How Personal Injury Suits Work

Personal injury is defined as harm to an individual caused by another person, a corporate entity, or government entity, usually as the direct result of an accident or product malfunction. That harm could be physical, mental or emotional. A personal injury lawsuit is a legal action seeking financial compensation from, and/or punitive action against, the entity causing harm.

Perhaps the most famous example of a personal injury suit is the 1992 case against McDonald’s for burn injuries caused by scalding hot coffee.

Personal injury suits, and a subset known as medical malpractice suits, have become more common in recent years with firms like Jacoby & Meyers specializing in Auto Accidents, Catastrophic Injuries, Motorcycle Accidents, Slip and Fall Accidents, Truck Accidents, Wrongful Death, Dog Bites, and Workers Compensation.

Below is an explanation of the phases involved in filing a personal injury lawsuit after you have retained an attorney.

Phase 1: Screening and Investigation

During this phase a law firm conducts an investigation of the plaintiff’s claim. It could involve interviewing the plaintiff and any witnesses, reviewing the plaintiff’s medical records, gathering physical evidence, and consulting with experts and investigators regarding the claim.

The screening and investigation phase can take weeks to months, depending on the complexity of the claim, and could determine whether or not the attorney will take the case.

Phase 2: Settlement Negotiations

Once your attorney determines you have a case, he may contact the entity responsible for the harm and give them the opportunity to settle the issue out of court. During the settlement negotiations phase, your attorney takes the information he got from the screening and investigation phase and determines a settlement range. He then sends a notice to the entity to open negotiations.

Depending on the entity’s response, the negotiating phase could last several weeks to several months, until all parties reach an agreement, or hit an impasse.

Phase 3: Litigation

If your attorney is unable to reach an agreement with the defendant, he will move forward to the litigation phase. The litigation phase breaks down as follows:

Complaint & Answer

The complaint is what your attorney files on your behalf with the courts. It highlights all of the damages you have sustained, and any allegations regarding the case. Once the complaint is filed, a copy is sent to the defendant either by the Sheriff’s department or a process server.

The answer is what the defendant files in response to the complaint. Essentially, the defendant is giving a brief summary of his version of events. Defendants have 20 to 60 days to answer the complaint.


Discovery is similar to the screening and investigation stage, except both parties participate.

On your end, your lawyer will gather more in-depth information about the incident as well as information about the defendant, including whether or not he has been previously involved in similar events.

On the defendant’s end, his lawyer will also investigate the incident as well as get information about you.

Parties on both sides will also consult experts, and look for other cases similar to the current case, and a series of other activities to build their cases. Both parties will also take depositions, where the plaintiff and defendant are interviewed under oath, before the trial.


A motion is essentially a legal document asking the courts to take certain action in the case.  Attorneys from both sides can file motions and both parties can also oppose the motions filed by the other part.

For example, the defendant’s attorney could file a motion asking the courts to dismiss the case, and your attorney could respond with an explanation of why the courts should proceed.


Once the motions have been filed, the case is ready to go to court – unless the courts decide to dismiss the case. However, it could still take several months for the courts to actually set the date. The average is time is six months, but it could take between 12 and 18 months to go to trial.

All parties could also enter mediation at any time during the litigation process, even after the case has gone to trial. The mediation process allows everyone to meet with a neutral party and discuss the possibility of settling the case.

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