What Are the Steps To Filing a Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Gregg Hollander | May 25, 2023 | Personal Injury
A personal injury lawsuit is a legal action where you ask a court to award you compensation from the pocketbook of someone who you believe is responsible for an injury that you suffered. There are many steps to effectively filing a lawsuit in Florida, both before and after you first notify a court of your complaint.
Step 1: Gather Information at the Scene of the Accident
If your injuries are not too serious, photograph the scene of the accident, any injuries, and any property damage. Photograph anything your common sense tells you might be relevant (the sky, for example, if weather conditions might have played a role). Get contact details for witnesses and for anyone involved in the accident. In a vehicle accident, get insurance details for the driver.
Step 2: Seek Immediate Medical Treatment
Seek medical treatment immediately. Don’t wait even a few hours. When in doubt, assume you are injured; some injuries take time to manifest symptoms. You might suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI), for example, with no symptoms for hours or even days.
If you delay medical treatment, you will give the defendant an opportunity to assert that the accident isn’t what caused your injuries. This argument, if successful, will defeat your claim.
Step 3: Schedule a Free Initial Consultation With a Personal Injury Lawyer
There are very few injury lawyers out there who will refuse to speak with you about your claim without charging you a fee. If you are seriously injured, the lawyer might even come to the hospital to speak with you.
Ultimately, as long as your claim is viable, you and the lawyer are on the same side. Under the contingency fee arrangement that most personal injury lawyers use, the more money you make, the more money your lawyer makes – and vice versa.
Step 4: Perform a Preliminary Investigation
If you have hired a lawyer by this point, they should perform a preliminary investigation. They will speak with witnesses, examine the evidence you provide, and gain access to your medical records. They might also ask you for evidence of lost earnings during the time that you missed work due to your injuries.
If you are lucky, the preliminary investigation will yield enough information to compel the other side to reach a settlement with you. If not, you might need to file a lawsuit.
Step 5: Identify Potential Defendants
Whom should you sue? In other words, who is the proper defendant? Any decent lawyer will follow the “deep pockets” litigation theory, which means looking for a defendant who can afford to pay. That might mean a rich defendant, it might mean a well-insured defendant, or it might mean a corporate defendant. If you were unjustly beaten by a nightclub bouncer, for example, you should probably sue the nightclub directly.
Step 6: Estimate the Value of Your Claim
Until you know the value of your claim, you won’t know how much to ask for. To estimate the value of your claim, you probably need to wait until you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). At that point, your medical treatment will probably be finished, and you will probably have returned to work. This will allow you to calculate the final value of your medical expenses and lost earnings. You can also add in intangible losses such as pain and suffering.
If your injuries left you with a long-term or permanent physical disability, you will have to estimate your future medical expenses and future lost earnings to calculate the value of your claim. This process is inherently speculative, and it will probably require the assistance of an expert witness.
Step 7: Commence Settlement Negotiations
Have your lawyer send a demand letter to the party responsible for paying your claim. If that party is an insurance company, they will respond with a reservation of rights letter, which is a formality. You can then begin negotiations, at least if the other side is willing to do so. Let your lawyer do the negotiating for you.
Step 8: File a Formal Lawsuit
If the other side rejects your claim or refuses to offer a fair amount for it, it might be time to file a lawsuit. Remember, filing a lawsuit does not require you to give up hope on an eventual settlement. To file a lawsuit you must submit the following:
- A formal complaint. Have your lawyer draft this one because it needs to be done exactly right.
- A summons to court, which notifies the defendant to defend against the lawsuit.
- The court filing fee.
A neutral third party will personally deliver a copy of the summons and complaint to the defendant. This delivery is known as service of process. As long as you complete your part of this process before the statute of limitations deadline expires, you will never have to worry about the statute of limitations ever again.
Step 9: Engage in the Pretrial Discovery Process
Many, if not most, parties file their personal injury lawsuit without enough evidence to win. That’s the pretrial discovery process is a court-enforced evidence-gathering process where you can compel the other side (and sometimes third parties) to prove you with evidence in their possession. The other side can also seek evidence that is in your possession.
Step 10: Negotiate Your Claim
Now that you are armed with the additional evidence you gathered during the discovery process, you might consider returning to the negotiating table before trial. If fate has been kind to you, the discovery process has strengthened your bargaining position. If you still cannot reach a settlement, you might consider bringing in a third-party mediator to facilitate a non-coercive settlement. Courts are typically very friendly to mediation.
Step 11: Trial
For most parties, trial is the last resort. Well over 90% of all personal injury claims settle before trial. If a trial is necessary, however, it will involve the following:
- Selecting and empaneling the jury (unless both pirates waive a jury trial),
- Giving opening statements,
- Examining and cross-examining witnesses;
- Presenting closing arguments;
- Awaiting jury deliberations; and
- Accepting the final verdict.
If both parties waive a jury trial, there will be a bench trial, with the judge performing the functions of the jury.
Step 12: Appeal
You have 30 days from the verdict to appeal the decision if you don’t like it. You must offer strong grounds for appeal; appeals courts don’t like to overturn the decisions of lower courts.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
A claim is an abstract legal right to compensation. You might have a valid claim right now. It takes a lot of skill, however, to turn a claim into cash. In all likelihood, you’re going to need the assistance of an experienced personal injury lawyer to do that.
Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in South Florida
If you’ve been injured in an accident, please contact our experienced personal injury lawyers in Florida at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today. We have three convenient locations in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Boca Raton Law Office
7000 W Palmetto Park Rd #500
Boca Raton, FL 33433
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Fort Lauderdale Law Office
200 S.E. 6th Street #203
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – West Palm Beach Law Office
319 Clematis St #203
West Palm Beach, FL 33401