After you’re in an accident, dealing with a complicated legal process is a necessary evil. While it may feel overwhelming now, filing a personal injury lawsuit is reasonably straightforward, but you must take care of it in a timely manner.
It’s not easy for a layperson to know what to expect, and it’s generally recommended that you hire a professional to avoid any errors. In this article, we’ll cover the initial steps of the process, so that you can proceed in a way that is most suitable for your specific situation.
Step 1: Summons & Complaint
Any personal injury lawsuit begins with the same initial step. First, you’ll file a set of documents with the court explaining the incident. You need to prepare and file a complaint, which is often referred to as a ‘petition.’ This legal document serves as the basis for your lawsuit.
In the complaint, you’ll need to identify the plaintiff (you), the defendant, and the court that you’ll be filing in. You’ll need to write a few paragraphs explaining why that particular court has the jurisdiction to try your case.
In the next section, you’ll also need to identify the legal theories behind your allegations as well as the straightforward case. Here’s where things get complicated, and a lawyer can be necessary.
The complaint will also include the relief that you’re seeking, otherwise known as ‘damages.’ This means you need to tell the court the amount of money that you’re asking from the defendant.
According to Diamond and Diamond Lawyers, many plaintiffs have difficulty determining exactly how much compensation they deserve. It’s essential that you speak to a professional and evaluate all of your options for maximum recovery of damages.
Most jurisdictions will also require that you file a summons. This document identifies the details of the litigation. It explains to the defendant why it is that they’re being sued. This also typically contains the clerk of the court’s signature.
At this point, you’ll need to pay the filing fee. The amount of this transaction depends on the jurisdiction but usually is between $100-400.
Step 2: Service of Process
The next step is called ‘service of process,’ which is when the defendant receives your formal complaint. It’s completed as soon as that person, or their representative gets a copy of your formal complaint/summons.
Generally, anyone can serve the defendant as long as they aren’t a minor, and they’re not a party to the lawsuit. There are many professional process servers, court officials, and law enforcement agents who can complete the service. In some jurisdictions, it may even be done through U.S. Mail.
The service of process must occur within a set period, typically 30 days following the filing of the complaint and summons. If you have any trouble, the court may grant extensions, as long as the reasonable steps have been taken.
It’s also important to ensure that your personal injury lawsuit is filed before the expiration of the ‘statute of limitations.’ This is the law that limits the amount of time that you have to file. It’s different in every jurisdiction.
Step 3: Defendant’s Response
After the documents have been served, the defendant will have to respond to your complaint. There are two things that can happen. Either the defendant will file a formal ‘answer,’ where they admit or deny each of your allegations, or they can state that they do neither.
The defendant could also file a motion to dismiss. If the court grants the motion, the case will be either entirely or partially thrown out.
The Case and Verdict
Once your case has been filed, you’ll move into the legal processes of discovery, mediation, and then negotiation. If there is no settlement reached outside of court, your case will go to trial where a judge will hear it.