When a person has been injured as a result of an accident or the negligence of a third party, his lawsuit will follow several steps.
After all the available evidence is presented to the insurance company for the party at-fault, negotiations start. Usually, there is a great difference in how your attorney and the insurance company value your case. If this difference can be negotiated, a release is signed, the agreed upon amount is paid, and this is the end of the case. It is important to realize that ninety (90%) percent of the cases are settled this way. Therefore, we encourage all persons that have good reason to file a lawsuit to do so. They should not fear the inconvenience and waste of time that taking the case to court entails because in ninety (90%) percent of the cases the lawsuit will not get to court.
When it is impossible to arrive at an agreement with the insurance company, your lawsuit is filed in the courts. A document called a complaint which contains your reasons to file your lawsuit and your damages is filed in court. Once your complaint has been filed with the court and the other side (the defendant) has been duly notified, then the discovery or investigative phase of the case starts.
This discovery or investigative phase of the relevant facts consists of the following:
- depositions (sworn testimony of witnesses)
- interrogatories (written questions submitted to the other side)
- requests for production (requests for documents that the other side has)
- requests for admissions (asking the other side to admit some facts)
- inspections of places or objects (i.e. the scene of an automobile accident, the slippery floor of a cruise ship)
Depositions are verbal examinations of witnesses during which the attorneys for both sides ask questions of the witnesses while a court reporter writes everything down and creates a record of all that has been said. Interrogatories are written questions that one party submits to the other to find out specific information. Requests for production require the other side to provide copies of relevant documents in its possession. Requests for admissions ask the other side to admit or deny the truth of certain facts or acts that important for the case. The inspections of places and objects allow both parties to inspect places and objects that are important for the case. For example, the scene of a fall on a cruise ship, or a vehicle involved in an accident. Both parties have the right to use, and systematically use, all this discovery procedures. After the discovery phase is concluded and never before, the party starting the lawsuit (plaintiff) advises the court that the case is ready for trial and requests that the court set a trial date.
Nowadays, it is a legal requirement that a case go to mediation before it can go to trial. Mediation is a formal negotiation conference. Usually, the attorneys for both sides and their clients go to the mediator’s office. The mediator is usually a retired judge, a retired attorney, or an attorney that does this work for a living. The mediator does not have any power to decide the case. His job is to help both parties arrive at an agreement. If there is an agreement at mediation, this is the end of the case. The plaintiff will sign a release and the defendant will pay the agreed upon amount. If there is no agreement at mediation, the case continues to trial.
Before the trial, both parties submit to the court a list of witnesses, documents, and things that they are going to use as evidence during the trial. In addition, all the subpoenas for the witness to appear at the trial are issued. Before the trial, the attorneys for both parties appear before the judge to handle the administrative aspects of the trial. Once all preparations are complete, the process comes to its natural end: the trial.