Educating personal injury victims on how they can help by explaining the process and sharing some common sense tips.
When you hire a lawyer to help you with your personal injury claim, you get an advocate whose obligation is to be loyal to you and your best interests in your pursuit of justice. You want your lawyer to be successful because his or her success is your success.
Success does not happen in a vacuum. There are a lot of people who play a part in the process. One of the essential parties, is you the victim, and the good news is that most of you are eager to help with the personal injury claim process.
1. Personal Injury Lawsuits Take Time
If you are not familiar with how the civil justice system works, you may be surprised at how long the process can take to resolve a claim. It’s not a fast moving process and there is no requirement for a “speedy trial” like there is for criminal cases.
Before a personal injury lawsuit is filed, your lawyer and his office will gather your medical records, medical bills, and review pictures of your injuries and the scene of the accident. Once that happens, a demand letter will be written and sent to the defendant (and the insurance, if any) and settlement negotiations will likely take place.
Filing the Lawsuit and Serving the Defendants
If negotiations fail, then your lawyer will file a lawsuit. And this process can take months or maybe years to reach a conclusion.
Why? Your lawyer will draft a lawsuit (Complaint), gather admissible evidence, conduct Discovery (depositions, interrogatories, discussions with experts, etc.), attend hearings on substantive and procedural aspects of the case (summary judgment hearings, motions to compel the production of evidence) and determine who should be a defendant in the case.
An example: in a slip and fall at a shopping center, there may be several defendants: the mall owner, the cleaning company, the management company, the store franchise, etc. All of these parties will likely be added to your case because they will eventually point the finger at one-another as the party responsible for your injuries.
It can take weeks or months just to get the complaint filed to initiate the lawsuit and to get all the defendants served. (Defendants are notorious for being hard to serve when a lawsuit is coming.)
Discovery of Documents And Answers To Questions
Each party to a personal injury lawsuit will conduct “Discovery,” which is the formal request for the production of records or for answers to written questions (interrogatories).
Drafting these written discovery requests, and getting them back from the party to whom they are served, takes lots of time. After they are finalized and served, then the other side has at least a month to respond. And they can take longer if they get an extension from your lawyer or the court.
Sometimes, these discovery procedures are staggered. Meaning, the production request is sent and the documents gathered and reviewed before the interrogatories are requested. This allows for the interrogatories to reference specifics items in the documents that were turned over.
An example: a production request for the grocery store’s business records of past slip and falls with details on what employees were working at the time of each accident. After that information is provided, an interrogatory may be drafted with details derived from those business records.
Depositions are a critical part of the discovery process. Depositions are a sworn testimony that can be used to cross examine a witness and read to the jury at trial. Preparing for depositions, as well as the depositions themselves, can be a lengthy process.
After consulting experts and examining the evidence, questions are then drafted. Depositions may be taken from both the plaintiff and the defendant as well as the expert witnesses for each side.
Whenever an expert witness is used, there’s always a large investment of time to get through this phase of the lawsuit. The expert will need to be instructed on the facts of the case and given all of the information necessary for him or her to give an educated opinion. If this witness is going to take the stand at trial, then more time will be needed to prepare for his or her appearance before the jury.
Moreover, your personal injury lawyer will need time to study and educate themselves in order to examine an expert witness. In fact, in some cases there is a “consulting-only expert” who works with your lawyer to teach your lawyer about the complexities of the issues at hand in order to effectively question the opposing party’s expert witness at trial.
During the course of your case, there will be times when the possibility of settling arises. One example is right before the duly authorized corporate representative of the grocery store chain is going to be deposed. The grocery store chain may prefer to settle rather than to have its representative’s sworn testimony about things like past bad acts in the public record.
Trials include pre-trial motions to post-verdict rulings by the judge and even a notice of an appeal. An injury trial can last from days to weeks or months, depending upon the complexity of the case and the amount of damages being demanded.
During the course of the lawsuit, your lawyer, and staff, have other important tasks and duties that will take time as well. These include:
- Filing motions asking the judge to address any improper defense tactics or compel the defense to act;
- Answering any counterclaims filed by the defendants;
- Filing objections to defense discovery, like medical exams;
- Monitoring settlement opportunities during the course of the case;
- Making settlement recommendations when appropriate;
- Meeting with potential witnesses;
- Meeting with potential experts;
- Preparing and/or approving final exhibits and visuals to use at trial;
- Working on jury selection and voir dire;
- Preparing opening statement and closing argument;
- Preparing proposed jury instructions as they consider the verdict;
- Prepare and present objections to the evidence offered by the defense;
- Prepare cross-examination of defense witnesses (including experts);
- Discuss the jury’s verdict with the victim and any possible bases for appeal by either side.
When you file a lawsuit, it’s usually a marathon and not a sprint. Expect to have the claim as part of your life for an extended period of time.
2. Your Personal Injury Lawyer’s Support Staff
Since your lawyer has so many responsibilities, it’s necessary for your lawyer to delegate tasks to others. This includes other attorneys in his office, as well as legal assistants and third party contractors (such as the companies that help with document support, deposition videos, designation clips, exhibits and other demonstratives, trial presentations, professional images, etc.).
It is far from a slight or insult to have a legal assistant help you with some details of preparing your case or having another attorney appear on a discovery motion on your behalf. They are part of the team, and their goal is to move your case forward and get the justice you deserve. So, please cooperate with them!
3. Social Media
You may be very active in social media. Your lawyer may be involved on Twitter or Facebook, too. However, do not expect your lawyer to communicate or otherwise connect with you over the internet. It’s not wise, and in many instances it is prohibited by the ethical code imposed upon Florida lawyers.
Your lawyer shouldn’t interact with you via social media in any way, including answering your personal queries in blog post comments or any other communication online that can be publicly viewed. If you have questions, then contact the law firm directly to avoid, among other things, confidentiality issues.
And beware of discussing any aspect of your case, including your injuries, on social media! For example, don’t share pictures of climbing a mountain and claim that you are bed ridden! That can come back to haunt you.
Staying off of social media will ensure confidentiality and privacy in regards to your case and its status. If you cannot avoid social media, simply control yourself and censor what you post for the time being.
Your Lawyer Needs Your Help And Your Patience
If you have been injured in an accident in Florida, there is case law and statutes that make it possible to get the justice needed to make you whole again. This includes negligence laws related to car accidents and premises liability laws for slip and falls.
However, getting justice can take time, due, in part, to the procedural steps built into our system. Cooperating with your lawyer, like being truthful and responding in a timely fashion, can go a long way to resolving your case as quickly as possible.
An experienced personal injury lawyer should know how to efficiently navigate through the system, as long as his or her client cooperates.
From our 37+ years of experience, we’ve learned a few things along the way, including how most insurance companies deal with personal injury claims and lawsuits.
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