Most claimants prefer to settle their disputes out of court because it is quicker, easier, cheaper, and less stressful. If you reach an impasse, mediation might work where negotiations failed.
However, some defendants won’t settle for a fair amount, which can force you to file a lawsuit. While all personal injury cases are different, they typically follow the same general steps.
Step 1: File a Formal Complaint
The process to start a California personal injury lawsuit begins by filing a formal document known as a complaint, in which you describe your claim to the court. You must draft your complaint carefully. You should hire a lawyer to help you. You will also need to pay a filing fee and use an authorized third party to serve the complaint and a court summons on the defendant. You can still withdraw your complaint later if you reach a settlement.
Step 2: The Pretrial Discovery Phase
In the pretrial discovery phase, both parties collect evidence from the other side to prepare for trial. If a party refuses to cooperate, the other party can seek a court order compelling cooperation. The discovery phase offers four important tools for collecting evidence: depositions, interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions.
Depositions are out-of-court question and answer sessions where lawyers examine and cross-examine each other’s witnesses under oath. The witness’s testimony is admissible as evidence in court. If a witness’s deposition testimony conflicts with their in-court testimony, the opposing party can use the inconsistency to attack the witness’s credibility. A knowingly false statement about an important matter constitutes perjury – a criminal offense.
Interrogatories are written questions that the recipient must answer within a certain time period. These answers constitute evidence, and perjury applies to these answers as well.
Requests for Production
In a request for production, you request to examine or copy physical evidence or documentation. You might, for example, seek to download speed and distance information from a truck’s Event Data Recorder to establish liability for the accident. You might wish to photograph the premises of a slip and fall accident or copy CCTV footage of an accident. The defendant might want you to submit to an independent medical examination to determine the true extent of your injuries.
Requests for Admissions
If you admit a relevant fact in court, the opposing party doesn’t have to go to the trouble of proving it. Likewise, the opposing party can admit to facts in a request for admission. For example, you might ask the opposing party to admit the authenticity of a document. Ultimately, this process benefits both sides by streamlining the trial so that you don’t get bogged down in proving obvious facts.
Step 3: Go to Trial
The following are the steps in a typical trial:
- Jury selection: Both sides will have input in this process. You have the right to veto a certain number of jurors based on their possible bias. For example, in a truck accident claim against a truck driver, you might wish to reject a juror candidate who used to drive a truck.
- Opening statement: Your lawyer should be able to deliver a persuasive opening statement.
- Call and question witnesses: The defense will cross-examine your witnesses.
- Cross-examine the opposing party’s witnesses: This process can get interesting when the two parties call expert witnesses who draw opposite conclusions.
- Closing arguments: Closing arguments take into account all evidence you presented at trial.
The judge will instruct the jury on how to comply with the law when deciding the case. The jury will then decide the case and issue a verdict. You can reach a settlement at any time before the jury announces their verdict.
Step 4: Appeal the Verdict
You might seek to appeal an adverse jury verdict. “Adverse” could mean that the jury found the defendant not liable, or it could mean you are dissatisfied with the amount of awarded damages. However, relatively few claimants appeal jury verdicts, and relatively few appeals court judges overturn jury verdicts.
Hire a Los Angeles Personal Injury Attorney for Help With Your Lawsuit
Don’t try to represent yourself – a personal injury lawsuit is far more complex than a small claims court case. Most Los Angeles personal injury lawyers offer a contingency fee arrangement, meaning you owe them nothing unless they win your case.