Personal Injury Case Timeline
The following is an outline of the steps which generally occur in a typical personal injury case. Each case will have unique characteristics and will be handled accordingly. Please use this only as a general reference. STEP 1: INVESTIGATION (A) Engagement: Client and attorney agree to representation. (B) Preliminary field investigation is accomplished to include (1) witness statements; (2) medical bills gathered; (3) physical evidence retrieved and retained (C) Settlements: Settlement can occur, occasionally, without filing a complaint. This typically occurs where the defendants liability is not disputed and the injury causation is fairly clear. STEP 2: LITIGATION (A) Complaint is filed with court in the appropriate venue. The complaint contains a statement of the ultimate facts and legal theories and names the defendants. (B) Within 30 days of being served with the complaint, each defendant must file its answer with the court. The defendants may demur to the complaint, which means they challenge the legal sufficiency of the allegations although this is rare in a personal injury case. (C) Within 3 to 4 months of filing the complaint, the court will set the schedule for the case which will include the trial date. STEP 3: FORMAL DISCOVERY (A) Formal discovery is the request and disclosure of evidence between parties (through their attorneys) in formal proceedings as established by the California Code of Civil Procedure. Parties are obligated by law to comply with discovery. Discovery proceedings are conducted up to 30 days before the date of the trial. These proceedings include the following: (1) Interrogatories: These are written questions which must be answered under oath by the party to whom they are proposed. (2) Request for Production of Documents: this is a formal request that a party produce all documents described in the request which are relevant or reasonably likely to lead to the discovery of relevant information in the case. (3) Request for Admissions: These are requests that a party admit to certain facts. (4) Deposition: This is a proceeding, usually taking place in an attorney's office, where a witness or a party is called by subpoena or by notice to appear to answer verbal questions propounded by the attorneys in the case. The testimony of the witness or the party are under oath and have the same force and effect as though they were given in a court of law. You can expect to be deposed in your case and that will generally occur only after you have recovered from your injury. STEP 4: ARBITRATION, SETTLEMENT, ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCEEDINGS: (A) Arbitration: This is where the parties introduce evidence before a neutral arbitrator assigned by the court or agreed to by the parties who will render a decision in writing. Either party can reject the arbitrator's decision within certain specified time periods and proceed to trial. If the parties agree, an arbitration can be made binding. (B) Mediation: Similar to an arbitration but less formal. A neutral mediator with experience as either a trial judge or trial lawyer will preside. No written decision is filed but a recommendation is made by the mediator as to the settlement value of the case. Either party can accept or reject the recommendation. (C) Settlement Conference: Usually conducted before a judge in the court in which the case is filed. The procedure is similar to a mediation in that the court hears from both sides informally and makes a recommendation to the parties. It is a non-binding proceeding. STEP 5: SETTLEMENT (A) All settlements are made with the approval of the client. Cases involving minors (under 18), must be approved by the court and involve a formal petition by the guardian on behalf of the minor to the court requesting an order approving the settlement. STEP 6: TRIAL (A) Cases as a general rule do not start on the actual date first assigned for trial. The court manages its calendar and when the trial actually starts is dependent upon the availability of a "court room". There are exceptions but, on average, cases may generally be expected to go to trial within 60 days of the first assigned date.