Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

When most people hear the word ‘lawsuit,’ they imagine a trial in a packed courtroom, with eloquent lawyers haranguing the jury with speeches composed of complicated legal jargon – a scene straight out of prime time television. In reality, a lawsuit is not so much an event as it is a process – a series of steps and exchanges moving slowly toward a resolution, which may not take place in a courtroom at all.Most personal injury lawsuits can be broken down into five parts or sections: pleading, discovery, trial, appeal, and enforcement.Stage 1: PleadingThe initial stage of a lawsuit, known as pleading, consists of both sides establishing their general arguments. During this stage, the defendant will be served with notice of the pending lawsuit, and will have a limited window of time, depending on the jurisdiction, to respond. This response can take several forms; the defendant can admit to the charges, deny the charges, or claim insufficient information for a response.Stage 2: DiscoveryNext, both parties enter the discovery phase, during which evidence and statements are exchanged between plaintiff and defendant as they build their individual cases. At this time, attorneys for each side will often engage in legal wrangling to determine the admissibility of evidence, the appropriateness of certain testimony, and the composition of the jury. Many lawsuits are settled out of court during this stage, as both parties take stock of the situation and weigh their alternatives.Stage 3: TrialIf no resolution is reached during previous stages, the matter moves to trial. Both sides will have a chance to present their cases before a judge and/or jury, using witness testimony and evidence to prove their arguments. If no settlement is reached by the end of the trial phase, a judgment or verdict is rendered by the jury or judge.Stage 4: AppealIf a defendant is unhappy with the result of the trial, he or she can choose to appeal the case to a higher court. The appellate court will review the procedures taken by the trial court and determine if any errors were made which may have unduly influenced the outcome of the case, and decide whether to uphold the decision, reverse it, or remand the case back to the original court.Stage 5: EnforcementIf, after all appeals are concluded, the plaintiff’s verdict stands, the defendant will be legally compelled to follow the terms of the judgment, which usually involves paying some sort of financial penalty to the plaintiff.