What is the Process of Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Philadelphia?
If you’ve been injured in a car accident, on someone’s property, or by a doctor, you may be dealing with medical bills, lost wages from time off of work, and pain and suffering. While dealing with the consequences of an accident isn’t easy, it’s important to know you’re not alone. When negligence plays a role in an incident that resulted in injury, the victim has the right to pursue legal action against the at-fault party.
Civil law can seem complex and confusing. Fortunately, there is a step-by-step process that plaintiffs can follow. To maximize your chances of receiving the compensation you need to recover, it’s in your best interests to work with an experienced law firm. When you seek representation from Shrager & Sachs, we’ll explain what the process is for filing a personal injury lawsuit in Philadelphia and we’ll guide you through every step.
What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Every personal injury case is unique, but there are some common elements you can expect. Lawsuits resulting from personal injuries are considered civil litigations. This means that the claim is based on non-criminal statutes. In some cases, like those involving drunk drivers, you may be able to pursue a criminal case simultaneously.
Civil lawsuits commonly involve individuals, groups of people, businesses, and larger entities. Some claims are small, like those involving minor traffic accidents, while larger ones could be the result of a negligent medical device manufacturer.
It’s important to note that civil litigation only has the potential to result in a monetary award—which may be separated into economic and noneconomic damages.
Hiring an Attorney in Philadelphia
No matter how your injuries occurred, it’s important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. Working with a lawyer will ensure you have the best chances of receiving full and fair compensation for your accident-related losses.
When you first contact a law firm, you’ll schedule a consultation. During this meeting, you’ll discuss the details of your situation and the legal representative you speak with will determine if there are grounds for legal action.
If filing a claim is an option and you decide to go that route, they’ll explain the process in detail. The first step to filing any claim is conducting a thorough investigation and gathering as much evidence as possible to prove you were wronged.
In the aftermath of an accident, conducting a thorough investigation is crucial to any claim. In the event you need to proceed to trial with a lawsuit, the evidence collected through the investigation will likely be the backbone of your case.
A good attorney will uncover all the pertinent facts of your case. Depending on the situation, they may collect your medical history and expense records, review surveillance footage if available, conduct witness interviews, and work with experts to determine what happened and why you were injured.
The Potential to Settle
Depending on your claim and the opposing party, you may be able to reach a settlement. If this happens, you and the at-fault party will come to an agreement and you will receive compensation for your losses. It’s important to note that once you accept the compensation, it’s likely you’ll have forfeited your right to take any additional legal action in the future.
If, however, a settlement is not possible, the next step would be to file a lawsuit. Let’s take a look at what that process looks like.
Filing a Complaint Against the Defendant
A lawsuit begins when a plaintiff goes to court and files a complaint against the defendant. The complaint sets up the facts of the case and what the cause of action is. If, for example, a doctor failed to check your medical records before prescribing a medication and you suffered a severe allergic reaction, the cause of the action would be negligence. The complaint also establishes what the plaintiff is looking for in regard to remedying the situation, i.e. the amount of compensation.
Once the complaint is filed, the defendant receives a summons. The summons provides a copy of the complaint and informs the defendant of when they need to respond by. Typically, the defendant has a limited number of days to file an answer to the complaint. The answer establishes the defenses they plan to raise. In the event the defendant fails to answer by the deadline, the court will usually enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. This means the plaintiff wins automatically.
Understanding the Discovery Phase
Prior to the trial, the discovery phase takes place. During this time, both sides will ask each other for evidence and witness information. Both sides will also appear in court to inform the judge of how the case is proceeding. Depositions, which are question-and-answer sessions under oath, are scheduled for the opposing party and any witnesses.
Pre-trial litigation is often the longest phase of the lawsuit process. It can take months and the trial date may be frequently set back. Once the discovery process has proceeded as far as it can, the defendant may ask the judge to throw out the case on summary judgment if they believe the plaintiff cannot win at trial.
If summary judgment is not granted, both sides with make motions to determine what evidence will be allowed at trial. Depending on the lawsuit and situation, jury selection may also take place.
Proceeding to Trial
If the dispute is not resolved outside of court and the discovery has ended, the civil lawsuit will move to trial. While this is often the most expensive and stressful part of any lawsuit, it’s also the shortest. Most trials resolve within days or weeks.
During the trial, the plaintiff and the defense will present their arguments to either a judge or jury. If a jury is not present, the trial is known as a bench trial.
Once the trial begins, both parties present their opening statements. The plaintiff always presents their case first, and the defense follows. After the defense has presented their side, the plaintiff has one last opportunity to present additional evidence—known as rebuttal evidence. Evidence from both sides could include documents, expert testimony, or exhibits to support the arguments. Witnesses may be called to the stand for questioning.
After both sides present their cases, closing arguments take place. After closing arguments, the judge will instruct the jury on the legal basis that it should apply evidence. Deliberations take place until a verdict is reached. With a bench trial, the judge deliberates for a period of time until reaching a verdict.
It’s important to note that if either party does not agree with the verdict, they can appeal the decision. If a verdict is appealed, it’s presented to an appellate court that reviews the previous proceedings and releases an opinion—affirming or finding fault with the decision. If errors are found, a new trial can be ordered.
Shrager and Sachs: The Law Firm You Can Depend On
Depending on the nature of your personal injury case, you may be struggling to figure out how to proceed. When you work with the attorneys from Shrager & Sachs, we’ll explain legal rights and options, so you can make the best decisions for your recovery and your future. To learn more about the personal injury lawsuit process in Philadelphia, contact us today.