How to File and Prosecute a Lawsuit after a Car Accident or Other Injury
If you have been injured in a car accident or otherwise in California, you may be entitled to file a lawsuit to recover money damages. It is always recommended that you immediately seek the advice of an experienced attorney immediately after you are injured, so that you can best protect your interests.
Some of the steps for bringing and winning a personal injury lawsuit in Los Angeles or other cities in California are:
Below is a very general/broad discussion of how a lawsuit is filed and prosecuted, from its inception to entry of judgment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used as a guide because many details are not discussed here. If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit, you should speak with an experienced attorney.
Step 1 - Client Interview: The first thing your attorney will do is interview you to assess both liability (whether you have the right to sue) and damages (how much money you can recover from the party at fault). If both you and the attorney agree to pursue the claim, you can then hire the attorney.
Step 2 (ongoing) - Develop Damages: For purposes of developing your damages claim, your attorney will likely want to make sure that you have a clear medical treatment plan developed by medical professionals in place. Your attorney may even know reputable medical providers that can provide you the treatment you need on a lien basis (you don't have to pay until your lawsuit is resolved).
Step 3 - Factual Research: Your attorney will then research the facts and the law. The factual research will involve identifying the parties at fault and potential witnesses. A good attorney will also conduct informal discovery. This will include obtaining available incident/police reports, as well as interviewing the identified witnesses and possibly other parties. If the incident involved a defective product or was an injury caused on a certain business premises, the attorney may also research to see whether other similar claims have been filed.
Step 4 - Legal Research: The attorney may then conduct legal research for your claim. Some claims are fairly straightforward and will require little or no legal research (e.g., a simple rear-end car accident involving only two parties, one of which is clearly at fault). On the other hand, some more complicated claims can arise where either liability or damages is unclear or in question. Your attorney will look at case law, state statutes, possibly your city's municipal code, and other sources to develop your case.
Step 5 - Attempt to Recover by Making a Pre-Litigation Claim: In some cases, your attorney will advise you to make a claim for the damages you are owed prior to filing the lawsuit, something which may be referred to as a pre-litigation claim. This may be as simple as sending a letter to the wrongdoer (the one who owes you money damages) or it may be much more involved. Claims against government entities in California require that a claim be made with that governmental entity prior to filing a lawsuit in California Superior Court. For employment claims, your attorney may file a claim with the government employment agencies such as the DFEH or EOC.
Step 6 - Determining which Court to File a Lawsuit in (Determining Venue) : After conferring with you and possibly after exhausting other possible avenues, your attorney will then file a lawsuit in the appropriate court. Depending on the legal basis of your claim and where the causes of action arose (i.e., where the accident took place) and depending on strategic considerations, your attorney will have to determine which court would be appropriate for you to file in. For example, your attorney will have to decide whether Federal or California Superior Court is the proper court to file in. Your attorney will also have to decide which district or division of that court to file in. These decisions will be based on the applicable law and strategic factors about which venue would be most advantageous for you.
Step 7 - Filing the Lawsuit in California: The next step is to actually file the lawsuit. Depending on which court you and your attorney decide to file the lawsuit in, the procedures for filing will vary. If you are going to be filing a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court, your attorney will need to prepare and file each of the following documents (this list is just an example and your situation may vary, so your attorney will have to advise you on the specific requirements for your case):
1. The original complaint (this is the document that sets forth the allegations on which your claim for is based);
2. Your summons;
3. Civil Case Cover Sheet, Judicial Council form CM-010;
4. Civil Case Cover Sheet Addendum and Statement of Location form, LACIV 109 (Los Angeles-Specific); and,
5. Payment in full of the filing fee, unless fees have been waived.
Step 8 - Serve the Lawsuit: After your lawsuit is filed, it then must be served on the defendants named in your lawsuit. There are different ways of serving a lawsuit that your attorney can consider, but generally service of a lawsuit in California involves personally serving (delivering in person) the documents listed above (the complaint, summons, etc.), along with any court orders and possibly other documents.
Step 9 - Discovery: After the defendant(s) responds to the complaint and the case is at issue (assuming any pleading challenges are defeated), the next step is discovery. Discovery in California is the process by which the parties in a lawsuit can obtain information, documents, and deposition testimony from parties and non-parties (meaning people you are suing and people who are not parties to the lawsuit but may be witnesses or have relevant documents). Discovery is hugely important to your case because it will help you develop your factual and legal defenses for settlement or trial. The discovery procedures vary significantly between federal and California Superior Court, but both allow interrogatories (written questions), depositions (oral examination/questioning of a witness, usually recorded in some form), and document/item inspection (you can request to inspect/copy relevant documents and other tangible things).
Step 10 - Law and Motion Practice, Including Possible Motion for Summary Judgment: Depending on the individual circumstances of the case, your attorney may want to file various motions. Your attorney may want to file a motion for summary judgment/adjudication, which is a motion to obtain judgment on all or some of your claims in a summary fashion (without proceeding to trial). Generally, in order to prevail on a motion for summary judgment in California Superior Court, the party moving (asking) for summary judgment must demonstrate that there are "no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." In other words, the undisputed material facts of a case entitle one side to win. You should consult with your attorney on whether a motion for summary judgment or another motion should be brought in your case.
Step 11 - Expert Discovery: In many cases the parties on either side may want to get experts involved. The experts can be, for example, treating physicians, or other experts retained to testify about subjects that require expert knowledge (for example, economists may be retained to calculate the damages). If the case reaches the expert discovery stage, the parties will likely want to take depositions of the opposing side's experts.
Step 12 - Trial Preparation: This is the last stage before trial. Your attorney will want to rally the evidence and witnesses that will be presented at trial. Your attorney will want to prepare the witnesses to testify at trial, which will likely include you as well. The attorney may also prepare certain trial-related documents and motions (such as motions to exclude certain evidence/arguments).
Step 13 - Trial: You and your attorney will decide together whether you should have a jury trial (where a randomly selected jury acts as the trier of fact and decides who wins the case) or a bench trial (where a judge decides). A typical personal injury trial may last a few days. It will involve jury selection, opening arguments, the plaintiff presenting his/her case, the defendant(s) presenting their case, closing arguments, jury instructions being given to the jury, and then a verdict. Judgment will be entered for the prevailing party. If you (the plaintiff) prevail, you can then recover the damages you are owed under the judgment from the defendant(s). Hopefully, the defendant timely pays. If not, you'll have to discuss with your attorney how you can collect on your judgment.
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