If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence and are considering filing a personal injury lawsuit, it’s important to become familiar with the rules of civil procedure in Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, or another state where you live.
The process of filing a personal injury lawsuit is rather confusing and complicated. This is why it is essential to seek help from a skilled attorney in your state. Our experienced personal injury lawyers will walk you through the legal process step-by-step to ensure you receive the deserved compensation.
Will your personal injury case settle or go to trial?
According to the Law Dictionary, up to 96% of all personal injury cases are settled pretrial, either through settlement, mediation, or other means. While it’s true that almost all injury claims settle before they go to trial, it’s vital to understand your legal rights and prepare for any outcome.
Schedule a consultation with our personal injury attorneys at Howe.Law to review your particular case. Also, we will determine whether you should settle your claim pretrial or file a lawsuit against the negligent party.
Why do people file personal injury lawsuits?
In most cases, there are two reasons why people file a personal injury lawsuit:
- The statute of limitations is expiring. Many injured individuals choose to bring a lawsuit against the negligent party when the time limit for initiating legal action is expiring. Failure to file a lawsuit within the specified time period results in the loss of the right to take legal action. The statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit varies from one state to another. In Georgia, the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit is two years from the accident date (C.G.A. § 9-3-33); one year in Tennessee (Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-104); and three years in Mississippi (Miss. Code. § 15-1-49). The deadline may be extended under certain circumstances.
- The insurance company is not willing to negotiate a fair settlement offer. The second reason why it may make sense to seek compensation through a lawsuit is when the insurance company is refusing to make or accept a fair settlement offer. Insurers employ a variety of tactics to delay the claims process and deny or devalue legitimate claims. The injured party may end up in a situation when they have to choose between accepting a low settlement offer and filing a lawsuit. When you cannot reach a settlement agreement with the insurer, filing a lawsuit may be a better alternative to settling your claim for an unfair amount.
Consult with an experienced lawyer well-versed in handling personal injury cases in your state to determine whether you should settle your claim or take it to court.
Step-by-step guide for filing a personal injury lawsuit
If your personal injury attorney advised you to file a lawsuit, you probably wonder what happens once you initiate the legal action. Contrary to popular belief, just because you file a lawsuit doesn’t necessarily mean that it will go all the way to court. Usually, the two parties reach a settlement before it gets to trial.
1. Filing and service of a complaint
You can initiate civil action by filing a complaint. The person filing the claim (the plaintiff) names the negligent party (the defendant) and alleges that the defendant was negligent and that their negligence led to injuries and damages. In order to prove a case of negligence, it’s essential to seek help from a personal injury lawyer to draft and file a complaint properly.
After the filing, the complaint is served upon the defendant to give them an opportunity to answer the allegations made by the plaintiff. Depending on state law, a service of the complaint must be made within 90 to 120 days after the filing.
2. Answering the complaint
In all three states (Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee), the defendant has 30 days to submit a response to the plaintiff’s complaint. Under certain circumstances, the deadline for answering the complaint can be extended.
When answering the complaint, the defendant must either admit or deny the allegations made by the plaintiff.
Rules of civil procedure in Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi require the defendant to respond to the plaintiff’s discovery requests within 30 days from the date of filing the complaint. However, if the plaintiff files the discovery request along with their complaint, the deadline to submit a written response may extend to 45 days.
The most common types of discovery in personal injury lawsuits are:
- Requests for production of documents or things. Typically, the plaintiff’s lawyer will send a request to the defendant, asking them to provide all available documentation that may be used as evidence to support their claim. The deadline for submitting evidence and documentation may increase from 30 to 45 days upon the defendant’s request.
- Requests for admission. A request for admission is submitted to the defendant to determine which specific allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint would be contested by the defendant during the lawsuit. For example, the defendant may deny liability for the plaintiff’s injury or dispute the severity of their injury.
- Interrogatories. Interrogatories is another type of discovery. This refers to written questions that the plaintiff asks the defendant. The responding party is required to answer the interrogatories under oath. Georgia law limits the number of interrogatories to 50 (C.G.A. § 9-11-33). Mississippi law doesn’t permit more than 30 interrogatories (Miss. R. Civ. P. 33), while Tennessee doesn’t put a limit on the number of interrogatories.
The defendant can send the same types of discovery requests to the plaintiff, who also has 30 days to submit their answers. Typically, it takes from three to six months to complete the discovery process. The more requests are sent, the more extensions are requested, and the more the parties object to questions and requests, the longer the discovery process.
After finishing the discovery process, both parties will face depositions. At this stage of the personal injury lawsuit, each party’s lawyer will have the opportunity to gather information by asking the other opposing party questions in the presence of a court reporter. The reporter transcribes deposition testimonies. These depositions are now evidence in court.
Also, the parties can bring expert witnesses to a deposition to bolster their claims. For example, the defendant may take depositions of the doctor who treated the plaintiff.
Generally, civil courts in the three states – Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi – require or encourage the parties to attempt mediation before trial. Often, mediation is the last resort to resolve the dispute between the parties. This happens after the discovery process and after the depositions are taken.
- During mediation, both parties work with a third-party. This third-party is a neutral mediator who facilitates the negotiations to help them reach a settlement agreement.
- Mediation begins with the opposing sides meeting in the same room where they can make opening statements.
- Then, each side communicates with the mediator in private. The mediator goes back and forth between the two sides to convey offers. The mediator also counteroffers to help them reach a mutually acceptable agreement.
If no settlement agreement is reached during mediation, the neutral mediator writes a report concluding that the parties failed to reach an agreement. The mediator will submit a report to the court so that the personal injury case can proceed to trial.
The last – and longest – stage of the personal injury lawsuit process is trial. However, the vast majority of civil court cases settle before reaching trial. Here’s what happens during a civil personal injury trial:
- The lawyers representing both sides will select a jury by disqualifying those who have a conflict of interest or are biased in favor of one of the parties.
- The selected jury will receive instructions from the judge before the trial begins.
- The plaintiff’s lawyer provides an opening statement, and then the defendant’s lawyer has an opportunity to give their statement.
- The lawyers take turns to present the evidence and witnesses supporting their claim to persuade the jury.
- When witnesses testify in front of the judge and jury, the opposing party’s lawyer can cross-examine them.
- After both parties present their cases, they have the opportunity to provide a closing statement.
- After hearing the final arguments and receiving the instructions from the judge, the jury goes to the jury room to deliberate.
- A unanimous jury decision is announced to the parties.
- The defendant may receive the order to compensate the plaintiff for damages and losses, if the jury finds them guilty.
The duration of a personal injury lawsuit varies. It depends on the complexity of pretrial procedures and the circumstances of the case. On average, the entire process takes from one to two years.
It’s vital to consult with skilled attorneys to estimate the duration of your case and help navigate the legal process. Speak with our experienced lawyers at Howe.Law to discuss your unique case. Call at [insert phone number] to schedule a free consultation.