At Kapuza Lighty, PLLC, we understand that the legal process is confusing and intimidating for most people. We meet clients every day who have suffered terrible injuries and need compensation but don’t know what to do. One option is to file a lawsuit in court against the person who injured you. The following includes more information about the process.
Step 1: File a Complaint in Court
The complaint starts the lawsuit. In it, you outline the facts and circumstances of the accident and your injuries. You also make a request for financial compensation, called damages. Washington law only gives you a limited amount of time to bring a lawsuit—in most cases, 3 years from the date of injury—so you can’t delay.
Step 2: Serve Notice on the Defendant
The person you sue gets a chance to respond to your allegations, which means you must notify them of your lawsuit. Under Washington law, you must serve them a copy of your complaint along with a summons, which you can get from the court clerk.
You must serve the papers using an approved method, such as:
- Hiring the sheriff to hand deliver the papers
- Hiring a private process server to make hand delivery
- Asking someone 18 or older who is not part of the case to hand deliver the papers
There may be other methods that are acceptable, but you can’t just hand the papers to the defendant yourself.
Step 3: Read the Defendant’s Response
The defendant will typically file an answer within 20 days, in which they admit or deny your allegations. They might also file a motion to dismiss, arguing you don’t have a valid legal claim or that you filed your lawsuit in the wrong court. You will need to respond to a motion to dismiss.
Step 4: Engage in Discovery
Discovery can take months—or longer. The purpose of discovery is for each side to fully understand the facts of the case. You can request information from the other side, and they can request it from you. There are many discovery techniques, such as:
- Requests for the Production of Documents
- Interrogatories, which are written question you answer under oath
- Depositions, where a lawyer can ask you questions in person, which you answer under oath
Step 5: Argue Pretrial Motions
Pretrial motions can happen at any time. For example, you and the defendant might have a discovery dispute about what documents you need to turn over. You file a motion asking the judge to resolve the dispute.
One important motion is the “summary judgment” motion. In it, you ask the judge to resolve the case in your favor without the need of a trial because there are no facts that will allow the other side to win. Either you or the defendant can file a motion for summary judgment, but defendants are more likely to file.
Step 6: Negotiate a Settlement
You can settle your lawsuit at any time—even before filing the lawsuit. In fact, you might continually engage in settlement negotiations throughout the entire process described here. However, defendants sometimes wait before settling. If they lose their summary judgment motion, then trial is unavoidable, and many defendants feel a strong incentive to settle at this point.
Step 7: Go to Trial
At trial, each side can present evidence and witnesses. Each side also gets to cross-examine the other side’s witnesses before making a final argument. Trials can be held in front of a jury or in front of only the judge. When a judge decides the case, it is called a “bench trial.”
Step 8: Bring an Appeal
The losing side can bring an appeal to a higher appellate court. This court, which typically has three judges, does not listen to new evidence. Instead, it reviews the record of the trial below and looks for errors the judge made or whether the verdict is completely at odds with the facts presented. The appellate court will either uphold the trial verdict or order a new trial.
Speak with Yakima Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Personal injury lawsuits are legally complex and slow moving. You will need a dedicated lawyer in your corner from the beginning. To learn more about our experience and what we can do for you, contact Kapuza Lighty, PLLC today. Initial consultations are free.