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The Personal Injury Litigation Process

microphone at court houseGoing to court might make some people shake in their boots.  It seems intimidating.  The language seems complicated and confusing.  The process is overwhelming unless you break it down into understandable steps.  Here is an overview of how a lawsuit starts, goes to court and is resolved.

When first realizing you have a claim against a person or business for personal injury, notifying the responsible party of their obligation to you is typically done.  If the responsible party refuses to acknowledge the obligation the next step is to see an attorney.  An attorney will look over your claim and all supporting documents to determine if you have a lawsuit.  The responsible party will receive a summons and the complaint as well as the court.  The complaint should state the injuries, how the defendant is responsible and the desired outcome. 

If the summons and complaint are not resolved the case continues to the next step.  The “discovery” phase allows each party to ask questions of each other to obtain information about the incident in question.  The parties may be deposed, having the deposition recorded by a court reporter.  If no agreement is reached by this point, the case goes to trial.  During a trial, each party presents their case.  During the trial the case may be settled at any time with an agreement from both sides.  If the trial concludes with no settlement, a judge and/or jury will decide the outcome.

If the plaintiff (the person starting the lawsuit) loses, the case is dismissed.  If the defendant loses, he or she can appeal that decision.  The appellate court will make a decision based on opinion.  If still not satisfied, the defendant can take the case to the state supreme court.  Once the state supreme court makes a decision, it is final.  If the plaintiff prevails, he or she has the authority to start collecting damages from the defendant.  When the judgment is satisfied, the defendant has the right to get a statement from the plaintiff releasing him or her from the debt.  The case is then over.

Although this is a very generic overview of the litigation process, it should give you a good idea what to expect should you find yourself in this situation.  There is no need to fear the court system; it was designed to fairly hear both sides of a conflict and decide the just outcome.