What Are the Stages of a Personal Injury Case?
Most personal injury cases involve motor vehicle accidents. Others might involve slip-and-falls, trip-and-falls, construction or industrial accidents, or dangerously defective products. Whatever the nature of the personal injury case, it's probably going to follow the sequencing outlined below.
The Initial Client Conference
During a free consultation, our attorney will be looking for the three components of a viable personal injury case: Liability, damages, and insurance. Personal injury lawyers invest considerable time on cases and advance the costs necessary to bring the cases to fruition.
At The Law Offices of Glen F. Larson, our attorneys are hired on a contingency fee basis for personal injury cases. We only get paid if you receive a settlement or award.
The Claim and Investigation
Texas law requires any contingency fee agreement between an attorney and a client to be in writing. As soon as that retainer agreement is signed, the attorney notifies the party who caused the accident and their insurer that a personal injury claim is being made on behalf of the client. Then, the attorney begins investigating the case. Here's what is ordinarily obtained during an investigation:
- Copies of the police accident report and any paramedic report
- Interviewing witnesses and getting their statements
- Photos of the accident site
- Photos of the vehicles or instrumentalities involved
- Locating any traffic or security camera footage
- Ordering copies of emergency room records and bills
- Upon the client reaching maximum medical improvement, ordering copies of all other medical records and bills
- Ordering a medical report detailing the claimant's subjective symptoms, objective symptoms, results of the physical examination, radiological results, diagnosis and prognosis
The Settlement Package and Demand
When the attorneys representing the claimant have received all of the above information, copies are organized and forwarded to the opposing insurance company along with a settlement demand. Most insurance companies will respond with a settlement offer within a reasonable time. That offer is negotiated, and many cases settle at this point in time. If the case doesn't settle, the claimant has another option: Filing a personal injury lawsuit.
The Statute of Limitations
The general rule in Texas is that a personal injury claimant has two years from the date of an accident to file an appropriate lawsuit. They must first meet certain thresholds: Either the $10,000 in PIP benefits must be met, or other evidence of serious injuries must be alleged. You don't want to wait for two years though — you want evidence while it's still fresh and the recollections of witnesses are still vivid.
Filing the Lawsuit
If the accident occurred in Austin, the lawsuit is typically filed in Travis County. If it occurred in a collar county, it will likely be filed in that county. After the person who caused your accident and injuries is served with a summons and the lawsuit, they will have 20 days to answer or otherwise plead to it. That triggers the discovery or fact-finding phase of the lawsuit.
Although your attorney will already have a good understanding of your accident and injuries, the discovery phase of a case allows your attorney a chance to build an even stronger case. This includes an opportunity to discover what the defendant knows about the case. This allows your attorney to prepare the strategy for a trial and learn about any surprises that might come from the defendant's version of events. All discovery is conducted under oath. Here are three typical ways that discovery is conducted in a personal injury case:
- Interrogatories: These are written questions that are submitted to the defendant by your attorney seeking basic information about the defendant, their insurance, the identities of any occurrence or post-occurrence witnesses, and any adverse information that they have about either of the parties.
- Request for production of documents and tangible evidence: You'll want copies of any photos that the defendant has of the motor vehicles or other instrumentalities involved in the accident. The production request would include copies of any statements, video footage, or other relevant and material evidence that the defendant intends to use at trial.
- Depositions: In a deposition, attorneys are present along with a court reporter and a witness. Questions are asked of that witness for purposes of learning what they know about the case.
Trial of a Personal Injury Case
There are risks in a trial for both sides — that's why at least 95% of all personal injury cases settle. If a case does go to trial, there are six steps that it goes through. Those steps are:
- Picking a jury: The judge and respective attorneys participate in jury selection.
- Opening statements: The attorneys tell the jury what they expect the evidence to show.
- Testimony and cross-examination: This is the heart of the case, when testimony is heard and evidence is received.
- Closing arguments: Each side is given an opportunity to argue its case to the jury.
- Jury instructions: The judge tells the jury about the law that applies to the case.
- Jury deliberation and the verdict: The jury discusses the evidence in private and arrives at a verdict. That verdict is read in open court.
Injured parties who represent themselves after an accident inevitably get hurt again, in the courts. They fail to follow established rules of procedure and evidence, file improper pleadings, and miss important deadlines. Judges run out of patience with these people.
Your case must be presented professionally and properly. Retain our experienced and respected Austin personal injury lawyers to represent your best interests.
To schedule a free consultation with The Law Offices of Glen F. Larson, complete our contact formor call (512) 553-4994.