might take legal action. Most people have never filed a personal injury claim before, so you might not know the personal injury lawsuit timeline.
After suffering minor injuries, most people file an insurance claim and do not have to hire a lawyer or file a lawsuit. However, severe injuries caused by negligence often require a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.
A personal injury lawsuit is a civil action against an at-fault party that allows victims of negligence and intentional harm to recover damages, a name for compensation related to losses. These civil actions are separate from any potential criminal proceedings in your case and require the guidance of an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Below, we outline the most common steps in a personal injury lawsuit. Until you can meet with a lawyer, the following steps provide introductory information to know what you expect if you need to take legal action after falling victim to negligence or intentional harm.
1. Speak With an Experienced Personal Injury Lawyer
After you have suffered injuries, talk to a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. They can help you through the claims process and, in many cases, help you settle without going to trial. In some cases, your lawyer might not even have to bring a lawsuit on your behalf.
During your initial consultation, you prepare to discuss your case, including:
- The event that led to your injuries: You might have suffered injuries in a traffic accident, slip and fall or other premises liability accident, medical malpractice, construction site accident, defective product accident, or a workplace accident. Provide as many details as possible about how your injuries occurred. This allows the lawyer to evaluate your claim’s viability and decide who you should name as a defendant.
- Medical expenses: Your medical record provides concrete evidence of your losses—and their hefty price tag. Be prepared to share the total medical costs of your injuries, including ambulance and emergency room treatment, hospitalization, prescriptions, surgery, physical therapy, and occupational therapy.
- How your injuries affect your income: Lost wages from missing work because of injuries make up a significant part of many personal injury lawsuits. You must provide information about how much work you missed because of your injuries. Also, the lawyer will want to find out whether you can return to work or if you have permanent limitations because of your injuries.
- How your injuries affect your life: Many personal injury lawsuits include compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses. Your lawyer needs a truthful evaluation of how your injuries have affected your personal life, job, hobbies, and day-to-day routine. This account provides them with the information they need to value your claim accurately. Insurance companies often rely on total medical expenses to calculate non-economic damages, but your lawyer might advise you to sue for additional compensation if permanent injuries impact your life.
Your initial consultation provides you with the chance to ask questions and learn more about the lawsuit process as it relates to your claim. Every claim is different, but typically, claims follow the following path:
Once you hire a lawyer to help you with your personal injury lawsuit, they will investigate your claim. Your initial consultation provides a starting point for your lawyer to dig deep and uncover all the facts. Ample evidence is necessary to prove the cause of your accident, and an investigation typically reveals all responsible parties. Personal injury lawyers may perform various tasks while they investigate a case, including:
Collecting Witness Statements
Eyewitnesses help confirm the events that led to your injury. If you suffered injuries at a place of business after a slip and fall, your lawyer might want to speak with employees who witnessed the event.
Sometimes, law enforcement is involved when injuries occur, and they take witness statements. Your lawyer needs to talk with witnesses when no police report exists. Witnesses forget details as time passes, making their accounts less beneficial to your case, so it is essential to gather statements as soon as possible.
Collecting Photo/Video Evidence
If your injuries occurred in the range of a security camera, you likely have reliable footage to support your claim. Insurance companies and courts love security camera footage because it usually provides clear evidence of how injuries occurred.
The same is true of traffic camera footage for those injured in motor vehicle accidents. Sometimes, people take photos or videos of an event with their cell phones and post them on social media. Your lawyer will review potential sources of pictures and videos to support your case.
Consulting Expert Witnesses
Depending on the accident and your injuries, you might need one or more expert witnesses to testify on your behalf. Accident reconstruction specialists can show how a car accident occurred, and other experts can speak about how the event led to your injuries. Finally, medical experts can discuss your injuries, testify to your long-term prognosis, or give opinions about a medical malpractice claim.
3. Send a Demand Letter
Once your lawyer hears your story and investigates your case, they have the information they need to value your claim. All parties want to avoid a lawsuit and costly litigation, so your lawyer will likely send a demand letter for compensation before filing a lawsuit on your behalf.
Most personal injury claims involve insurance companies, including auto, homeowners, and commercial business insurance. Your lawyer will put together an information package with a demand letter and send it to the responsible party’s insurance company.
Examples of information found in a personal injury claim include:
- Information about your injuries, including medical documentation and photos
- Photos, video, witness statements, police reports, and other evidence that supports your claim and proves liability
- Copies of bills and receipts that prove economic loss related to your injuries
- Copies of pay stubs and other documents that support the lost wages portion of your claim
- Expert witness statements, explanations, and other evidence that sup
- ports the pain and suffering and other non-economic losses related to your injuries
Once you file a claim and your lawyer sends a demand letter for compensation to the insurance company, they usually will reply quickly with a settlement offer. You might even receive an early settlement offer before discussing your case with a lawyer.
These early offers give injured victims enough money to satisfy them and get them to go away. However, once you accept a settlement offer, you also must waive your right to sue for compensation for the same injuries.
Therefore, you should discuss your options with a lawyer. Many victims reject the first offer they receive and use it as a starting point for negotiations.
If you do not choose to accept an initial offer, your lawyer can respond to the officer in two ways:
- Send another demand letter for an amount you would accept for settlement lower than your initial demand for compensation.
- Send another demand letter reflecting that you insist on the total amount of compensation for damages you presented in your initial claim.
Negotiations sometimes take multiple rounds of this process before both sides agree on a number. If you reach an agreement, the claims process stops, you sign the deal, and you receive the agreed-upon compensation amount.
Even though both sides have the motivation to avoid the extra expense of going to trial, negotiations sometimes fail. When you cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company, your lawyer can help you file a formal complaint in court.
5. File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
After unsuccessful negotiations, you may have no choice but to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for your injuries. Your lawyer can file the official documents with the court.
You must file a suit within the statute of limitations period for personal injury in your state, usually between two to four years. Your lawyer will ensure you meet this deadline. Once you bring a lawsuit, it can take a year or more before trial.
6. Trial Preparation/Discovery
You typically have several weeks or months to prepare for trial once you file a lawsuit against the party responsible for your injuries. Your lawyer has investigated your claim and attempted to negotiate a settlement by this time.
Sometimes, insurance companies take claims more seriously once an injured person files a lawsuit. They might make another settlement offer and reopen the door to negotiations. Your lawyer will advise you of your options.
Preparing for trial includes various actions, many of which fall under the category of discovery. During discovery, both sides have the chance to gather more information about the event that led to your injuries, your losses, and other relevant facts. Both sides already have much information.
Discovery usually reveals unknown facts surrounding the claim. Your lawyer will diligently pursue evidence to support your case, including access to other witnesses, unseen video evidence, and anything else that helps your claim.
In some cases, mediation might be the next step in a personal injury lawsuit. Mediation is a flexible form of alternative dispute resolution that sometimes comes before going to trial. Both sides and their lawyers meet with a mediator who helps facilitate a solution that works for both parties.
Lawyers and insurance companies like to attempt mediation when informal negotiations fail. In addition to its comparatively low cost, mediation is not binding like arbitration or court ruling. Both sides can walk away at any time.
Mediation allows flexibility that other methods of resolution do not. For example, the mediator can talk with each side separately to determine what it would take for a settlement, sometimes providing solutions that may not have come to light.
8. Settlement or Trial
Although it is rare, some personal injury claims are settled the day or a few days before trial. If this does not happen, your lawyer will bring your case before a judge or jury, who will issue a final ruling on your lawsuit.
In a civil trial, the judge or jury makes a decision based on the preponderance of the evidence. Additionally, if your claim is based on negligence and not intentional harm, you must also prove the elements of negligence to the court. You must prove the defendant had a duty towards you, they breached their duty, you suffered harm, and their breach led to the losses you suffered.
If you win your case, the insurance company will typically issue a check quickly. In most cases, the check goes through your lawyer, who subtracts their fees and pays unpaid medical bills and other expenses. You receive the balance. If an insurance company is not involved, you might have trouble collecting damages. Your experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you on how to proceed.