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How Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Work?

A personal injury lawsuit is a journey—and a potentially daunting one if you don’t have a personal injury lawyer to guide you through.

Who Should File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

You may file a personal injury lawsuit if:

  • You suffered injuries another person’s negligence caused.
  • You have lost a loved one because of another person’s negligence.
  • Your loved one has suffered severe injuries, and you must file a personal injury lawsuit because they can’t do it for themselves.

Many different circumstances can lead to a personal injury lawsuit.

Events That May Lead to a Personal Injury Lawsuit

The typical personal injury lawyer handles various case types, and it’s clear why. A virtually endless number of situations can lead to injuries and wrongful deaths, and many of those circumstances are preventable.

You may pursue a personal injury lawsuit after:

  • A car, truck, or SUV accident
  • A motorcycle accident
  • A bicycle or pedestrian accident
  • A slip and fall accident
  • A trip and fall accident
  • A dog bite
  • Developing an illness because of exposure to a toxic substance—whether it comes from water contamination, asbestos in building materials, or other sources of toxins

Other circumstances may warrant a personal injury lawsuit. If you have any questions about whether to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, a lawyer can answer those questions.

The Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

How Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Work?Before a lawyer starts a personal injury lawsuit for you, they may explore at least one other option. In certain circumstances, filing an insurance claim may be more appropriate than a personal injury lawsuit. If the insurance process fails, you can file a personal injury lawsuit. You may first file a personal injury lawsuit when:

  • No insurance applies
  • The cost of your damages exceeds insurance coverage limits
  • You have losses that are not recoverable through an insurance claim
  • The liable party’s behavior was egregious, and you want to hold them accountable through a lawsuit


For those who’ve suffered injuries or lost a loved one, the personal injury lawsuit process may include:

Hiring an Attorney

For a personal injury lawyer, a lawsuit is charted territory. Therefore, hiring a lawyer is the first step for many who have suffered injuries or lost a loved one.

Once you retain the lawyer, they will likely:

  • Get your account of events.
  • Obtain any helpful documentation that you have, including medical records, police reports, and your loved ones’ accounts of your damages
  • Explain the next steps in the legal process
  • Provide you their number so that you can contact them with questions or concerns

Your lawyer may handle the majority of the other steps in your lawsuit, including:

Drafting and Filing the Complaint Against Liable Parties (and Serves Them)

Once your lawyer has gathered the facts about your accident, they’ll identify defendants to name in your lawsuit. A complaint is a formal notice with the civil court in your jurisdiction.

The complaint will:

  • Kick-start legal proceedings
  • Detail how the defendant harmed the plaintiff
  • Detail the damages that have arisen because of the defendant’s negligence

Your lawyer will then have to serve the defendant with notice of the complaint. The attorney may retain a process server to handle this step.

Settling the Case

Once the defendant learns of the complaint against them, they may hire an attorney. The attorney may make contact with your lawyer or vice versa. Settlements negotiations can take place after the attorneys speak, but not necessarily.

Per the American Bar Association (ABA), settling is a likelihood in personal injury lawsuits. A settlement can occur anytime after your lawyer has filed the complaint. Though your attorney might settle your case before a trial begins, the legal process may advance to:

Pre-Trial Proceedings

Before a formal trial begins, both attorneys (and their clients) will convene in a courtroom. The judge presiding over the case may ask about the status of legal proceedings and may recommend that parties engage in arbitration or mediation. You and your attorney have a say over whether arbitration or mediation is worth pursuing.

The judge may also set a trial date if legal proceedings advance to that point.

Completing the Discovery Phase

Before the trial starts, both sides will participate in the discovery phase.

During this stage, attorneys for you and the defendant may:

  • Exchange evidence
  • Name witnesses that they intend to call during depositions or at trial
  • Respond to specific requests from either side

There are rules governing discovery. Your lawyer should turn over any evidence the law compels them to, but not volunteer anything that can hurt your case—unless they must.

Proceeding to Trial

Some cases proceed through discovery without a settlement taking place. Some cases even progress through non-binding arbitration or mediation without a resolution. If your case proceeds to the trial phase, remember that—even then—a settlement remains possible.

But your lawyer may move forth with your case in court and may:

  • Lead jury selection
  • Be present in court during all stages of the trial
  • Make oral arguments to open the civil process
  • Object to the defendants’ attorneys when their questioning or statements are out of line
  • File any necessary legal motions
  • Refute the general arguments that the defendant’s attorney makes
  • Present evidence
  • Present proof of your damages
  • Question witnesses
  • Make closing arguments

There is no blueprint for how a personal injury trial will unfold. Your attorney will be prepared for the unexpected aspects of your personal injury case—because they will come.

Throughout the legal process, your lawyer will protect you. Defendants’ attorneys won’t intimidate you, pressure you into accepting an unfair settlement or subvert your case in any other way. If any party in your case has a question, concern, or request, they’ll have to go through your lawyer.

An Attorney Will Also Handle Crucial, Lawsuit-Related Activities

In addition to the steps already outlined,

your lawyer may:

  • Secure evidence: Strong evidence can make a strong case. Your attorney will work quickly to gather convincing evidence of the defendant’s negligence. Usable evidence may include photographs, video footage, expert testimony, chemical tests, and other resources supporting your case.
  • Interview witnesses: Witnesses can provide objective support for your case. A witness has no obvious bias, so their testimony can be powerful. Your lawyer may interview witnesses, get their contact information, and arrange for them to participate in your civil trial.
  • Document your losses: A convincing personal injury case shows the plaintiff’s damages. A lawyer may prove your damages through medical records, invoices for medical bills and other case-related expenses, and personal testimony of your damages.
  • Handle the administrative aspects of your lawsuit: Much of an attorney’s work comes in the confines of their offices. Drafting paperwork, placing phone calls and sending emails, consulting with experts, proofreading, and working alongside their paralegals are all essential steps in a personal injury lawsuit.

In short, your lawyer will do everything necessary to complete your case and hopefully complete it successfully.

Who Does the Plaintiff in a Personal Injury Lawsuit Sue?

Of course, the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit will depend on the details of the case.

Some case types and corresponding defendant possibilities include:

  • A motor vehicle accident: A reckless motorist, the manufacturer of a defective vehicle, or a dangerous road condition causes a collision.
  • A truck accident: Drivers can be liable for truck accidents, but commercial trucking companies often share the blame and face lawsuits from victims.
  • A slip and fall accident: A business owner who failed to clean a spill in a prompt manner, the owner of an apartment complex that failed to patch or replace a leaking pipe.
  • Dog bites: The law holds dog owners (or the person currently managing the dog) strictly liable for injuries to victims.

For each instance of negligence, there are one or more responsible parties. An attorney will determine liability for your damages.

What Is the Standard of Liability in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Negligence is the most common standard of liability in a personal injury case. It is the same standard for most wrongful death cases. Someone is negligent when they fail to act as a reasonable person should in the same situation.

For a motorist, negligence can include speeding, driving while distracted, or taking illicit drugs before driving. For a property owner, negligence can involve failing to clean up spills or debris on the floor, leading to customer slips and falls. A personal injury lawyer will review your case to identify all instances of negligence.

How Do I Find a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Now that you know what a personal injury lawyer does, you might wonder: How should I choose a lawyer for my case?

First, know that there are several ways to find a lawyer.

You can:

  • Ask friends and family for recommendations, especially if you know they’ve dealt with a personal injury lawyer in the past.
  • Research lawyers on the internet, which is an invaluable resource for those seeking a lawyer
  • Call lawyers that you see on billboards, in local publications, and in other advertisements in your geographic area

If you’ve used a personal injury lawyer in the past and were satisfied with their service, you may hire them again.

What Criteria Should You Look for in a Personal Injury Lawyer?

As you search for a personal injury lawyer, you can use a few guideposts to narrow down your candidates.

You might seek a personal injury lawyer who:

  • Has experience with your specific case type: Attorneys generally list their practice areas prominently on their websites. Relevant experience matters, as an experienced attorney may have a network of experts and case approaches that apply to your lawsuit.
  • Has a record of success: Law firms may publish notable case results on their websites. These results indicate that a law firm can win cases, though these results don’t necessarily indicate how your case will conclude.
  • Makes you feel valued during your consultation: You should complete a free consultation with any law firm you’re considering for your case. This consultation may give you insight into
  • Has positive reviews from former clients: Clients pull no punches in online reviews and testimonials. For better or worse, researching a law firm’s Google reviews can give you a strong indication of how they treat clients.

You can compile these various sources of information to choose your lawyer.

What Are Recoverable Damages in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?

Some common damages in personal injury cases, from motor vehicle accidents to slip and falls and other case types.

Those expected losses include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Property damage
  • Lost income
  • Lost earning capacity
  • The cost of temporary transportation

Your case may include many other damages. Certain circumstances can exacerbate the severity of damages, too. For example, a disabling injury may permanently deprive you of income and require expensive medical equipment, disability-friendly vehicles, and other items.

Personal injury lawsuits can evolve into wrongful death lawsuits. An illness, for example, may prove fatal, and parties may be liable for the resulting death.

Victims of wrongful deaths may recover compensation for:

  • Their pain and suffering and the decedent’s pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship, guidance, and other non-monetary benefits their loved one provided
  • Lost financial support
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Medical expenses

There is a detailed story behind every personal injury case. A lawyer will learn your story and seek justice for the harm that you’ve suffered.

Call a Personal Injury Lawyer Today to Discuss Your Case


Most states impose deadlines for filing personal injury cases. Don’t wait to find and hire a lawyer. They will guide you through a potentially complicated—but worthwhile—process ahead. When you have the right legal help, you can focus on your physical recovery and medical treatment, knowing you have someone protecting your rights. Reach out today for a free case evaluation.

Contact a trusted car accident law firm immediately.

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