CIVIL PROCEDURE: HOW CIVIL CASES WORK
A civil suit is, in many ways, very similar to a criminal case. There is evidence to gather, witnesses to interview, reports to collect, settlements to negotiate and ultimately a trial to conduct. However, civil cases have important distinctions. In the sections below we will cover the basics of a personal injury trial from the accident in question up through the eventual judgment and beyond.
Personal injury cases start with an injury. Whether it is a broken leg from a car accident, a twisted ankle from a slip-and-fall or a wound from a dog bite, the injury is the heart of the case. Immediately after an incident, several things must be considered. The first priority is to obtain proper medical attention. Right behind that is the need to gather evidence for later use. You or someone acting on your behalf should take steps to preserve as much of the evidence as possible. Take pictures of the scene, obtain medical reports about the injuries, gather up the pieces of that broken machine or damaged car. Everything must be kept, and kept well. These pieces of the incident must not just be held onto, but should be fully preserved for trial.
Getting Legal Help
While it may be theoretically possible to handle a case yourself, it is a bad idea in most situations. Even seasoned attorneys usually ask someone to represent their interests after a personal injury. For one thing, specialized personal injury experts have the experience to maximize case results. For another, it is difficult to remain objective about your situation when you are the victim, in pain or angry. There are insurance companies to deal with, witnesses to interview, evidence to preserve, medical bills to haggle over, legal documents to file and strategies to consider. An objective and compassionate third party with expertise in the type of case in question is always your best bet.
Initiating A Lawsuit
In many civil cases, there are legal deadlines by which certain documents must be filed or the right to recovery is permanently lost. These deadlines are called statutes of limitations and missing one can destroy a case. Therefore, it is important not to wait too long before starting your case. A lawsuit is started by the filing of a complaint with the court, naming the parties and the circumstances of the injury and asking for compensation, usually financial. Once the complaint is filed, the other party must be served with a copy.
Once the other party responds to your complaint, the discovery process begins. During this phase, both sides set out to learn as much about the situation as possible. There will be witness depositions, medical examinations, demands for documents, court appearances to settle disputes and more. It is often a complex process and getting it right is critical to the ultimate outcome of your lawsuit. It is during discovery that you figure out if you have a solid case, what the other party’s legal defenses might be and whether the other party can afford to pay you if you win.
Once discovery is complete, the parties usually make some effort to reach an out-of-court settlement. If liability is clear and the offending party has the resources, some settlements are quick and genuine. In other cases, the parties cannot agree or the legal standards in question are uncertain. Sometimes the other party just does not have the money and is hoping for vindication at trial. Whatever the case, settlement negotiations are a critical part of any lawsuit. A good attorney will work with you to ensure that any settlement adequately addresses your needs and injuries, both now and in the long run.
If no settlement is reached, the case will be scheduled for trial. Once the trial begins, each party will have an opportunity to present its case, the evidence most favorable to it and arguments about why it should win. In civil trials, a jury right is not always available. Some civil cases are tried only before a judge. Once the trial is complete, the court will issue a verdict and the trial is finished.
Sometimes the losing party will file an appeal. This means it is asking a higher court to review the trial verdict for fairness, legality or accuracy. Depending on the court system, state or federal, appeals can be complex and can last for years. You are usually not allowed to collect on a judgment until the appeal process is complete.
If you are successful in your suit and obtain a judgment against the other party, you will still need to collect on that judgment. Sometimes the losing party refuses to pay, sometimes it cannot pay, and sometimes it files for bankruptcy. Depending on the circumstances, you may need help from a collection specialist.
Getting On With Your Life
If you are successful in your case, whether you settle or win your trial, you will still need to get back to the business of living your life. This can often be very challenging, especially for long-term or permanent injuries. Work with your family or other loved ones, seek counseling for trauma, and obtain financial advice for dealing with a large settlement. Sometimes winning the legal battle is only half the fight.
Let Us Help
Regardless of the path your case may take, the Law Offices of C.W. Blaylock is there for you. As your attorney, I will give you expert advice throughout the process, competently and aggressively represent your interests, and work tirelessly to obtain the results you deserve. Whatever your situation, injury or time frame, contact me for a consultation today. I am Chris W. Blaylock, a Santa Monica personal injury lawyer who has represented clients throughout the Los Angeles and Ventura areas.