Because I routinely represent people who have never been involved in a lawsuit before, I find it beneficial to explain what filing a lawsuit entails so you know what to expect.
My first step is always to meet with you and talk about what happened. The information I need from you includes the “who, what, when, where, and how” of the accident : what happened, where it happened, who was involved and witnessed the incident, and how the accident transpired. For example, in an injury car accident I need to know who was in each car involved in the accident, whether the police were called, whether everyone involved in the accident was insured or not, where and when the accident happened, what your injuries were, where you were treated medically for those injuries, if you are still treating and where, whether you lost work as a result of the accident, whether you can still use your car, and whether or not you have photographs of the car and/or injuries involved.
I always make it a point to go the scene of every accident case to get a lay of the land. During our first meeting it is always helpful for you to give me any documentation about the accident you may have. For example, a copy of your driver's license, insurance card, the other driver's insurance information, medical bills and records if you have any, and photographs pertaining to the incident.
If we mutually agree to enter into an attorney client relationship I will have you sign a retainer agreement. This agreement formally retains me as your attorney and describes our mutual responsibilities during litigation. I will give you a copy of that agreement.
Once I have been retained, my first step is to send a notice of representation to the other party's insurance company and tell them to contact you only through me.
Next, I start gathering evidence to prepare a demand packet for the other side. A settlement demand is a written document that describes the incident, how the other party was negligent, and how that negligence injured you. It also includes evidence in support of your claims. The demand states an amount of money that you would accept to settle the matter before filing a lawsuit. The evidence that I need includes medical records and billing statements, photographs, witness statements, and the police report of the accident if there is one.
If the other party rejects the demand, then I begin preparing the lawsuit. A lawsuit is begun by filing a summons and complaint. The summons is a court document that notifies the other party that he or she has been sued. The complaint explains your claims and how the other party was negligent. Your case begins once the summons and complaint have been filed with the court. The defendant has a month to respond to the summons and complaint by filing an answer with the court. Once the answer has been filed, a new phase of the case begins called discovery. Discovery is the process by which both sides to the case ask each other questions about the accident. The purpose of discovery is obtain evidence to use at the trial and evaluate the damages. Discovery helps the parties analyze the value of the case, prepare for trial, and possibly settle before trial. Your deposition may be taken as part of the discovery process. A deposition is a formal question and answer session between you and the defendant's lawyer. I will be present with you at the deposition. During the deposition, the defendant's lawyer will ask you questions about the case and your injuries. I will also take the defendant's deposition. Discovery is the longest part of the case and can last for many months. It is the last phase of the case before your trial.
The trial date is set by the court usually around a year after the case is filed. Trials in most auto accident cases take about three to five days depending on the complexity of the injuries. I usually demand a jury trial. At the trial, both sides present their evidence and witnesses to the jury. I will explain and prove how the defendant was negligent and how that negligence injured you physically, emotionally and economically. Once the closing arguments are completed and jury deliberates, the jury enters a decision (called the verdict). If the case was against an insured defendant, his insurance company will pay the judgment. If the defendant was uninsured, I will begin the process of collecting the judgment by garnishing his wages, levying bank accounts, and/or liquidating assets.
Once I have received the payment, I disburse the funds by paying fees and expenses, medical providers and you.
Litigation is a time consuming and technical process with which I have been familiar with for thirty years. Trying to represent yourself is a bad idea because of the pitfalls and technicalities involved in litigation. Failing to properly follow all procedural and legal aspects of the law applicable to your case can mean you get nothing for your injuries.
Peter Goldstein - A Personal Injury and Civil Rights Lawyer