Most people who find themselves involved in personal injury lawsuits have never been involved with the courts. You might feel nervous or intimidated about filing suit, and you may worry about what will happen. You may also think all personal injury law firms are the same. They are not. There is a BIG difference between firms and that difference can cost you dearly in your case.
Let’s walk through the process and see where your choice in a personal injury law firm can impact your case.
For a general idea of what to expect, here is a step-by-step overview of the process in Texas.
Filing the Lawsuit
The person who is seeking compensation is known as the plaintiff. The other party is known as the defendant. As the plaintiff, you will take the initial action, filing a lawsuit with the court. The defendant will be served with a citation, and will have approximately three weeks to file an answer. The first answer is almost always a “general denial.” This is standard legalese for the defendant’s statement that your allegations are untrue.
Now the real work begins. Experienced trial firms put a tremendous amount of time and effort looking into a case from every angle. Many firms just do the basics because it can cost time and money they don’t wish to spend. Like a professional athlete, all the hard work happens when no one is watching so they are ready to perform on game day. But few fans ever see all those hours of work preparing for that one shot.
In most cases, the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit is covered by insurance, and the insurance company hires an attorney. Regardless of who is paying the defendant’s lawyer, though, the next stage is “discovery.”
This is a period of time during which both parties try to learn as much as possible about the case being built by the other side. There are a lot of different written documents exchanged to request different types of information. You may also receive an interrogatory, or a list of written questions about your claims, witnesses, and other pertinent details.
It is essential to answer all written requests in a timely manner, as a failure to respond could hurt your case. For example, the defendant may send a “request for admission,” asking you to admit to a particular statement. If you don’t file a response, you are deemed to have admitted to that statement.
Part of discovery is the taking of depositions. In a deposition, a party to the lawsuit or a witness is questioned under oath in front of a court reporter. The recorded statement may then be used at trial. You, the defendant, any eyewitnesses, and various experts may be asked to give depositions.
Not all firms put in the work. Discovery is the “behind the scenes” effort in a case few clients ever really see or know about. Roberts Markland, LLP understands the hard work and time needed to insure the best possible outcome for their clients. Every day is game day at Roberts Markland, LLP.
As the discovery phase is wrapping up, either party may move for summary judgment. This is a request to the court to find in that party’s favor based on the law, without going any further in the process. Summary judgments are not often granted in personal injury cases.
Mediation may be tried in an attempt to avoid taking the case to trial. Either party may request mediation, which is a settlement conference facilitated by an attorney or former judge with special training. Both parties, along with your lawyers, will sit down with the mediator. You will both have the opportunity to make an opening statement and present your case before separating to different rooms. The mediator will go back and forth from room to room talking to each party to try to reach a settlement. If a settlement is reached, the lawsuit is over. If not, then the mediation session remains confidential, and nothing from mediation is used at the trial.
On average, five to ten percent of cases go to trial if a settlement is not reached. That may seem like a small percentage, but these cases can be very large potential cases where millions of dollars are at stake. This is where an experienced trial attorney is very important.
Firms who shy away from trial may not get the maximum settlement potential for their clients. Roberts Markland, LLP is among the most experienced and successful trial firms in Texas. They are always ready to go to trial whenever necessary to gain the maximum result for a client.
The trial is divided into five distinct parts:
Jury selection is officially known as Voir Dire. Potential jurors are brought into the courtroom for questioning by the judge and both lawyers. Either side can “strike,” or dismiss, a juror. There are two different types of strikes—peremptory and for cause.
Peremptory strikes allow the lawyer to strike the juror for any reason (except those prohibited by law such as race) or for no reason at all, but are limited in number. Strikes for cause are based on bias or prejudice against the client or the case, and there is no limit to these strikes. Eventually, the lawyers will agree on six jurors plus alternates in county court, or 12 jurors plus alternates in district court.
The opening statement is each lawyer’s opportunity to tell the jury what they intend to prove based on the evidence. Lawyers are not technically supposed to present arguments during this phase, but this a gray area.
The plaintiff has the burden of proof to demonstrate that the injury did occur, that the defendant was responsible, and that damages were incurred. Your lawyer will go first, calling a witness for direct examination. The defendant’s lawyer then has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. At any point, either lawyer may introduce exhibits and question the witness about them. This process continues with each of the plaintiff’s witnesses, until your lawyer “rests” his or her case. It is then the defense attorney’s turn to call witnesses, who may be cross-examined by your attorney.
After the defense attorney “rests,” the judge will read instructions to the jury. Both lawyers will then make their closing arguments.
The jury will retire to the jury room to make their deliberations. This could take minutes, hours, or even days, depending on the complexity of your case. When a verdict is reached, everyone will return to the courtroom to hear it.
A personal injury lawsuit could include additional motions and hearings, and the verdict may be appealed. In general, though, all personal injury cases in Texas follow the basic steps above.