A DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO FILING PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUIT
If you got hurt in an accident, it may be appropriate to file a suit without a lawyer if you have a clear sense of how to present the case, knowledge about the applicable laws, and the ability to preserve the evidence you will need. So, let’s consider some of the key things you need to know when you are deciding whether to file a claim without the help of an injury attorney.
You Understand the Basis for Filing Your Lawsuit
Injury lawsuits can be brought according to different legal theories, from negligence to strict liability. If you are going to file a suit without a lawyer, you should understand the basis for filing your claim. We will discuss this in more detail later on, but for now, you should have a sense of the legal theory under which your claim arises.
You Know What Evidence You Will Need to Prove Your Claim
Whether you are planning to negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party or you are anticipating that your case will go to trial, you need to know what kind of evidence will be necessary to prove your claim. Typically, useful evidence in a personal injury lawsuit can include:
- Photos of the scene where the accident occurred;
- Pictures of injuries and specific property damage;
- Police reports;
- Witness statements;
- Medical records; and
- Report from an accident reconstruction expert
You can Preserve the Necessary Evidence to Win Your Case
You absolutely need to know what to do in order to preserve the evidence you will need for your case. For most people who are planning to file injury claims in court, preserving evidence will require you to do one or more of the following:
- Documenting the scene where the injury occurred;
- Getting contact information from witnesses;
- Following up with witnesses and conducting witness interviews;
- Obtaining the police report and copies of citations that may have been issued;
- Seeing a doctor as soon as possible after the injury to document when and how your injuries occurred;
- Getting copies of your medical records;
- Maintaining contact with your healthcare provider; and
- Working with any experts who can provide additional information about your case.
You Know How to Write an Effective Demand Letter
Whether you are planning to seek compensation from an at-fault party’s insurer or directly from the at-fault party, you should know how to write an effective demand letter. Effective demand letters make clear the losses you have suffered and why you are entitled to compensation. A demand letter can prevent you from having to go to trial if the other side will offer a reasonable settlement.
You Know How to File the Claim and to Have the At-Fault Party Served
To win a lawsuit without a lawyer, you need to know how to write your claim or petition, how to file it in the appropriate court, and how to have the defendant served. For many small claims matters, you can fill out a claim or petition form and file it with the appropriate clerk of court.
You Feel Comfortable Advocating for Your Rights Before a Judge or Jury
You will need to feel comfortable presenting evidence in your case and advocating for your right to compensation.
You Understand the Specific Court Rules and How They Impact Your Case
If you do not understand the specific court rules, or the rules of civil procedure that must be followed, you could end up losing your case on a technicality. You will need to learn the rules that are relevant to your case, and you will need to follow them.
You Know About the Different Types of Damages You Can Seek in an Injury Lawsuit
Plaintiffs who file personal injury lawsuits usually seek compensatory damages, which are designed to compensate a plaintiff for his or her losses caused by the accident. You should keep in mind that damages in injury lawsuits usually include both economic and non-economic damages:
- Economic damages compensate for direct financial losses; and
- Non-economic damages compensate for subjective losses that are more difficult to quantify.
You can seek both types of damages, which ultimately should compensate you for lost wages, hospital bills, rehabilitative therapy costs, pain and suffering, the loss of enjoyment of life, and any other losses you have experienced.
You Know How to Calculate Your Damages
If you are going to file a personal injury lawsuit without an attorney, you will need to be able to calculate your total damages. Knowing the precise amount of damages you want to obtain will allow you to negotiate more effectively with the at-fault party, and to present evidence that can prove you are eligible to receive that amount of damages. Economic damages are usually easy to calculate since these are objective dollar figures, but non-economic damages can be much more difficult to calculate since they are subjective in nature.
You are Prepared to Engage in Negotiations With the At-Fault Party
Just as you will need to feel comfortable advocating for yourself and your right to compensation before a judge or jury, you will also need to be prepared to engage in negotiations with the defendant. Many injury lawsuits can be settled effectively out of court, saving both parties time and money, but a settlement is only possible if you can develop negotiation strategies.
You Know the Deadlines for Your Claim
It is only appropriate to file a lawsuit without a personal injury lawyer if you know all of the relevant deadlines for your case, and you are able to meet those deadlines.
Clock on the Statute of Limitations Has Not Run Out
You cannot file a lawsuit without an attorney—and in fact you cannot file a lawsuit at all—if the statute of limitations has run out on your claim. Know the statute of limitations, and make sure you file your lawsuit before the clock stops “ticking.”
You Know How to Collect Your Damages Award
If you win your case and the court awards damages, you need to know how to collect those damages. Sometimes the at-fault party does not have the money to pay up front, and you will need to learn how the collection system works in the court where you filed your case.
Filing an injury lawsuit without a lawyer can be extremely complicated, and you should know that you can always seek legal advice from an experienced personal injury attorney if you need help.