Although every case is different, the general stages and process of a personal injury lawsuit remains the same. There may be times when the pre-suit investigation process is not possible without filing a lawsuit or when a case settles early in the process but, in a general sense, the blueprint for a personal injury lawsuit is always the same.
Pre-suit Investigation and Litigation
A substantial amount of work can be done prior to ever filing a lawsuit. At the Law Office of Jared C. Williams, LLC, our primary goal is to do everything possible to try to settle your claim without having to file a lawsuit. Litigation is simply not fun for injured victims. Any chance you have to avoid this process is usually a good thing. Once you start the litigation process, you essentially open yourself up to questioning and must be committed to doing everything possible to litigate your case.
Nevertheless, there are often times when it is impossible to settle a claim prior to filing suit. This usually depends on various factors such as the degree of liability exposure and the type of case involved. Under South Carolina law, you have three years to file a personal injury claim so there is usually substantial time to conduct a thorough investigation before filing suit. An experienced personal injury lawyer will always do their due diligence and work each case up to its fullest potential prior to filing suit.
Filing the Summons and Complaint
Once it becomes clear that a settlement cannot be reached prior to filing suit, the next step is to draft and file a Summons and Complaint in the proper court and serve the named Defendants. South Carolina law allows one-hundred twenty (120) days to serve all defendants with the Summons and Complaint after filing them with the court. Properly drafting the correct complaint is crucial. The South Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure provides specific rules that must be followed when filing the Summons and Complaint and serving each defendant with the proper documentation. This step is important because any wrong move can result in a dismissal of your claim.
The discovery process is essentially the exchange and gathering of information for both sides. Although that may sound simple, the discovery process is where the majority of the time is spent in the litigation process. It is certainly the most tedious and drawn-out part. This includes sending and receiving proper documents to each party, asking for responses to questions from both sides, obtaining expert opinions and exchanging those opinions, conducting depositions of all possible witnesses and various other tactics allowed to gather information. Often times, the discovery process can easily last a year or longer.
The discovery process is also when motions are often filed in court. Usually, once a sufficient amount of discovery has been performed, parties might file a dispositive motion known as summary judgment. This is basically a motion asking the court to rule on your position prior to your case going to trial and being heard by a jury. There are various other types of motions that can be filed throughout the discovery process that require documents to be filed in court and oral arguments to be had in court.
Mediation is essentially “assisted negotiation.” It is an informal process where both sides agree to sit down and negotiate the case and their positions through an independent third-party called a mediator (usually a practicing attorney in the community). Mediation is a great tool to resolve claims and, with its increased popularity in the last few years, has really helped to settle many cases prior to trial. In South Carolina, most counties (if not all at this point) require parties to mediate their case within one year of filing suit before they can proceed to trial.
A trial is the process where both sides meet in court and present their case to a jury. Unfortunately, most trials are not as theatrical and dramatic as you see on television, but this does not mean that they are not important and vital to the public’s right to justice. In today’s legal system, approximately less than 10% of cases actually proceed to trial.
The general process for trial includes the jury selection process, opening statements by both parties, the presentation of witnesses and evidence, and closing arguments. Various motions can also be argued throughout each stage of the trial process. As an attorney, I enjoy trying cases but I understand the unpredictability of a jury and know that the process itself can be hard on clients. Thus, I always do my best to prepare each case to its fullest potential and explain the process in detail to my clients.
If you or anyone you know has questions about the general process of a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina, please feel free to contact our Charleston personal injury law office at 843-991-6528 and we will do our best to answer any questions you might have.