Legal Stages of a Personal Injury Case

How it Begins

Contrary to what the average person assumes, a personal injury case begins the moment someone is injured in an accident. Injury cases may be settled immediately after the accident or could go onto a lengthy personal injury trial. In both instances, witness testimony and all other evidence of the injury is imperative regardless of how the case is settled. Witnesses and evidence should be gathered immediately following the accident to prevent people from forgetting what they saw or evidence being lost.

Consulting a Lawyer

If the personal injury case cannot be settled out of court and must be taken to trial, a lawyer must be consulted. The chances of success in a personal injury case without legal representation are low. An attorney must be chosen carefully.

During the initial consultation with a lawyer, you will explain the details of your case. The lawyer will listen to your case details, ask pertinent information and explain how they can help and your percentages of success. In the legal world this is appointment is called the intake.

During the intake the attorney considers several factors. The time that has passed since the accident took place, medical evidence of the injury, the existence of other evidence, availability of witnesses, and the ability of the negligent person or entity to compensate for the injury claim are all essential information to starting the legal case.

Other important issues to discuss include the costs that the trial may incur. An attorney may also decide to conduct short witness interviews before agreeing to take you on as a client. Whether the case can be resolved in litigation, mediation, arbitration or an alternate method may also be a decision factor.

In most cases, once a lawyer agrees to represent their client a letter of demand is sent to the negligent person or entity responsible for the personal injury. This step may be skipped, however, in lieu of initiating the legal process directly by filing a complaint.

Complaint and Reply

A personal injury lawsuit begins with the complaint which is filed by the injured party or their legal representative in the appropriate court. The injured person is known as the plaintiff. The plaintiff lists all allegations against the responsible party, called the defendant.

After the complaint is filed with the court the defendant is given a copy. The defendant is expected to reply to the complaint by filing what is called an answer. At this point litigation begins. The plaintiff is given a copy of the answer and the discovery process start.


During the discovery process of a personal injury trial information is exchanged between the plaintiff and the defendant. This process can last years, months or just days. Depositions are held and evidence and any disputes are revealed to each side of the case. It is at this time each person’s lawyer demands to see evidence, documents, photos, witness reports and anything that will brought as proof they were not responsible.


During the trial and judge hears the evidence in the case. Once all evidence has been revealed and a decision is made the judge decides how much responsibility to assign the defendant. The defendant may be responsible for 100% of the accident, or some lesser percent. The judge also decides how much compensation to assign the plaintiff.

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