The Four Steps From Filing a Lawsuit to the Courthouse
If the insurance company refuses to offer you fair compensation after you make a demand for your Virginia personal injury case, you may end up filing a lawsuit. In northern Virginia, you can usually expect that your case will go to trial within one year of filing the lawsuit itself. When we recommend to the client that a lawsuit should be filed in their case, we typically get two questions: (1) Does filing a lawsuit mean that I have to go to trial? And (2) what is the extent of my involvement?
The answer to the first question is “no.” While we prepare every file as if we are going to trial, the reality is that the vast majority of cases are settled without having to be tried in front of a jury. This is because at some point during the discovery process.
You should expect to be involved in the litigation process. The process of personal injury pre-trial litigation can really be broken down into four stages in Virginia circuit courts.
Complaint & Answer
The Complaint is a legal pleading that tells the Plaintiff’s version of events. It lays out the facts of how the auto accident, dog bite or medical malpractice occurred and describes how and why the Plaintiff believes the Defendant was negligent. The Complaint is drafted by your Virginia accident attorney.
The Answer is a pleading that is required to be filed by the Defendant within twenty-one days of receiving the Complaint. The Answer lays out the defense case. It either rejects the Plaintiff’s version of facts, rejects the allegations of negligence, or – in most cases – rejects them both.
Interrogatories are the first part of what lawyers call the “discovery process.” It’s a way for one side to find out what the other side is going to say at trial. After filing the initial pleadings, the two lawyers from the two parties will send each other documents called Interrogatories. These are sets of written questions that are looking for more information. They ask the other party to explain, in their own words, what happened and why it happened. Interrogatories are generally accompanied by Requests for Production of Documents – the legal demand for one side to turn over all the medical records, bills, accident reports and photographs that they have.
At some point after the interrogatories are sent, the lawyers from each side will want to take the other side’s deposition. A deposition is the opportunity for the lawyers to sit down with a court reporter and ask questions of the other party and potential witnesses. Again, it is part of the discovery process. The goal is to try to figure out not only what the other side and their witnesses will say at trial, but also to judge how the other side will present at trial.
In most personal injury cases in Virginia, each side will retain expert doctors to testify on their behalf. Each side is required to file a designation for the court detailing what they expect their experts to say.
The Plaintiff’s doctor is typically his treating physician who will describe to the jury the Plaintiff’s injuries, the treatment he rendered, and any future treatment that is necessary.
The Defense expert is hired by the insurance company to review the medical bills and records. While this is billed as an “independent review”, the reality is that in most cases, the defense expert will say that the medical bills are excessive, not related to the accident, and caused by some pre-existing condition.