After someone else’s negligent behavior leaves you with serious injuries, day-to-day life becomes a struggle. On top of coping with the after-effects of a traumatic injury, understanding the legal process and your options can overwhelm you further. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
In this article, we’ll detail in plain language the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit in North Carolina so you know what to expect.
Step 1: Assess your Personal Injury Case With a Lawyer
If you believe someone else’s negligent actions caused your injuries, then you should review the accident details and available evidence with an experienced personal injury lawyer. An attorney should be able to evaluate whether your suit would have a viable chance of success at trial based on the facts of the case, and if they offer free initial consultations (like we do at Myers Law Firm for personal injury cases), this conversation won’t cost you anything.
If the case is viable and you decide to work with the lawyer, you and your lawyer will move forward with filing a suit.
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Step 2: Evaluate Any Settlement Offer
If the negligent person’s insurance company has made a settlement offer, you’ll need to review that offer with your attorney. Most likely, the offer (if any) won’t be enough to address the true costs of your injuries; insurance companies rarely offer victims fair compensation unless they’re facing serious pressure in the form of a lawsuit. However, the decision about whether a settlement offer is reasonable depends on the facts of your case and your personal circumstances, and only you and your attorney can decide what’s best for you.
Although it might not be easy, it’s important to think about your decision of whether to file a lawsuit like a business decision instead of an emotional or personal one. This means you’ll need to set aside any personal feelings about what you’ve been through, look at the costs versus benefits of a lawsuit, and evaluate whether filing a lawsuit will improve your situation. A lawsuit requires a great deal of time and effort on your part, so it’s never something to take lightly.
Step 3: Your Lawyer Files a Complaint with the Clerk’s Office
If you decide to move forward with your personal injury lawsuit, your attorney will determine your specific grievances, assemble them into a formal complaint, and then file that complaint with the clerk’s office. The clerk’s office will also issue a summons, which is a document that tells the defendant when to appear in court. Once you’ve filed the complaint, you become the plaintiff in the case, and the person you’re suing becomes the defendant.
After filing the complaint with the clerk, your attorney will locate the defendant and provide them a copy of the complaint document. Lawyers call this process serving the defendant. It’s important to make sure the defendant has been properly served with the summons and complaint.
At this point, the insurance company for the defendant will hire their own lawyers and get their legal team involved in the process.
Step 4: Wait for an Answer
The person you’re suing will file their answer to the accusations included in your initial suit. Under North Carolina law, the defendant has 30 days to respond, but they’re also entitled to one extension that lasts for 30 additional days. If their answer includes counter-claims against you or involves certain defenses, then you may need to file a formal reply to their answer through your lawyer. All this back-and-forth filing takes time and may seem tedious, but these critical steps form the foundation of your case.
Step 5: Gather Information During the Discovery Phase to Build Your Case
Next comes a period of information-gathering called the discovery phase (or just “discovery” for short). During discovery, both parties spend time asking each other questions and gathering evidence. Lawyers may request information through written questions, formal document requests, or in-person questioning. When asked to produce information, each side has 30 days to do so, although they can get an extension that gives them an additional 30 days.
Discovery often involves depositions, which are out-of-court proceedings conducted for the purpose of gathering testimony. Although they don’t happen in court, depositions occur under oath, which means the person being deposed must tell the truth. If the person being deposed lies under oath, they will have committed perjury, which can lead to serious consequences.
Attorneys from either side may at various points depose the plaintiff, the defendant, and any other witness who have testimony that may be relevant to the case.
Step 6: Consider Settling Through Mediation or Arbitration
Even if a case begins moving toward trial, it doesn’t mean a trial will take place. Many personal injury cases end in a settlement while the preparations for trial are going on. This often happens because the insurance company realizes the plaintiff and their attorney are serious about taking the case to trial, and the company begins to take the case more seriously as well.
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Court rules in North Carolina require personal injury cases to go to either mediation or arbitration. Both mediation and arbitration involve working with a specially trained, neutral third party to try and reach a settlement. However, the two processes differ in an important way.
Mediation involves the third party (a professional mediator) pushing both parties to compromise, but either party can walk away from the mediation and return to trial preparations. The mediator can’t force either side to agree to a settlement.
In arbitration, the neutral third party (an arbitrator) makes a binding decision on the outcome of the case. It’s possible to appeal an arbitrator’s decision if you go to court-ordered arbitration. However, if you and the insurance company came to an arbitration agreement outside of court, it’s likely that your arbitration agreement involves language that says the arbitrator’s decision is final, which can make appealing their decision very difficult.
Step 7: Resolve the Dispute in Court
If your personal injury lawsuit doesn’t settle through mediation or arbitration, your case will go to trial. A trial is a complex process, and detailing all the steps of a trial would require a whole separate article. By the end of the trial, a jury will decide the outcome of your case based on the evidence and arguments presented by both sides.
If you don’t agree with the jury’s decision, you and your attorney can appeal — another complex process that involves many different steps. If you choose not to file an appeal, then both parties will have to live with the outcome of the trial.
As you can see, filing a lawsuit and preparing for trial is a painstaking and time-consuming process. However, if you work with the right attorney, they should be able to handle your case and keep you informed at every step so you can focus on your recovery while knowing your case is in good hands.
Contact Myers Law Firm if You’ve Suffered an Injury in North Carolina
If you’ve suffered injuries because of someone else’s negligent actions, Myers Law Firm is here to support you. We bring our legal expertise, knowledge of the courts systems, and all our resources to fight tirelessly for injured victims in Charlotte, across Mecklenburg County, and throughout North Carolina.
To schedule your free consultation with an attorney from the Myers Law Firm team, call us at 888-376-2889 or fill out our online contact form. We’ll use this time to listen to your story and inform you about your legal options so you can go forward with confidence.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.