Posted July 1, 2013
In any legal case with opposing interests, the road to a final judgment and a verdict could be long, taking a great deal of time and effort on the part of both lawyers and litigants. Litigation is the process of taking a case through court, and it is common in civil cases. A case often results in litigation when a plaintiff is looking to receive compensation for medical costs incurred because of the alleged acts of the defendant. The Law Office of D. Hardison Wood is experienced in the litigation process.
There are many steps involved in litigation. After an injury or incident occurs that could give rise to a lawsuit, it is important to talk with an attorney regarding your rights. Hiring an attorney to help you down the long road will make it less bumpy. Select an attorney who focuses on personal injury litigation and has extensive trial experience.
The key to any successful case is gathering evidence. A plaintiff must supply every document relevant to the case. Typically the more materials you have that are well- organized, the more it will help an attorney assist you in the case. A lawyer will look over all documentation and evidence, including medical bills, receipts, police reports, hospital records, or anything else having a bearing on your case.
At this point in the litigation process, a case will be filed as a lawsuit or negotiations will take place, resolving the case outside of court. Lawyers try to find ways to settle the dispute with the opposing party before anything is filed, thereby avoiding court altogether. If no solution is found, a lawsuit is filed. Filing a complaint is the initiation of the formal lawsuit process.
After filing, the road through the Court system begins. Below are some steps through the process.
The complaint must be served on the defendant following the rules of civil procedure. Typically, that means a defendant (not the insurance company) must be served by certified mail or by sheriff. This can take some time, especially if the defendant decides to try and avoid service.
Once the lawsuit is served, the defendant has to file an Answer with the Court. Typically, a lawyer for the defendant’s insurance company will appear and file the Answer anywhere from 30-60 days from the date service was achieved.
Next, the discovery process begins.
o Discovery phase is generally the longest part of the case. Discovery is when opposing lawyers exchange evidence and relevant materials.
o The parties will exchange Interrogatories (written questions) and Requests For Production. Typical auto accident cases involve requests for production of medical bills and records (your doctor’s medical records on you are much more lengthy and thorough than most people understand), photographs, property damage estimates, tax returns, documents evidencing prior lawsuits, accidents, or worker’s compensation claims, documents evidencing the parties’ criminal records, etc.
o Depositions under oath before a court reporter. Depositions allow the plaintiff and defendant to tell their side of the story as part of the official record.
o Expert Witness designation, production of expert reports, and/or expert testimony via deposition. Experts may be required to explain information or validate an argument. Large amounts of evidence are admissible only through an estimate. For example, typically only a doctor can testify as to future medical needs (i.e., you cannot take the stand and say you expect your back will hurt for the rest of your life).
o Motions may take place before the trial to ask the court to rule or act, which could result in mediation, arbitration or mandatory settlement conference.
o There is a court- ordered mediation. At this time both sides meet with a mediator in an effort to try to settle the case before trial.
o If none of this settles the case, it moves on to the trial phase.
o Each party presents presents their evidence and witnesses.
o A jury of twelve people weight the evidence presented. All twelve people must agree if the plaintiff is to be awarded.
o A decision or verdict is made.
None of these many steps in litigation is without occasional surprises and speed bumps. If you decide to start the litigation process, it is important to understand that the process is long. Your lawyer will be able to help you navigate through the legal morass and bring you through to the other side of a judgment.
Law Office of D. Hardison Wood is an advertising partner of WRAL.com, but each article is intended to be educational and informative in nature.