1. Gathering Evidence
The first important step in the preparation of a personal injury case is the early, thorough gathering of evidence as soon as possible after an accident has occurred. This process includes the taking of statements from eyewitnesses, taking photos of the scene and vehicles (if a motor vehicle accident), and collecting physical items that relate to how the accident happened. For some accidents, professional “accident reconstruction engineers” are hired to provide expert opinions about the accident.
2. Proving the Extent of Injury
Accidents happen in an instant. The effects of a serious injury sometimes take longer to assess. The process of treatment and recovery is monitored through the collection of medical records and bills and through following the client’s recovery (or lack of recovery). It can be helpful, in order to provide complete information about a client’s injury, to meet with treating physicians who can explain the effects of a serious injury on activities of daily life, and how symptoms can change as a person ages.
Cases can be settled at various times during the life of a case. Some cases are settled with the at-fault party’s insurance company before the filing of any lawsuit. A settlement occurs when sufficient compelling proof of the value of a claim (liability and damages) is presented to the insurance company insuring the at-fault party. Cases can settle as a result of direct negotiations between parties or with the assistance of Mediators, who are lawyers with specific training in assisting parties in the settlement of a case.
When the parties to a lawsuit cannot agree to a voluntary settlement, the disagreement is presented to a jury to resolve the case. Lawyers and judges are trained in the process of selecting individuals to sit as jurors to hear the case and in the rules of evidence and trial procedure. Witnesses testify, exhibits are admitted, lawyers make their arguments, and the jury renders a verdict to resolve the case.
A party cannot appeal a jury’s verdict simply because he or she doesn’t like the outcome. Appeals occur following trials when one of the parties feels that one of the laws affecting the case, or one of the rules of procedure affecting the case, or some evidence was wrongly admitted or disallowed. An appellate court reviewing the trial can “reverse” the jury’s verdict and require a new trial, or in some instances, declare that one or the other party should win the case, as a matter of law, without any additional review.