If you have been injured in an accident which was at least largely the fault of another person, you may be considering filing a personal injury lawsuit to receive compensation for your injuries and other damages. If you have not filed a personal injury case before, you may wonder what the process is in the state of Alabama. Below are the individual steps you will take to seek compensation for your injuries, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages from the at-fault party:
- First, you will meet with a personal injury attorney—or perhaps you will meet with several, choosing the one you feel will do the best job for your specific case. When you have chosen your Alabama personal injury attorney you will present the facts of your case. The attorney will likely ask many questions, and the more prepared you are, the better this first meeting will go. If your case is a medical malpractice case or you were injured by a defective product, drug or medical device, this first interview may take longer. If the attorney feels you have a viable personal injury case, you may be asked to sign a form authorizing the release of your medical records as well as a retainer agreement (contingency fee agreement) which contains the specifics of your agreement with the attorney. Your personal injury attorney will then outline how your case will proceed as well as how he or she will keep you informed of the progress in your case.
- Your attorney will prepare and file a complaint for your case, which will outline your case against the at-fault party. The parties involved in the case will be identified, your legal claim will be stated, and the facts of the case will be clearly laid out. The complaint will contain a section which demands relief for your injuries, setting forth what you want the court to require the at-fault party to do (pay hospital bills, lost wages, etc). The complaint is a method of telling the defendant he or she has been named in a lawsuit, and the complaint will be “served” on the defendant. The consequences of failing to respond to the complaint will also be outlined in the paperwork. At this point the defendant’s attorney will answer the complaint, admitting, denying or claiming insufficient knowledge to either admit or deny to each of your assertions.
- Discovery is the next step in your personal injury case. The American justice system operates under the theory there should be as few surprises as possible during a lawsuit, therefore disclosure of all relevant facts and documents from one side to the other is necessary. Discovery can be in the form of written discovery (interrogatories), document production or depositions. In many cases, all three forms of discovery are utilized. Interrogatories are written questions which require your version of the facts and your claims. The questions may be broad, or more specific. If the questions are difficult to understand, or your attorney judges they are not fair questions, he or she will object. A request for admission will ask you to admit or deny specific facts related to your case, and can carry penalties for answering falsely.
- The vast majority of personal injury cases are resolved prior to trial, via pre-trial motions which resolve many important questions. A motion is a request filed by your attorney or the defendant’s attorney which asks the court to rule on a specific issue. If the ruling could potentially terminate the case prior to trial, it is known as a dispositive motion, while if the ruling is on a question arising during the litigation, it is known as a non-dispositive motion. Examples of a dispositive motion are:
- Motion to Dismiss
- Summary Judgment Motion
- Motion for Default Judgment, and
- Sua Sponte Dismissal (a motion for dismissal issued by the court, but not requested by either party to the lawsuit).
Your case may settle at this point or could potentially be dismissed. Generally, a negotiated settlement between the parties occurs; you will agree not to pursue any further legal action in connection with your injuries, in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of money from the defendant or his or her insurance company. When discussing a settlement with you, your attorney may relay the following: jury verdicts and settlements in cases similar to yours, your chances of winning at trial, the strengths and weaknesses in both your evidence and that of the defendant, as well as the practical difficulties associated with trying your case.
- If your case is not settled or dismissed, then you can expect to go to trial where a jury will determine, through listening to evidence from both sides, whether the defendant should be held responsible for your injuries and harm. Trials consist of six phases:
- Jury selection;
- Opening statements by each attorney;
- Testimony by witnesses and cross-examination by attorneys;
- Closing arguments from each attorney;
- Instructions to the jury from the judge, and
- Deliberation by the jury and a verdict.
- While you might assume the jury verdict is the end of your case, and that you can collect your check and go home, this might not necessarily be so. The defendant in your case could potentially refuse to follow the court order or might not have the assets necessary to pay the judgment. (Businesses, such as insurance companies, usually pay judgments with little problem). If an individual refuses to pay, you can conduct post-judgment discovery in order to determine whether the defendant has the necessary income and/or assets to pay the judgement. You might be able to garnish the defendant’s wages to collect your judgement, or possibly his or her bank account. If the defendant files bankruptcy, you may find that you are in the same position as other creditors—unable to collect on the judgment.
- If the verdict was not in your favor, you can file an appeal, however it is important to note that there must have been errors in the way the law was applied in your case for an appeal ( in addition to the fact that you are not happy with the decision). The appeal may concern a judge’s final order or the final judgment entered by a jury. The appeals court will review the case for any error of law which might have contributed to the trial court’s decision. Once the appeals court reaches a decision, the opportunity for further appeals is generally limited.
Why Choose Martinson & Beason for Your Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you attempt a personal injury case on your own, without an experienced Alabama personal injury lawyer, you may find it extremely difficult to receive the compensation you are entitled to. The Huntsville personal injury attorneys at Martinson & Beason will work hard on your behalf to ensure you receive equitable compensation for your medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages and any other applicable damages. We are compassionate to your plight, yet aggressive when dealing with insurance companies on your behalf. We have an extensive understanding of injuries which can result from an accident, and can comprehend your medical records related to the accident. If you want a strong advocate in your corner, call Martinson & Beason today.