If you or your property has been harmed due to the negligence of another, as in an auto accident, medical malpractice or even product liability, you can file a personal injury cases to protect you and award you compensation. Personal injury cases take time, and the rules vary from state to state.
Court Jurisdiction Rules
The jurisdiction of a personal injury lawsuit is the state court in the county where the dispute occurred or where the person you are suing lives. With multiple venues, you may choose which county to file suit in. Cases seeking damages of $10,000 or less may file with small claims court, according to California Courts.
Statute of Limitations in California
There is a time limit for filing lawsuits. The statute of limitations is two years if the injury was discovered immediately. If the injury was found later, the limiti is one year from date of discovery.
Once a complaint is filed with the court, you’re the plaintiff, and the individual you are suing is the defendant. The defendant is served with the case’s legal documentation. The discovery process begins to gather facts about the case. Requests or motions made in the early stages of the case are pretrial motions. Experts may be hired as witnesses and must be disclosed and deposed. Only a small percentage of personal injury cases filed go all the way to trial. Settlements are typically negotiated and reached before the court date.
The Discovery Process
Discovery is an expensive and lengthy fact-gathering process. During the discovery, you can gain information a few ways:
- Interrogatories—You may submit and receive answers to written questions.
- Depositions—This is the taking and recording of the verbal testimony of witnesses who are under oath.
- Exams—Physical or mental examinations may also be requested.
The Mediation Option
Before the trial begins, some cases are settled through mediation. The mediator, or third party, assists you and the defendant in finding common ground and an agreement.
The Personal Injury Trial
Most trials proceed in the same basic steps:
- The trial process begins with jury selection, or voir dire. Potential jurors are questioned by attorneys on both sides and, based on the answers, are selected or excused.
- Your attorney and then the defendant’s attorney make opening statements.
- The defendant answers questions and requests—and frequently makes counterclaims.
- You will reply to the counterclaims if applicable.
- Final arguments are made by the defense, and then the prosecution side and the defense will have another chance to make a statement.
- The jury or judge then considers the information, and a verdict is reached.
The final verdict will be reviewed by the judge and read aloud in court. If appropriate, damages may be awarded.
Damages for Personal Injury
The judge or jury will award you damages, or money, for your injuries if you win your case. Damages compensate for medical expenses, lost wages, disability, disfigurement, physical pain and suffering. Between spouses, damages can compensate for loss of consortium, which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
California acknowledges shared fault and applies damages accordingly. Some jurisdictions disallow compensation for damages if you are 50 percent or more at fault. Other jurisdictions follow pure comparative negligence, in which you are paid for the percentage of responsibility that’s assigned to the opposing litigant.
Cost of the Lawsuit
Typically, personal injury lawyers work on contingency. This means that you will not owe money unless you win the case. You may be accountable for a portion of the cost and expenses of the case, such as deposition costs and expert witness fees and costs.
After the Trial
Lawsuits are rarely free of complications. Litigants may also try to win post-trial motions to lessen the final judgment. A motion for judgment is a motion the losing party files if he or she believes the verdict was unreasonable and should be reversed. Motions to amend judgment attempt to modify court ruling, and a motion for new trial can also be filed. Judges have extensive discretion on post-trial decisions. While amendments to the judgment occur, it is rare that a case is dismissed.
The Appeal Process
The appeal process is another legal remedy from judgments that are unfair and too harsh. Appeals in cases from state or superior court are filed to the appropriate appellate court. These appeals are written in an opening brief and may request a reversal, new ruling or new trial. Written appellate briefs retort the claim. The appellate court may ask the lawyers questions, and then reviews the lower court ruling. Appellate court may affirm the lower court ruling, reverse the ruling or remand the ruling back to trial. The Notice of Appeal has a 30-day deadline. If filings miss the deadline, you may lose the right to appeal. Should the lower court judgment be reversed, the defendant may be remanded or kept in custody until the new trial.
Consult a Personal Injury Lawyer
Every personal injury claim is unique. State statutes and civil law change frequently and can be confusing. Consult with a personal injury lawyer should you have any questions or need legal advice.