If you are filing a personal injury claim, you may wonder what you can expect from the California court process. These civil lawsuits require a number of important meetings and processes, from investigation and negotiations to discovery and the trial process. The exact process your lawsuit will follow will depend on the facts of your case, but most personal injury lawsuits follow the same set of measured steps.
Step #1: Investigation and Initial Negotiations
After you seek medical attention and contact an attorney, your lawyer will investigate your claim, review your healthcare records, and begin gathering evidence for your lawsuit. Before filing, your attorney will consider whether you should send a demand letter to the at-fault party and engage in initial negotiations.
Many personal injury claims settle before reaching the courtroom, and if your attorney believes it’s appropriate, he or she may send a demand letter to the at-fault party outlining your complaint and the damages you are seeking. If the at-fault party agrees, you will enter negotiations and attempt to reach a settlement.
Step #2: Filing the Complaint
If you cannot reach a settlement or do not enter negotiations, your attorney will begin the litigation process by filing your lawsuit in civil court. Your lawyer will wait until you reach maximum medical improvement before filing your claim; filing too early may result in an undervalued settlement and additional hardship in the future.
Step #3: The Discovery Phase
Once you file, you will enter the discovery phase with the at-fault party and his or her lawyer. During this process, each party will exchange information and examine each other’s legal claims and defenses. Your attorney may also take depositions of witnesses and other relevant parties, including you and the at-fault party. This process can take between six months and one year to complete, depending on your case.
Step #4: Pretrial Negotiation
After discovery ends, you have the option to enter pretrial negotiation. During this stage, you will meet with the at-fault party and his or her attorney to determine a settlement. In some situations, you may obtain a third-party mediator to act as a neutral body and resolve your claim.
Step #5: Trial and Settlement
If negotiations are unsuccessful or the at-fault party refuses to negotiate, your lawsuit will proceed to trial. During this stage, your lawyer and the at-fault party’s attorney will present evidence and arguments to the courtroom. The court will then decide whether you are eligible for a settlement and how much that settlement should be, issuing a verdict at the conclusion of the trial. If the court does not rule in your favor, you have the option of appealing your claim.
Do You Need a Lawyer for Your Injury Claim?
Entering a courtroom can be daunting, especially if you have never filed a legal complaint before. You need an advocate who can help you prepare for each stage, know what to expect next, and represent your best interests throughout the court process — and a personal injury attorney can help.
Your lawyer will have the skills, experience, and legal knowledge necessary to build a compelling case in your favor and guide you through the complex litigation process. Contact your attorney as soon as possible following your accident to discuss your legal options and next steps toward fair compensation.