How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you are injured in an accident, you may be able to get compensation for your injuries and other losses you suffer if you can prove your accident was someone else's fault. Although between 95 and 96 percent of all personal injury cases are settled before trial,typically the injured person must first file a lawsuit to get the settlement ball rolling.
Preparing Your Case
Write down everything that happened.As soon as is practicable after the accident, write an account of it while your memory is still fresh.
- Keep a running log of what happens to you following the accident or any actions you take, including phone calls, doctor's appointments, lost work or wages, property repairs, and anything else you missed out on because of the injury.
Find out if your injury is covered by an insurance policy.Auto insurance may pay for injuries from auto accidents, while property liability insurance may pay for injuries that occurred on someone else's property.
- Finding an insurance policy can help you figure out if you actually stand any chance of collecting monetary damages from your lawsuit. While you may go to court and a judge or jury may find the defendant liable for your injuries, if the individual is broke you may never see a dime.
Collect evidence.As soon as you can, take photos of your injuries and the place where you were injured, and document any other damage or important information.
- For example, if you tripped and fell on a sidewalk, make sure you take pictures of the place where you tripped. Take pictures all around and from all angles so your lawyer can use them later if the defendant attempts to alter the scene, such as by putting up a sign after your accident that warns pedestrians of the dip in the sidewalk.
- You also should take pictures of all injuries and property damage as soon as possible after the accident. If you have physical injuries, consider taking pictures every few days as they heal.
- Try to preserve any physical evidence, but if you can't preserve it as it is, take a picture. For example, if your car was damaged, take pictures of the damage before you get it fixed.
- Bring along a witness to testify to the date and time when the photographs were made, or use a camera that time-stamps all photos.
Get names and contact information of any witnesses.If anyone happened to see the accident, make sure you have their name and phone number or some way to get in touch with them if you need them to testify later.
- When you speak to anyone about the accident, take notes of the conversation or record it if you can, and make note of the date and time you talked to them.
Talk to an attorney.Since personal injury lawyers typically work on contingency, there's no real reason why you shouldn't hire an attorney to help guide your claim through the system.
- You can have an attorney review your claim at no charge. Talk to friends and family or visit your local bar association's website to find an attorney who has expertise in the type of claim you have.
- For example, if you were injured in a car accident, you don't necessarily want to hire an attorney who specializes in slip-and-fall cases.
- When you first speak with the attorney, find out how long she's been practicing, what kind of experience she has with your kind of claim, and the results she's gotten with claims like yours in the past.
- If you are looking to sue a business or an insurance company, they no doubt have their own attorneys, and although you could attempt to settle a claim on your own, you may find you get better deal by having an attorney on your side.
- Before you hire an attorney, make sure you're comfortable talking to and working with her, and that you understand how her office operates. For example, if you would prefer a hands-on attorney who is personally available to you, make sure the attorney you've chosen won't be farming out a lot of the work on your case to a paralegal or other staff member.
Filing Your Complaint
Notify all possible defendants.As soon as you figure out who might be liable, let them know that you plan on filing a claim for any injuries or property damage.
- Because you have a legal deadline, usually about a year, to file a lawsuit against the person or company you believe is liable for your injuries, you should notify them of your intentions as soon as possible after the accident occurs.
- Depending on the type of accident, you may have to notify different types of people or companies.
- If you don't have an attorney, send a formal notification letter to every individual or company you think might be responsible for your injuries as soon as possible. Keep it short and simple, stating only that an accident happened at a particular date and time, that you were injured, and that you believe they are responsible. Give them a deadline to respond back to you in writing.
Attempt to settle your claim.Your attorney may send a demand letter to potential defendants or to their insurances companies, letting them know how much money you will accept to resolve the claim.
- If there is an insurance company, you or your attorney may receive a settlement offer. If you receive a settlement offer from an insurance company and you don't yet have an attorney, consider having an attorney look over the settlement offer before you sign it to make sure your rights are fully protected.
File a complaint in the appropriate court.If you and the defendant cannot come to an agreement on a settlement of your claims, your attorney may file a complaint in the appropriate court.
- The complaint first identifies you and the defendant or defendants. It then tells the court that on a particular date and time, you suffered injuries as a result of an accident that either occurred on the defendant's property or because of the defendant's negligent or intentional acts, and asks the court to grant you relief in the form of monetary damages for your injuries.
- Once a complaint is filed and the defendant is served, the lawsuit is set in motion.
Participating in Discovery
Provide all documents and records related to the claim to your attorney.If you haven't already, make sure your attorney has all the information you have, as this will assist her in preparing your case.
Answer questions or produce documents requested by the defendant.The defendant will have the opportunity to file interrogatories and requests for production. These documents are composed of lists of questions you answer either through your own testimony or by giving documents to the defendant.
- For example, the defendant may ask for all medical records associated with your injury.
Attend depositions.Both your attorney and the defendant's attorney may take depositions, which are live interviews with witnesses or parties to the case.
- Depositions are taken under oath with a court reporter present to transcribe the entire interview word for word.
- During the deposition, both sides will have the opportunity to ask questions of the person being deposed.
Participate in mediation or other settlement discussions.If you and the defendant have reached an impasse in discussions, a neutral third party may be able to help you find common ground for settlement through mediation.
- Mediation is less expensive and less formal than a trial. Rather than deciding who's right and who's wrong, mediators are focused on arriving at a compromise with which all parties are comfortable.
- Although some cases may settle before a complaint is even filed, it is more likely that you and the defendant will reach settlement after the discovery process has gone on for awhile and both of you have a better idea about the other's case.
Prepare for trial.If you are unable to settle your case, you and your attorney will prepare for a formal trial in court to resolve your claim.
QuestionDo I have the right not to utilize an attorney for a personal injury case?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou can, but having a lawyer may help you win your case unless you're experienced in law.Thanks!
QuestionCan I file a personal injury lawsuit if I was yelled at for being too slow when I was working with an injury?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerProbably not. Getting yelled at is not going to be a good cause of action against someone. However, talking with an attorney about the entire story can show a cause of action that is much higher than that (workplace discrimination, etc.). It depends on the specific circumstances.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I file a lawsuit with the court and how long does it take?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt depends on how serious your case is. You would file in small claims court if it's not very serious. You would file to a civil court if it's significant. A small claims case could take weeks, while a civil case could take years.Thanks!
I was bitten by a police dog nine years ago and my lawyer has not moved forward. He always has a story that the judge is not available or something else. What can I do to move things along?
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Video: Filing a Personal Injury Claim for Whiplash (Ep.33)
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