A personal injury case may be a person’s first experience with the legal system. As a result, our attorneys often get the same questions about trial proceedings before they start. Casey, Devoti & Brockland clarify a few elements of the personal injury lawsuit process so you feel fully informed before your case begins.
What are the chances my case goes to trial?
In our experience, we try about one out of every five cases filed. This number is due to a combination of reasons. Often, responsible parties — whether corporate defendants or insurers — are willing to risk litigation to avoid paying the injured person the value of their case.
In many cases, they will underestimate settlement value early in the personal injury lawsuit timeline. They know that extensive time, money and emotional commitment are required to take the leap into the courtroom. Essentially, a low offer is a responsible party daring you to weigh the value of their offer versus the costs of the personal injury lawsuit process.
Suits that push forward may resolve quickly because the defendant realizes the injured person is willing to incur the time, energy and financial expenses necessary to receive justice. They see the need to resolve to avoid further expenses on their end.
How long will the legal process last?
Before the pandemic, our answer would be a year to 18 months until resolution for most cases. Of course, complex cases often take longer. For instance, complex medical malpractice or wrongful death cases require more time to prosecute, as these cases typically involve more witnesses and experts.
However, the pandemic stopped the functioning of the courts, making the personal injury lawsuit timeline different for those who filed during that time. We have clients who started their personal injury lawsuit process in late 2020, yet their trial is set for 2024. The waiting period has been expensive for these people. They have been managing medical account balances and, in some cases, unable to work in their chosen career while waiting for their day in court.
What are the stages of a courtroom case?
Generally, we would break down the personal injury lawsuit process into five stages:
- Filing. This stage involves the filing and service of all necessary documents on the negligent parties. One vital document is the summons — a court order that notifies the defendant that they have been sued and identifies the date they must appear in court to answer the injured party’s allegations. This document will be served on the defendant by the local sheriff’s office.
- Discovery. Discovery involves lawyers on both sides trading information to survey the strengths of their respective cases. Your attorney may ask specific questions, request items or documents, inspect locations or products and depose witnesses under oath during the discovery period.
- Motion practice. During this stage, one party asks the court to end the case without the matter proceeding to trial. These motions are typically filed after discovery and are aimed at the issues or, in rare circumstances, ending the case entirely.
- Trial. During this stage of the personal injury lawsuit process, we present the dispute to a fact finder. In Missouri, this could mean a judge or jury will decide the matter by entering findings of fact and, eventually, a judgment.
- Post-trial. At the end of the personal injury lawsuit timeline, the losing party has an opportunity to complain to the appellate court about any legal errors that the party believes the judge made during the trial. In our experience, there is a 50/50 chance that the losing party appeals a judgment. To be successful, the losing party must point to some legal mistake. Appellate courts tend to affirm the vast majority of cases which they review.
How do you prepare your clients?
Your personal injury attorney acts as your mouthpiece in the courtroom, but you, as the plaintiff, need to be our partner. You are Exhibit No. 1 in the courtroom. You must be prepared to have all eyes on you throughout the proceedings.
With limited exceptions, the parties need to be present in the courtroom, both physically and mentally. We advise our clients to appear engaged throughout the personal injury lawsuit process— take notes and pay attention.
However, you should also be mindful of your conduct outside the courtroom — for example, we recommend that you avoid discussing your injury or legal journey on social media.
Dispelling Common Misconceptions
Over the years, we have seen a few common misconceptions about taking your case to court. For one: Nobody owes you anything. When you are the injured party, you have the burden of proof on your shoulders. You have the responsibility to prove liability, fault and the harms and losses you experienced because of the defendant’s negligence.
We also often see clients worry about the merits of their case. Our attorneys often field statements like “I hate to bother you” or “Is this worth your time?” Some will even walk away from the personal injury lawsuit process because they are afraid to be seen as “whiny.” The reality is that injured people are extremely tough. If you have been wronged by the negligence of another, you are always worthy of justice in our eyes.
Working with Casey, Devoti & Brockland
Taking your case to court can be nerve-wracking. It is a situation where you hand over control to your attorneys and then again to the jurors. There will always be some level of anxiety around the law — but with the right legal representation, you will stay informed at every point of the personal injury lawsuit timeline.
With over 40 years of courtroom experience, we are ready to take the lead in your fight for justice. Our attorneys make the complexities of the personal injury lawsuit process simple. When you are ready to take action, contact Casey, Devoti & Brockland for a free consultation.