Pursuing an injury claim into the courtroom may be the only way to receive just compensation for your motor vehicle accident injuries, if the insurance company refuses to agree to compensate you fairly with a reasonable settlement. Still, the legal process of bringing your case to court can often feel confusing and intimidating for an injured person. For all the excitement of television courtroom dramas, TV doesn’t really offer a clear idea of what goes on during the various stages of a personal injury case. (Of course, a TV show has to get the trial completed in half an hour – with commercial breaks.) For the most specific picture of what you can expect from your case, don’t be afraid to ask your attorney any questions you might have, as he will be familiar with the details of your particular situation. However, for a general sense of how a motor vehicle injury case will proceed, let’s follow the fictional case of Sarah Brown, whose car was struck on the passenger side by a pickup truck in the middle of an intersection.
The early stages of an injury lawsuit are referred to as the discovery phase, during which both the plaintiff – the injured person’s attorney and the defendant – the insurance company’s lawyer try to gather as much information as they can about the accident and the people involved, and then use that information to build their case. One important part of the discovery phase is the taking of depositions. A deposition is a question-and-answer session between the attorneys and a person who has information about the case – this person might be one of the people involved in the accident, a witness, or an expert in a relevant field (like a doctor who examined the injured person). Depositions are given under oath, and are transcribed by a court reporter on a machine that allows typing in shorthand; they are later transcribed into standard English. The deposition testimony is placed into a booklet that can be used later on during trial. An experienced personal injury attorney will prepare client swell before the deposition so they know the ground rules and what to expect.
After the injured party gives his or her deposition, it is reviewed separately by both lawyers. Your attorney will evaluate your statements in light of how they might impact your case. You will have an opportunity to go over your statements with your lawyer to clarify anything that seems inconsistent, whether you were unclear or you think the court reporter misquoted you. It is important to be truthful during a deposition, as you are under oath, but certain facts may come to light that the insurance company’s lawyer may attempt to use to their advantage. For instance, if Sarah Brown mentions that her car was struck while she was on her way home from a long day of rock-climbing, one of her weekend hobbies, the insurance company’s lawyer might try to argue that she was tired and not paying enough attention to the road – or that some of her injuries were actually sustained during rock-climbing, and not as a result of the car accident.
Other facts may come to light during a deposition that require deposing additional witnesses. If Sarah mentions that she saw her neighbor Marge waiting at the crosswalk with her dog just before she entered the intersection and was hit, Marge will probably be called in and asked to give a deposition about what she saw of the events of the accident. She might confirm Sarah’s claim that her traffic light was green when she entered the intersection, and the pickup that hit her was speeding – or she might have seen something else entirely.
After your deposition, you will probably be asked to submit to a defense medical examination (DME). This is not an “independent medical exam” as insurance company lawyers like to call it – the examining doctor is hand-picked and well paid by the insurance company to minimize your injury or say it just does not exist. In Sarah’s case, the insurance doctor may very well look for symptoms of injuries consistent with rock-climbing falls rather than car crashes, as well as signs (present or not) that her injuries are not as bad as she claims. Sarah’s attorney has prepared her for this examination, and she knows not to volunteer any unnecessary information to this doctor, and to be on the lookout for tricks he uses to imply that an injured person’s condition is less severe than they say. The injured person’s own treating doctor will also be able to offer a report about the extent and nature of the injuries, which can help to balance out the insurance doctor’s claims.
Once the discovery phase is over and both sides have all the information they need, one of two things may happen. If the evidence is overwhelmingly in your favor, the insurance company may reach out with a settlement offer, and your attorney will negotiate with them. Otherwise, if the insurance company thinks they have a way to argue themselves out of paying for your injuries, the trial may proceed. In New Jersey, there is mandatory arbitration before any trial. Arbitration is non-binding and the award can be rejected by either side. Sometimes the arbitration provides a good estimate of what the value of your case may be if your case was decided by a jury at trial. Your attorney will help you prepare for the jury and to respond to cross-examination.
If you or a loved one suffered an injury in an accident in NJ, you should contact an attorney familiar with handling these claims. An experienced NJ Injury Lawyer will know how to obtain medical records, videos, photographs, experts, locate witnesses and contact the insurance company so you can make a claim for your injuries.
My NJ Injury Lawyer Howard P. Lesnik, Esq. offers complimentary strategy sessions to address any issue or questions you may have for your injury claim in NJ.
Please contact NJ Injury Lawyer Howard Lesnik, Esq., immediately if you were involved in an accident. I personally handle NJ personal injury cases on a regular basis. Please contact me now by email, by phoning 908.264.7701, or by completing the form to the right to schedule your complimentary 30-minute strategy session.