If you are unable to get a fair settlement for your personal injury case, you may need to follow through with a lawsuit, and that means going through the motions of litigation -- the public court process.
The words "trial" and "ordeal" are basically the same words, and personal injury litigation and personal injury trials can indeed be ordeals. But the better prepared you are for what is likely to happen during a personal injury lawsuit, the better you will get through it. Here are some important things to know, and to be prepared for, if you're filing a personal injury lawsuit.
Civil litigation can take a long time. It's frustrating, but there is no way around it. Small cases can often get settled relatively quickly, but, if you are involved in even a medium-sized case, it can take several years from the date of your injury until the day that you get your settlement money. The judicial system is often a story of hurry up and wait. You just have to be prepared. There is generally nothing that your lawyer can do about it.
The judicial system and the litigation process are confusing. Pleadings, motions, hearings, interrogatories, discovery, document requests, continuances, adjournments, negotiations, deadlines! These common concepts and occurrences in litigation can be very confusing to the layman.
As a plaintiff, you have the right to understand exactly what is going on with your case. You have the right to know why your hearing was postponed. You have the right to know why the defense attorney wants all those documents. You have the right to know what your lawyer and the defense attorney are talking about. Make sure that your lawyer explains exactly what is going on in your case. If you don't understand something, have him/her explain it again. If your lawyer consistently does not -- or is unable to -- explain what is happening in your case, you should think seriously about getting another lawyer.
When you file any kind of lawsuit, you will lose some of your privacy. If you file a lawsuit, the defense attorney has the legal right to ask you many intrusive questions and demand that you produce many different kinds of documents about your personal, medical, financial, and employment history for many years in the past.
At a deposition, defense attorneys may often ask you detailed questions about every job that you have ever held in your life, every injury that you have ever had in your life, every lawsuit or workers' compensation claim that you have ever filed, every doctor that you have seen for the previous 10 years, and so on.
Defense attorneys can demand your tax returns and medical records for the previous five or seven years. They might demand all of your medical records relating to every injury that you have ever had. They might subpoena all of your employment records from every employer that you have ever had.
This is invasive, intrusive, and highly annoying. But the bottom line is that, for the most part, courts nationwide allow defense attorneys in personal injury lawsuits to obtain this information. Litigants are allowed great latitude in seeking information about their adversary's legal claims and arguments. This is just something that you will have to be prepared for.
If your personal injury case is anything but a small case, the insurance company might hire a private investigator to follow you around with a video camera. If the investigator catches you doing something that is inconsistent with your testimony and doctor's orders, that will hurt your case. Some investigators will even pretend to have a flat tire, and will knock on your door and ask if you can help them change their tire. If you have a potentially big case, this is just another hassle that you will have to deal with.
When the defense attorney confronts you face to face for questioning at your deposition and at trial, he/she might go after you hard if he/she thinks that you might lose your cool. Juries do not usually like angry plaintiffs, even if the plaintiff might have a legitimate reason to get angry.
If the defense attorney can get a plaintiff to lose his/her cool, the plaintiff's chances of winning the case decrease. When you are sitting across from the defense attorney at your deposition and at trial, be prepared to be confronted. Know what the weak points of your case are, and be prepared for probing, even insulting questions about them. Be able to calmly explain even the weakest parts of your case without losing your cool. The jury will appreciate your ability to stand up under pressure, and will hopefully reward you for that.
Don't let the litigation process overwhelm you. Ask your lawyer about anything that you don't understand. Ask sooner rather than later. When you understand what's going on, you'll be better prepared to deal with it.