What happens in a personal injury lawsuit? Fort Worth lawyer explains
A personal injury lawsuit in Texas is definitely not a fast process in most cases and depends upon the particular facts and even which county the injury occurred in. The speed a case can go to trial in Tarrant County can be different from Dallas County. However, the process is typically similar. Your first step should be to contact a personal injury lawyer in your area.
Personal injury lawsuits in Texas
The next step is to make a demand to the party that caused your injury. We will present a written explanation of your injuries and how much we would be willing to settle the case for. In some cases this demand must be sent. If the party involved has insurance that may cover the injury, the demand will usually go to the insurer instead. Following the demand letter there is usually settlement negotiations. If a settlement is not reached then we will file a complaint in court, alleging particular parties are defendants who owe you relief as the cause of your injuries, and begin the formal litigation process. The defendant named in the complaint will submit an answer.
Next is the discovery process. Civil litigation is not like Perry Mason where the attorney pulls out the secret evidence that clears his client in the courtroom and surprises the other side. In civil litigation, parties exchange evidence through discovery. So discovery is a lengthy, and often expensive, process of exchanging documents, records, written questionnaires called interrogatories and depositions. Expert witnesses may be required at this point. As the evidence begins to prove or disprove allegations of each party this will usually help settlement negotiations move along.
Litigation steps in Texas
After discovery many things can happen. The court may order mediation to try to assist settlement. One or both parties may move for summary judgment, which asks the court to rule on the case without a trial. The plaintiff moves for summary judgment if there are no disputes over the facts and the court can determine an outcome purely based on the legal questions of liability. The defendant may ask for summary judgment because the facts are not in dispute but the law proves the defendant is not liable.
The defendant may also ask for summary judgment because there is some other deficiency in the plaintiff’s case. If the case survives summary judgment, then the likelihood of settlement increases further as the possibility of a jury verdict and the cost of trial begins to look more likely. If still no settlement occurs, then there may be additional procedural issues before the trial. The court may set the trial months into the future. By the time Texas lawyers get the case to trial it may be years.
Eventually, the time comes to accept that a trial must occur. The judge will begin the jury selection process and the attorneys will perform voir dire on the jury pool to select a jury. After selecting a jury the trial begins with opening statements, where each side presents their case. Just to get to this moment in the process it may have already been months or even years.
We will then present our evidence to the jury through witnesses and questioning. Then the defendant will present its evidence to the jury and I will cross-examine. Once both sides have presented evidence we will put up any rebuttal witnesses. After the rebuttal evidence, Texas lawyers offer the jury closing statements, summarizing the evidence for the jury. The judge then gives the jury the charge, which explains the applicable law and the questions they must answer. The jury will then deliberate and render a verdict.
Settlement vs. trial
It’s possible during trial or even during deliberations that a settlement will be reached but if not the jury will render a verdict. If the verdict is favorable to us then the defendant will likely appeal. Appeals will extend the litigation process for further months. We may settle the case for less than the jury verdict. Otherwise, we will take the case before the appellate court. If the appellate court affirms the verdict, it may still go to the Texas Supreme Court, which may affirm or overturn the verdict. The employment lawyers or other trial attorneys may present arguments in writing or orally to the court.
If the verdict is overturned, it is possible the appellate court will reverse the jury verdict and render a judgment in favor of the defendant but often the case will go back to the trial court for another trial. Then another trial will occur and possibly more appeals after that. Some cases go through multiple trials and appeals so that the final judgment occurs years after the original injury.
Collecting a judgment
If the lawyers are successful then we have to obtain the money from the defendant. The defendant may pay the judgment. However, if the defendant lacks the funds to pay the judgment then we have to go back to the court and obtain an order to execute the judgment. We may have to go with the sheriff to take his or her possessions for sale to generate funds. We may also have to get more court orders if allowed. Then we have to wait for the defendant to sell those assets to allow us to obtain the money.
As you can see, the litigation process is long and the whole time expenses are quickly building up. This is why although many people want their day in court, most cases settle. It quickly becomes the reasonable option when litigation can run from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.