Personal Injury Lawsuits FAQ
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- Complaint and Answer Phase: Your attorney will submit a complaint to the court in the jurisdiction where the accident occurred, including:
- A description of the accident
- Allegations of liability
- A declaration of your need for compensation, supported by evidence including financial and medical records
- Your complaint is then served to the defendant.
- Discovery Phase: Both sides bring forth evidence collected, including:
- Police documentation
- Photo or video evidence
- Eyewitness testimony
- Expert testimony
- Medical records
- Financial records
- Motions: Requests by either party to the court in an attempt to get the judge to take action on a particular detail of the case, such as a defense request to dismiss the case before it goes to trial.
- Hearing: A judge may schedule a hearing to seek clarification on key aspects of your case, which can result in a motion being denied or granted.
- Mediation: Courts will often order a settlement meeting conducted by neutral mediator in an effort to avoid trial.
- Trial: The court will attempt to decide liability and compensation.
Stages of a Personal Injury Trial:
- Jury selection
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction (final instructions from the judge to the jury)
- Jury deliberation and verdict
- Appeals: Either party may challenge the court's decision due to errors in the application of law and procedure.
The rule originally prohibited defense attorneys from introducing evidence that injured parties had already received compensation from third parties.
These protections remained in effect for medical damages until the California Supreme Court in 2011 ruled that an injured plaintiff may recover as economic damages no more than the amounts actually paid or owed by the plaintiff or his or her insurer for medical services received, and that amounts billed by medical providers are inadmissible at trial.
Thus 3rd party compensation is now entered as evidence and medical damage awards are capped at the amount paid or owed for services.
Because medical providers typically have agreements with insurance companies to provide services at lower rates than they bill to individuals, plaintiffs with similar injuries (or their insurers) can pay or owe vastly different amounts for treatment, and thus receive radically different medical damage awards, and a defendant’s insurance company can reap financial benefit from a policy the plaintiff paid into for years.
In California, the burden of legal fees can be shifted from one party to the other through the tactical use of a California Code of Civil Procedure Section 998 offer.
The purpose behind a statutory offer to compromise is to encourage the settlement of disputes prior to trial or arbitration. CCP 998 offer to compromise can only in negotiations taking place after litigation has commenced.
There are three possible outcomes to a 998 offer:
- If the case settles prior to trial, both parties assume their own legal costs.
- If the case goes through a trial, the prevailing party may transfer the financial liability for certain legal costs to the losing party.
- If the case goes through a trial, the prevailing party may actually have to pay for their own legal costs AND some of the legal costs of the losing party, depending on who made the 998 offer and whether or not the final award was better than the offer to compromise.
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