Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Plaintiff: This is the person who brings the lawsuit.
Defendant: This is the other party, the one who has allegedly hurt you. This is the other person or business.
Complaint: This is where the plaintiff files the lawsuit against the person or entity who harmed you and briefly explains the who, why, and how of liability.
Answer: This is the defendant’s chance to explain him or herself, blame others, including the plaintiff. This must be done within 20 days of receiving the Complaint.
Interrogatories and Requests for Production: These are written questions that must be answered under oath. You have 30 days from the time you receive them to answer them. Your attorney will issue these to the defendant as well. In other words, both the plaintiff and the defendant both exchange these. Interrogatories are detailed questions that will be asked to try to understand the theory of the case, the damage that has been done, witnesses who will testify at trial, expert who will testify at trial, and much more. Requests for Production are requests for documents in your possession or the defendant’s possession that will help prove the case. Examples might police reports, medical bills, pictures of the accident, and so on.
Order Your Medical Records and Bills: This can be done at any time of course. It is preferred that you are completely done treating before these can be ordered because we need to make sure we have all of your medical records and bills before we settle your case. It usually takes three weeks to a month to get all of your records and bills.
Deposition: This is where you are asked questions, under oath, by the defense attorney, with me there to defend you, and a court reporter who will type everything up. The attorney will ask very similar questions to the ones you answered in your Interrogatories. I will take the deposition of the person or business who harmed you. If the defense attorney asks an unfair question, I can object, but you still have to answer it. All of your answers will be typed by the court reporter and will then be printed and can be used at trial. Often times the deposition is videotaped as well so it can be played at trial for the judge and jury. By law, the attorney can ask questions for up to 8 hours, but they rarely last more than two or three hours. The deposition is usually taken two or three months after your Interrogatories and Requests for Production have been completed.
“Independent” Medical Exam or IME: If you are still treating with a provider, or if you are still complaining of pain, the defense attorney can have a doctor of their choosing, paid for by the defense, examine you at their office. Either I or a nurse paid for by me will be there to record the exam with a video camera. These exams are usually very biased in favor of the insurance company. This does not happen in every case, but it happens in many. Prior to meeting with you, the insurance company’s doctor will review your medical records.
Mediation: In King and Pierce county, before trial, you have to mediate. In other counties it is not required but recommended. At mediation, we will be at my office. The defendant’s attorney will be in one conference room and you and I will be in my office. The mediator will then go back and forth between rooms and will try to reach an agreement. The mediator is typically an attorney. While we have to show a good faith effort to mediate, we can stop the mediation at any time. It is not a binding process. This takes place another two or three months after the deposition. Before the mediation, I will submit a brief to the mediator so he or she understands the case.
Arbitration: In some counties, arbitration is required. If the case is valued at under $50,000, it is required in King and Pierce Counties. The difference between an arbitration and a mediation is at arbitration the arbitrator can make a binding decision. However, even though the decision is binding, the losing party can appeal the decision and go to trial. The arbitration is like a mini-trial. It will be held at my office. The attorney for the defendant will be present in my conference room and so will the arbitrator, who is usually an attorney or a former judge. I will ask you questions and so will the defense attorney. We can have witnesses, such as your doctors and friends and spouse, testify live or they can write affidavits that will be submitted beforehand. The process takes between two and three hours. The arbitrator issues a written decision within two weeks. Before the arbitration, I will submit a brief with all of your medical records and bills and a description of the case. This is done usually six to eight months after the lawsuit is filed.
Focus group/mock trial: If a mediation or arbitration fails to get the results we want, we will do a focus group. This is where I hire mock jurors to come to my office for a few hours and hear evidence from our case. You will be there to testify. This is done to get a feel for how real people think of you, your case, and how much it is worth, if anything. To make a comparison, this is like a practice before the actual football game.
Trial: This is like what you see on TV. We will present our case to a group of either six or twelve jurors, who are random people pulled off the street. The trial can last between two days and two weeks. Witnesses will testify for both you and the defendant, and you will have to take the witness stand too. This is usually done about a year after the lawsuit is filed.
Subrogation: this is the process whereby we may have to pay back a portion or all of your medical bills to your insurance company, health or auto, if they paid your medical bills. I hate this law, but this is the law. Many health insurance plans will allow for a 33% reduction in what they are repaid, but this is not promised.