Proving Your Personal Injury Case
An experienced accident attorney is familiar with all the twists and turns in personal injury law. Unlike some other areas of law, which are codified in statutes, much personal injury law develops through individual cases decided by judges. Accident lawyers draw on past cases for situations that resemble your personal injury case, and argue by analogy.
Accident lawyers have to be very familiar with rules of evidence and court procedures to move your personal injury case through the legal system. In order to obtain fair compensation for your personal injury, your accident lawyer will take your personal injury through a number of stages from start to finish.
Your injury attorney will probably ask you to sign authorizations to retrieve your medical records, wage verification, and income tax information. Your attorney needs these items so as to collect and evaluate evidence about your accident case
Step One: Your Accident Attorney Investigates and Then Files Your Claim
The first step is for your attorney to investigate the accident. This may include obtaining your medical records, contacting your insurance adjusters, and asking you for any notes and files relating to the accident.
If the person responsible for your injury is the government, then after investigation, your accident attorney will probably file a notice of claim with the government. In other cases, your accident attorney will file a claim against the responsible party or parties in court. Your accident lawyer also will notify the other parties that he or she is representing you, and that they should contact the attorney with all correspondence related to your case.
Step Two: Your Accident Lawyer Evaluates Your Accident Claim
Although your accident lawyer may have initially evaluated your personal injury claim before taking on the case, your accident lawyer will review the case more thoroughly once he or she has obtained your authorizations and some initial records.
At this point, the responsible parties may begin talking to your accident attorney about settling your personal injury case. An experienced accident attorney will keep an open mind about settlement possibilities, while keeping open the option of pursuing your claim in court. If your accident attorney does settle at this point, however, then the case ends. You will receive a payment from the settlement funds.
Step Three: Your Accident Attorney Gathers the Evidence
Once your accident lawyer has filed the claim and evaluated your personal injury case, he or she will gather evidence. The law calls this stage of the personal injury case, “discovery,” because the accident attorney’s job is to discover everything that can help your case.
The accident lawyer’s tools during the discovery process include:
- Interrogatories: written questions of the other side about your personal injury
- Depositions: oral testimony during interviews of the other side
- Preservation of physical evidence: efforts to locate and preserve critical evidence concerning your personal injury
- Other research concerning your personal injury
Step Four: Your Personal Injury Case in the Courtroom
Once you get to the courtroom, your personal injury case proceeds through several stages.
Before the personal injury trial, the judge will meet with your accident attorney and the other side’s lawyer, review the evidence for the personal injury, and establish rules by which the trial will proceed. The judge may recommend that your accident lawyer settle the case. If your accident attorney and you decide not to accept any settlement offer that the other side proposes at that time, your personal injury case will proceed to trial.
Selecting the Jury
The next step is for your accident lawyer and the other side’s lawyer to select the jury. Both your accident lawyer and the other injury attorneys will question prospective jurors for possible bias. Your injury attorney wants to ensure that the jurors can make fair judgments about your personal injury case. An experienced injury lawyer is highly skilled at jury selection.
Negotiating Possible Settlement
Because courts have crowded dockets, it can take a long time for your personal injury case to come to trial. During this time, your injury attorney may receive settlement offers and communicate these to you. Depending on the strength of your personal injury case, the urgency of your need to obtain recovery for your personal injury, and other factors, your injury attorney and you may decide to settle prior to trial.
If your accident attorney does not accept a settlement on your behalf, your case finally gets tried in the courtroom.
Trying Your Personal Injury Case
Your accident lawyer must know how the rules of evidence can help or hinder bringing your personal injury case to trial. For example, the other attorney may object to certain pieces of physical evidence about the personal injury, such as defective product parts, that your injury lawyer may try to introduce. It takes a lot of experience for your injury attorney to respond convincingly to these kinds of objections in a personal injury case.
Trying to End Your Case Early
During the presentation of your case in the courtroom, it is common for both sides to try to end the personal injury case before the jury verdict. They do this by bringing a “motion” before the judge, arguing that there are no more issues of fact to be determined by the jury, and that based on the undisputed facts of the personal injury case, the judge should decide in their favor. Your accident attorney will either bring or defend against such a motion on your behalf. It is important that your accident lawyer have experience in this process. Injury lawyers call this part of the case, “motion practice.”
Getting the Jury Verdict
Settlement efforts may continue during trial, and your accident lawyer must evaluate them carefully. If these efforts fail, then your personal injury case goes before the jury for a verdict. If your accident attorney has argued the case successfully, then you will obtain a jury verdict that affords you significant compensation for your personal injury.