On average, civil lawsuits can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000 to complete. This can be frustrating for prospective litigants, as the wide range of potential costs makes it challenging to decide whether or not pursuing a case is worthwhile.
Understanding the lawsuit process can shine some light on why these costs vary so much and how would-be plaintiffs can decide if filing a lawsuit is right for them. Here’s what every potential litigant needs to know about the civil lawsuit process.
Filing a Lawsuit May Not Be the Only Option
In some cases, lawsuits may not be necessary or even the best option. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to resolve a dispute via alternative methods such as mediation, negotiation, or arbitration.
While these methods still require that you work with an attorney, they can be faster, cheaper, and less contentious than a lawsuit. Many defendants prefer to settle out of court and with no filings on record as it is less expensive for them and better for their reputations. In fact, around 95 percent of personal injury cases settle without ever going to court.
The Lawsuit Process
Sometimes, the other party involved in your case may refuse to work with or speak to you unless or until you file a lawsuit. When that happens, the process is largely the same regardless of what kind of injury or wrong you suffered.
- You contact an attorney
- Your attorney investigates and evaluates your situation
- Your attorney files a lawsuit on your behalf
- The discovery process begins
- Experts and other authorities are consulted
Upon the completion of those steps, one of two things will happen. Either the defendant will agree to settle out of court or your case will go to trial.
The standard process lawsuit can take as long as three to four years to resolve, regardless of whether it ends in settlement or trial. Digging deeper into each stage of the process can help explain why.
Choosing an Attorney
Selecting the right attorney to handle your case is critical. While many attorneys have experience with the personal injury lawsuit process, some cases call for a lawyer who specializes in a specific type of injury. For example, victims of a railroad injury need to work with an attorney experienced in that area.
Additionally, plaintiffs should prioritize finding an attorney:
- With a good reputation and strong success record
- With reasonable terms and costs for their case
- With whom they feel comfortable
Case Investigation and Evaluation
Once you have an attorney, the next step in the lawsuit settlement process is for that attorney to investigate and evaluate your case. This can involve a variety of techniques, including:
- Interviewing involved parties
- Collecting records and documents
- Reviewing legal precedents associated with your case
- Learning more about the proposed defendant
With all of this information in hand, your attorney can advise you on:
- How strong your case is
- Whether the defendant has assets worth pursuing
- What you can expect moving forward
In rare cases, your attorney may advise you not to move forward if the defendant has no recoverable assets or insurance. If you do have a case and there are assets to win, the next step is filing.
Filing a lawsuit sounds simple, but it can in fact be complex. Attorneys must determine, among other things:
- The correct jurisdiction for filing
- Which party or parties to name as defendants
- The best time to file based on strict legal time limits and other factors
Then there are reams of documents to complete and submit, all of which must be filled out completely and accurately. Signatures must be collected and copies need to be made. All told, there are over 200 separate tasks involved in filing and working through the legal process.
During the car accident lawsuit process or any similar personal injury case, the next step is discovery. During the discovery process in a lawsuit, your attorney will work with attorneys for the other side to broaden everyone’s understanding of the case.
Both sides will exchange documents and other information to get a sense of:
- The full scope of legal issues involved
- The facts as documented
- How each side will approach the case
You may have to produce information or documentation and the defendant may have to do the same. Interviews are also common.
In some cases, it is necessary for one or both parties in a case to seek expert opinions. This may happen when the parties involved disagree about what the facts or evidence in the case suggest.
Experts can offer clarity. They can also provide testimony or documentation that can support one side’s claim and sway a court in their favor. This can be time-consuming and expensive, but it can also be essential to winning your case.
Settling or Trial
When all of the other steps are done, attorneys for both sides may make one last attempt at settling out of court. This may lead to a settlement agreement and the end of your case. If both sides refuse to compromise, going to trial will be the only option left.
At trial, both sides will present their cases to either a judge or a jury depending on the type of trial and circumstances. They will submit all of the information and expert testimony collected during the earlier steps and make their cases in light of:
- The facts
- Relevant laws
- Legal precedents
Your attorney will manage your case on your behalf at every step of the way. At the end of the trial, the judge or jury will make a decision.
If you win your case, your settlement may include:
- Compensatory damages that pay for your medical expenses, property loss, and lost wages
- Punitive damages that punish the defendant for their reckless or offensive behavior leading to your injury
- Coverage for your legal expenses
Any money awarded to you will be paid by the responsible party to your attorney. Your attorney will disperse any funds that you owe to third parties, such as the experts who testified in your case. When that is said and done, they will give you all of the remaining money from the award.
Understanding these steps from the beginning can help you make good choices and reduce the stress at every stop along the way.
Learn more about the individual steps of the lawsuit process, how to handle accident-related injuries, and other health and legal topics by exploring the rest of our great articles today.