Anatomy of a Personal Injury Case in New York
From the time that you are injured by the negligence or misconduct of another, until you finally receive compensation for your injuries from the responsible party, many months may go by. This is normal, and you should not expect your personal injury case to settle very quickly, if you want to get the best possible settlement that covers all of your medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and other legal damages. Below is an outline of how a personal injury case typically progresses in New York, from the date of the accident until a settlement or jury verdict is reached.
First Steps – Position Yourself for the Best Outcome
We have already discussed what to do after a car accident in another article. This involved gathering up evidence of the crash, such as pictures of the scene and witness contact information. Also critical was contacting an attorney before you spoke to the insurance company, signed any documents or accepted any payment. Whether your injury is the result of a car, truck or motorcycle accident, a construction accident, a slip and fall or an illness brought about by a dangerous drug, there will be things you can do after the accident to set yourself up for a good result, such as seeking medical treatment and getting a hold of your medical records, and contacting an attorney for advice early on.
Next Steps – Negotiations
Armed with information regarding your medical condition and the facts surrounding the accident, your attorney will be in a good position to negotiate a favorable settlement with the insurance company. In order to ensure that the proper amount of compensation is received, personal injury attorneys may wait until you are declared medically stationary by your doctors before engaging in settlement talks, so they know what your present and future medical costs are likely to be. This typically occurs several months after the initial injury.
Whether negotiations are ongoing or not, it is important to be sure and initiate litigation within the applicable statute of limitations, which is usually three years from the date of the injury, but which can be longer or shorter depending upon certain facts specific to your case. Even though the case may not go to trial, filing a lawsuit lets the other party know you have confidence in your case and are not afraid of taking the matter to court. Bargaining from this position of strength can help you get a better settlement.
Final Steps – Litigation
Litigation refers to the filing of a lawsuit and the process that leads up to and includes a possible trial. Even though the parties are in litigation, a settlement can still be reached at any time. Sometimes settlements don’t occur until the very eve of trial, or even after trial has begun. Sometimes the other party does not realize how serious you are until you file a lawsuit and pursue litigation. Once they see that they will have to face a jury, insurance companies are more likely to settle for a reasonable amount and avoid a jury verdict, which may be much higher than they would like to see.
The first step in filing a lawsuit is for the injured party, known as the plaintiff, to prepare and file a petition or complaint with the court, which sets out the type of accident or injury, names the responsible party or parties, and requests that an amount of compensation, known as damages, be awarded. The complaint is served on the other party, or defendant, along with a summons to appear in court. The defendant then has the opportunity to file a response to the complaint, where they admit or deny the allegations against them, and assert any defenses they think they have, as well as any counterclaims against the plaintiff or claims against other parties they think are responsible.
Next follows a period known as discovery, where each side can “discover” information from the other side. This consists of taking statements of witnesses, such as affidavits or depositions, requesting documents from the other side, and sending them written questions to answer about the accident or requests that they admit certain facts about the case. Discovery helps each side prepare for trial and also helps the parties see the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of the case, which can help spur settlement talks.
As the parties prepare for trial, many motions may be filed with the court. The defendant may try to get the judge to dismiss the case by claiming there are no factual issues to determine and they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff may ask for a judicial determination of liability as a matter of law, leaving only the question of damages to be decided by a jury at trial. Many personal injury cases in New York are won or lost on the basis of these summary judgment motions, so it is crucial to be represented by experienced trial attorneys who know how to file and oppose these motions.
The trial itself may last only a couple of days, or it may take weeks if the issues are particularly complicated. Each side gets to present its case and cross-examine the witnesses on the other side. After the attorneys for both sides have made their closing arguments, the judge turns the case over to the jury with a set of instructions about what they are to deliberate over and what questions they need to answer. The jury will return a verdict finding the defendant liable or not. If liable, the jury will also decide how much in damages the defendant should pay to the plaintiff.
Post-trial motions may be filed by the losing party, asking the judge to set aside the jury’s verdict, for instance. Also, the losing party may decide to appeal the case if grounds exist and it seems worthwhile to continue fighting. If a judgment has been entered against the defendant, further legal proceedings may be required to force the defendant to pay the required amount. This is known as executing or satisfying the judgment, and there are many legal tools available to help a successful plaintiff collect the money owed.
Get Experienced Legal Representation with Your New York Personal Injury Case
Getting legal representation from experienced New York trial attorneys from the very start is important to ultimately prevailing and achieving the best settlement possible, without making disastrous mistakes or waiving important rights because you did not have the advice of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney. For help with a car accident, construction accident or other personal injury in Orange County and the Hudson Valley region, contact Dupée & Monroe, P.C. in Goshen for a no-cost, confidential consultation.