What Are the Steps to Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Serious car accidents are a daily occurrence in Oklahoma City. Sadly, these avoidable accidents are a leading cause of injury and death.
In early 2020, one study ranked Oklahoma City as the seventh most dangerous city for accidents in the nation. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are between 600-700 traffic accident fatalities each year in Oklahoma, and about 15,00-16,000 serious injuries.
If another individual or company’s negligent or reckless actions cause your injuries or loved one’s death, you may be entitled to receive compensation in a personal injury or wrongful death claim.
To discuss your rights to compensation for medical bills, lost earnings, and pain and suffering, contact the Oklahoma City personal injury lawyers at McGuire Law Firm at (405) 369-6420 for a free consultation.
To obtain financial recovery in a personal injury lawsuit, you need to go through the personal injury claim process. Below, are the approximate ten steps of a personal injury claim:
1. Initial Consultation
The initial consultation is your first meeting with a personal injury attorney. At most firms, including ours, this meeting is free.
Although you are the one injured, you should think of this as your opportunity to interview your lawyer and ask them about their education, experience, and case results. You can also ask about your particular case, and what they believe it may be worth.
In our consultation, we will explain the types of consultation available to you, and our contingency fee agreement. This means we will not charge any fees unless we recover money for you.
When you hire us, we will get the ball rolling with an independent investigation of your personal injury claim, this will include gathering:
- Police reports
- Photographs of the accident scene
- Witness statements
- Medical records and bills
- Your employment and salary history
We will bring consult with accident reconstruction experts, medical specialists, and other experts depending on your accident and injuries. For example, if your accident involved a semi-truck, we will send a “spoliation letter” to the trucking company requesting that evidence is preserved for your case. If you were injured in a slip and fall accident, we may send a preservation of evidence letter to the property owner or store manager.
3. Initial Demand Package
The demand letter is an initial request for settlement, and addresses the facts of the accident, liability, and damages. This is the starting point for settlement negotiations and lays out medical expenses and economic losses, and explains how the negligence of the defendant caused your injuries. It will generally ask for insurance policy limits. If the defendant does not respond to a demand letter, the next step will be filing a lawsuit.
4. Filing Court Documents
Filing a lawsuit is formally asking for damages through the civil court system. The first part of a lawsuit is the complaint, which outlines many of the same facts that are presented in the demand letter. It identifies the parties involved, what happened, and the extent of damages. It will also state what you, the plaintiff, wants the court to require the defendant to do, typically pay a certain amount in damages.
5. Discovery (Evidence Exchanging)
The discovery process is the formal back and forth of evidence exchanging. Both sides may present interrogatories, or formal questions, which you must answer. Depositions, or in-person questioning of a witness, may take place to find out what a witness knows and preserve that testimony. Whether a deposition is needed will depend on the circumstances of the case.
6. Pretrial Motions and Hearings
Pretrial motions are documents brought before the start of the trial, requesting the court do something. Often, they have to do with admitting or excluding evidence or witness testimony. A motion for summary judgment may ask the court for judgment on the merits of a case before trial, typically made where there is no dispute about the facts. A pretrial hearing may be held to resolve specific issues before a trial begins.
7. Settlement Negotiations
A settlement is an ideal resolution to a personal injury case. Trials are expensive, time-consuming, and involve more risk than a settlement. Sometimes, trials are necessary because the defendant or insurance company refuses to be reasonable and fair. Even if you win a trial, it may be appealed. Settlements can be reached between parties, or using an experienced mediator.
In the event your case does not settle, it will proceed to trial. Because insurance defense firms and insurance adjustors will delay and drag out your attempts to hold negligent parties accountable, it is important to keep a case moving along toward trial. Depending on the court calendar in your jurisdiction, your trial date may be more than a year after your lawsuit is initially filed.
Your case may be a bench trial, decided by a judge, or a jury trial. Some trials can be decided in one day, some may take weeks or even more than a month. Settlement negotiations may continue during a trial. The defendant may threaten that they will appeal a verdict if the court rules in the plaintiff’s favor.
9. Collecting Judgment or Settlement Funds
If a settlement is agreed on, the insurance company will prepare paperwork for you to sign. The insurance company will not issue funds until the paperwork is signed. The paperwork will state that you waive your rights to future claims and release existing claims. Your funds will be paid to your attorney, who will pay any outstanding bills and fees, and then take their attorney fee. The remainder of the funds will go to you.
10. Post-Trial Motions and Appeals
In Hollywood, the moment the jury delivers a verdict, a case is over. In reality, litigation and trials are not so expeditious. An Oklahoma personal injury verdict is often not the end of a case, as the losing party has the right to appeal. They may make a post-trial motion to reduce damages, claiming they are excessive or do not represent fair compensation. The case may stay in the court system for months, with an uncertain outcome despite a winning verdict.
Typically, your personal injury lawyer’s obligation to represent you ends when a trial verdict is issued. Before you take a case to trial, it is important to understand what will happen if you win your case, but opposing counsel appeals.
If you suffered a serious injury in Edmond or Oklahoma City, contact McGuire Law Firm for a free case evaluation. We are here seven days a week to take your call and answer your questions.