Filing a lawsuit can be a stressful experience. If you must take this step in your car accident case, you should hire an experienced car accident attorney to advocate for your interests. It is also important to have an understanding of the typical stages in a civil lawsuit so you know what to expect from the process.
File a Complaint
The first step in your lawsuit is filing a complaint with the court. This is a document that consists of numbered paragraphs where you briefly state how your collision occurred, why the driver was negligent, and what damages you are requesting. In your court documents, you will be referred to as the plaintiff and the person you are suing will be called the defendant.
Serve the Complaint on the Defendant
Once you file your complaint, you must serve the defendant with a copy of it so that he can respond to it. Your lawyer will hire a process server, which is a person who serves lawsuits and other court documents, or a court officer to give the negligent driver your complaint.
Wait for the Defendant to Respond to the Complaint
Once the defendant receives your complaint, he is allowed approximately three to four weeks to file an answer to it. He must admit or deny the statements in each of your paragraphs. He will also file a document called “Affirmative Defenses” where he lists the specific defenses he plans to raise to your lawsuit.
Engage in Discovery
The next step of your case will be discovery, which is the fact-finding and document collection phase of your case. It can take many months or longer to complete this stage.
Written questions called interrogatories will be traded between the defendant and you. Your attorney may also send requests to produce documents to him and other third parties who could have information that may help you win your case.
In addition, depositions will be taken of the negligent driver, any other parties to the lawsuit, witnesses, expert witnesses, and you. A deposition is a formal interview under oath conducted by a lawyer and recorded by a court reporter. A written transcript will be created from a deposition that can be used at your trial and other court hearings.
Motions are written arguments filed by the lawyers with the court. Your attorney may file a motion to compel discovery if the defendant or another party is not cooperating. Another common motion that is filed at the end of discovery is a motion for summary judgment, which asks the judge to rule on a specific issue in the party’s favor. Defendants in car accident cases often file a motion for summary judgment asking that the judge dismiss the case at the end of discovery, so do not be surprised if it happens in your case.
Attempt Settlement Negotiations
Your claim will most likely be settled at some point in the litigation process. Your attorney will enter into negotiations with the defendant’s lawyer at various times when he believes that settlement is possible. In addition, the judge may order the defendant and you to attend a formal mediation hearing to try to settle your case before a trial date is set.
Take Your Case to Trial
If you are unable to reach a settlement agreement during the other stages in your case, the judge will schedule your jury trial. Here’s what happens at a trial:
The attorneys for the defendant and you will select a jury.
Both lawyers will give opening statements where they summarize what the case is about and what they hope to prove during the trial.
Testimony and evidence.
You will present your case as the plaintiff. Your attorney will have other witnesses and you will testify and submit evidence that proves your case. Once this is completed, the defendant’s lawyer will do the same.
At the end of the trial, both attorneys will give closing statements where they discuss the witness’ testimony and evidence. They will also present arguments as to why the jury should decide in their client’s favor.
Once closing arguments are completed, the judge will give the jury instructions on the law that they must apply in making a decision in your case.
Jury deliberation and verdict.
The final phase is for the jury to deliberate and reach a decision on whether the defendant must pay you any compensation and, if so, how much you should receive. The jury verdict will be read in court.
Have You Been Injured in a Kansas City Area Car Accident?
If you've been injured in a car accident, you need to speak with an experienced car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Kansas City office directly at 816.471.5111 to schedule your free consultation.