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10 Basic Steps Of A Personal Injury Lawsuit (Slip & Fall, Car Accident, Etc.) & Litigation Process In Pennsylvania & New Jersey

When people are injured in accidents, such as car accidents, dog bite accidents or slip and fall accidents in Philadelphia, PA and New Jersey, they often want to know what the litigation process involves before and after a lawsuit is filed.  The first part of this article will address the litigation process before a complaint or lawsuit is filed.

1. Hire A Lawyer

The first thing you need to do is hire a lawyer, and obviously, you want the best lawyer.  However, what you have to keep in mind is that there is no best lawyer out there for every type of personal injury accident case.  What you have to ask yourself is, who is the best lawyer for you in your personal injury case?

After all, it is going to be a long-term relationship.  You will have to work with your lawyer for a significant period of time, and you have to work closely together with your lawyer.  It's a partnership.  After talking to the lawyer, you have to ask yourself whether you can trust your attorney.  Can you trust that the lawyer you hire has your best interests at heart?

Related: How To Choose A Pennsylvania Personal Injury Lawyer--Free Report

2. Making The Decision To Go Forward With The Lawsuit

After interviewing and hiring your lawyer, you need to make a decision on whether you want to go forward with the lawsuit.  Is it in your best interest to go forward with litigation or a lawsuit?  You must then consider the pros and cons of litigation.

One of the pros is that you may receive financial compensation for your injuries and damages.  One of the cons may be the time it takes to settle the case or get to a trial.  Some personal injury cases, such as car accidents or slip, trip and fall accident lawsuits take 2 years to settle or reach an end result.  Others may take 5 years or longer due to appeal issues.

Another thing you must consider is the cost of litigation.  Complicated cases such as industrial machinery accident lawsuits or construction site accident lawsuits often involve hiring experts to establish liability of responsible parties. These are things you need to talk about with your lawyer.

3. Investigation

Once you decide to go forward with a lawsuit, the investigation phase commences.  For instance, in a Philadelphia fall down accident on a sidewalk, we would go to the accident site to perform a site inspection.  If you fell on an uneven sidewalk, we would inspect the sidewalk and take pictures.  We would also interview witnesses if there were any and request medical records.

4. Pre-Lawsuit Negotiation

In some cases, trying to settle with the responsible party or the responsible party's insurance company will be successful, but not all the time. We have been successful in settling cases before having to file a lawsuit.  We would send a demand package to the insurance company of the responsible party.  We would negotiate with the insurance company to see if we can settle the case prior to filing suit.

5.  Filing The Lawsuit

If we cannot settle the case, then a personal injury accident lawsuit is filed.

6.  Response From The Defendant

After the lawsuit is filed, it must also be served on the defendant.  For instance, if a patron tripped and fell down a flight of stairs at a restaurant in Philadelphia and files a complaint against the restaurant, the complaint must be served or received by the restaurant.  The complaint cannot be mailed, it has to be personally given to a representative or someone who works at the restaurant.  Once the complaint is served, the defendant has 30 days from the date of service to file a responsive answer to the complaint. 

7. Discovery Phase

After an answer is filed, the next phase is discovery.  The discovery phase can be broken down to 2 stages: paper discovery and oral discovery.

In the paper discovery phase, the parties exchange info about facts of the case through paper documents called interrogatories and a request for production of documents.  Interrogatories are essentially questions pertaining to the accident, injuries, etc.  A request for production of documents asks the other party to produce documents relevant to the accident, such as medical records of the injured persons, incident reports, etc.

In the oral discovery phase, depositions are conducted.  This is where the parties meet face to face.  Each party’s lawyer will ask the other party (deponent) questions about the accident.

8. Alternative Dispute Resolution

After discovery concludes, parties may try to settle the case via a mediation or an arbitration, which are increasingly popular for both plaintiffs and defendants in personal injury litigation. 

Both processes involve a third party who helps the parties reach a settlement.  A mediation is not a binding process, and the mediator acts as a facilitator between the parties.  On the other hand, an arbitration may be binding, and the arbitrator decides the outcome of the case, i.e., award a settlement amount to the injured party or find for the defendant.  Whatever decision the arbitrator makes, there are no appeals.

Related: PA & NJ Personal Injury Accidents - What Is The Difference Between A Mediation And An Arbitration?

9. Pre-Trial Settlement

If a settlement cannot be reached through a mediation or other negotiations, the case will go to trial.  However, before trial commences, the judge will schedule a settlement conference to see if the parties can come to an agreement and settle the case.

10. Trial

If the parties cannot settle the case at the settlement conference, then the parties go to trial, which is heard in front of a jury.  After the jury deliberates and comes back with an award or no award, the parties can appeal the award/decision.

FREE consultations - If you were injured and have questions about your personal injury accident case, whether it is a car accident, slip and fall accident or dog bite case, call Daniel J. O'Brien, Esq. at 877.944.8396.

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