What Are the Stages of Personal Injury Litigation?
Brown & Crouppen handles quite a few claims over the course of any given year, but not every claim we handle will follow the same path. It occasionally becomes necessary for us to involve the court system and file a lawsuit to protect our client’s interest. Television presents a very abbreviated view of the litigation process which can cause confusion for clients in that situation. We feel it is important that our clients have some idea of what to expect.
OPENING & INITIAL STEPS
Before a lawsuit is filed or litigation begins on a claim, your legal team has done a tremendous amount of preparation work. Documents which will be filed with the court, called pleadings, are drafted for your attorney’s review. These initial pleadings provide the Court with information about the Plaintiff, the person bringing the claim; the Defendant(s), the person(s) who are believed to be responsible and liable for the claim; and the facts of the incident from which the claim arose. When ready, your paralegal will submit the initial pleadings to the Court so that the Court Clerk can open the lawsuit, assign a case number, and issue out the Summons. A Summons is an official document which is served on each Defendant to give them formal notice that a lawsuit has been filed against them. Once a Defendant is served, your paralegal will give notice of that service to the Court.
This period in litigation normally starts when the Defendant has filed their response pleadings with the Court. Discovery is the information gathering and exchange phase of a lawsuit. Attorneys for each party will exchange lists of questions, called Interrogatories, for the other party to answer. This requested information will provide background on the parties involved in the lawsuit, details about the subject incident, potential witnesses or experts who may be providing information relevant to the matter, details of injuries suffered, treatment, etc. Usually, there is also a list of requests for copies of documents, authorizations, photographs, and other items for review sent with the interrogatories. After each party has provided their responses and produced documents as necessary, each party’s counsel will spend some time reviewing and organizing the information obtained. Your legal team can then identify any areas where further questions / requests might be needed, or to resolve any disputes that may arise regarding the responses to interrogatories or requests for production of documents.
The second portion of the discovery phase is when depositions will be discussed and scheduled. A deposition is sworn testimony given by an individual in an out-of-court setting before a court reporter. A party deposition is a deposition taken of someone who is a party to the lawsuit, like the Plaintiff, Defendant, or a representative thereof. These depositions take place after the exchange of written discovery and answers between the parties and allow each side to get further information from the party as well as see how they will present during testimony. Transcripts of the deposition testimony will be obtained by each counsel’s office so they may review the information given and decide if follow-up written discovery needs to be sent.
After party depositions have been taken, it is possible that it may be necessary to obtain deposition testimony from other individuals to provide evidence to support the case. This could be a deposition of a treating physician who provided care for the client for injuries suffered during the incident, a witness who can provide additional support for the details of the incident, a custodian of records to testify about the costs for treatment, an expert in accident reconstruction, etc. The decision on which additional depositions are needed will be made on a case-by-case basis by your legal team.
TRIAL PREPARATION & TRIAL
Trial preparation really happens from the time a lawsuit is filed until we walk into the courtroom for the trial to begin. All the work your attorney and paralegal do will be to prepare your case for trial; gathering and organizing all the information possible to build as strong a case as we can to present to the jury on your behalf. Written discovery, depositions of the parties, experts, and witnesses, additional requests and obtaining further documents and records – it’s all being done to amass a strong presentation to the jury showing why we believe they should find in favor of our client. As we approach the assigned trial date, there are additional tasks your attorney and paralegal will need to complete for the court. Most of these are tasks your legal team will be able to handle without direct assistance from you; however, you will likely be asked to schedule meetings or calls with your legal team to go over the trial process and what to expect while in court before your assigned trial date.
Trial itself can be quite lengthy. There are likely still some last-minute procedural matters between the attorneys and the judge which are heard before a jury is selected and empaneled by the court. Once the jury is chosen and all procedural issues are resolved, the trial begins with opening statements, then testimony and presentation of evidence. At the conclusion of all testimony and presentations from both sides, closing statements are made by each attorney. The jury will deliberate before returning their verdict to the judge, which concludes the trial.
The most important thing anyone should know about litigation of a claim is that the process is not a quick one. In addition to the preparation time needed prior to filing the lawsuit, once suit is filed, parties are bound by the rules of the individual court where the lawsuit is filed. There are specific rules about times allotted for each step of the process to ensure no one party is given an unfair advantage; this means the process will be more of a slow, steady marathon rather than a quick sprint to the finish line. Your attorney and your paralegal will provide updates and explanations about each step in the process, including timeframes necessary for each task as best as possible, and this will help you understand how the rules and allotted times will affect your lawsuit. It is also relevant to note that there may be some outside factors that affect the amount of time your lawsuit will take, like schedule availability of an individual or the court. Your legal team will do their best to help you navigate these situations as they come about, and the timeframe progression as your file works its way through the court system.
A lawsuit may not be needed for every claim, but in some circumstances, it becomes the necessary decision. At Brown & Crouppen, it is our privilege and responsibility to provide expert legal advice as well as educate our clients about what to expect as their case goes through the litigation process.
Teresa Gallucci is an experienced Litigation Paralegal with Brown & Crouppen, P.C., working in the Complex Personal Injury Department. Ms. Gallucci handles cases in both pre-litigation and litigation stages, from opening through trial. Ms. Gallucci is a member of the Complex Personal Injury Department Training Team, helping to train new hires and assist all staff through the process of handling personal injury claims for our clients. In addition to prior degrees, Ms. Gallucci received her B.S. in Paralegal Studies from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale in 2007, and has been a practicing paralegal since 2008.