If you’ve been injured in an accident in Las Vegas, Nevada, you may be asking yourself what to do next, especially if you have no idea how a personal injury lawsuit works for victims. In fact, according to the National Safety Council, there were 4.8 million motor vehicle accidents requiring medical attention in the United States in 2020, so you are far from alone.
If your medical expenses from the injury are going to be greater than the Nevada small claims court limit of $10,000 then you will likely want to schedule a consult with a personal injury lawyer to determine if you might have a reasonable case. Most attorneys will be happy to schedule an initial consult to go over your potential suit, and some may offer their advice in this first meeting without charge.
Who Can File a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
The only person who can file a personal injury lawsuit is the injured party, or in the case of a child who has been injured, the parent of the child in question. If you or your child has been injured in an accident, and you believe the costs and losses will exceed the small claims court limit, then that initial consult with a personal injury lawyer will be in the best interest of you or your child. If your lawyer decides that you have a reasonable chance to win the case, ask about fee structures before you begin. Many attorneys will work on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything unless you win.
How a Personal Injury Lawsuit Works in Nevada
In Nevada, unless you are going to small claims court, you should first consult with an attorney about the merits of your negligence case. The attorney will ask several questions of you in order to help determine whether your case may have a chance of winning. You should also prepare a list of questions for your potential attorney at this time.
The attorney will likely, then, perform an initial investigation to determine if the person or entity who injured you has insurance or assets sufficient to cover damages that you have incurred. If the attorney determines that you have a legitimate chance at winning, and also that the potential defendant has insurance or assets to cover your damages, they may recommend filing a complaint. Filing an official complaint is the first step of several in a personal injury lawsuit.
Once the decision has been made to file a complaint, your personal injury lawyer will have some specific instructions for you about what to say or do, and what to not say or do, as well, throughout the duration of the process. It will be important to follow their instructions as closely as possible in order to ensure the process goes smoothly for you. They may make recommendations for changes to your daily routine if, for example, something causes you pain, but you just grin and bear it, your lawyer will likely tell you to find someone who can help you with that task in the future. They will also help you prepare for intrusive medical examinations that may be coming in the near future.
Steps in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Between the initial step of filing a complaint and the completion of your lawsuit, there will be several steps you will be required to take. Your personal injury lawyer will help guide you through them all. Depending on the path your suit follows, you may experience each of these steps or only some. Each lawsuit is different based on the injuries sustained, the evidence available, and the defendant’s desire to settle or to take the suit to a jury trial. The steps you can expect to see are:
- Filing court documents
- Pre-rial motions and hearings
- Settlement negotiations
- Collecting your judgment or settlement
Filing Court Documents
This phase of the process begins with the initial complaint filed by your attorney. Your complaint will name the defendant in the lawsuit. The complaint will also state the nature of the accident and injuries, the legal basis that holds the defendant liable for the accident and your injuries, and the damages you are seeking. The complaint will be served on the defendant in such a way that it can be proven it was delivered so that they can’t later claim that they didn’t know about the lawsuit. Typically, a process server is used for this task.
The defendant will be served official notice of the complaint by the process server and will be given time to hire a defense attorney and informed of the time and place they are required to appear. If the defendant has insurance, most policies require that their insurance company be informed of the lawsuit immediately. At this time, if the defendant has not already hired an attorney, their insurance company will do so on their behalf. The next step will be the defendant filing an answer to the complaint.
During the discovery phase, both attorneys will enter a phase of evidence exchange and questions asked. Your lawyer may send a list of informal interrogatories to the defense, and they may respond in kind. Likewise, during this phase of the process, both attorneys may choose to hold depositions. Depositions are formal sessions, where you are questioned under oath about any subject that may be pertinent to the case. You may be questioned about the accident, the nature or severity of your injuries, or what limitations the accident and injuries have placed on you. The deposition is just one step, in the discovery portion of the phase of the process. If you are questioning, what happens after a deposition in a personal injury case, there are a few steps left in the discovery phase.
Another step that may be required during the discovery phase, is a compulsory medical examination for you. Sometimes the insurance company or attorney may refer to these exams as independent medical examinations, but don’t let the wording fool you. The doctor performing the examination is employed by the defense and is rarely as independent as the name suggests. You’ll want to discuss what to say and do, both before, and during the compulsory medical examination, should one be scheduled in your case.
Your attorney may suggest and employ some specialist help at this point. Accident reconstructionists are able to utilize any evidence available of the accident and relay to the attorneys and, if necessary, a jury the order of events that led up to the accident in question. They will also be able to help determine fault if that is still in question. Their primary, but not only, but use is also for the reconstruction of automobile accidents
Likewise, a medical expert may be hired both to support the diagnosis by your treating physician after the accident and to help refute any opinion generated by the defense during the compulsory medical exam. The medical expert will be able to use the mastery of their profession to make the information available in a way that a jury will understand.
Pre-Trial Motions and Hearings
During this phase of the process, both plaintiff’s and the defendant’s attorneys may use pre-trial motions to compel the other side to provide evidence deemed important to the case. The defense attorney may also attempt to have the case summarily dismissed based on lack of evidence or jurisdiction. Likewise, your attorney may file a motion to have a summary judgement found in your favor because the facts of the case are undisputed, and you should be granted immediate relief. Most often, pre-trial motions such as these are not granted but are an effective tool in the arsenal of the attorney to help move the process in a direction they find favorable.
At this point in the process, you may begin to ask yourself, how long personal injury cases take to settle. The answer to that question is, unfortunately, dependent on the evidence available, the defendant’s willingness to settle, and whether both sides can come to an agreement on damages. You may enter into settlement negotiations at this point if you haven’t already. There are many things that affect how long a personal injury claim takes to settle.
At any point during the process so far, settlement negotiations may have begun. Settlement negotiations can take place at any time, even during a trial. Formal settlement negotiations may take place with the help of a mediator or through a process called arbitration. A mediator is assigned and is given the task of finding a settlement amount that is acceptable to both sides.
Often, any expert witnesses your attorney has hired will be used to help sway the argument in your favor during the negotiation process. The defense will be attempting to argue that your injuries are exaggerated, nonexistent, or are not a result of the accident in question. Your accident reconstructionist can prove that the accident was indeed the fault of the defendant. Also, a competent medical expert can weigh in with their opinion on both the likelihood that your treating physician was correct in their diagnosis and on the expected costs and future limits that will be imposed on you by the injuries.
Your personal injury lawyer may also, at this time, begin to discredit witness statements for the defense, through comparison of their deposition statements to original witness statements, or the results provided by your expert witnesses.
If settlement negotiations have failed, or if your personal injury lawyer recommends it as a viable next step, you may end up arguing your case before a jury. If you find yourself at the trial phase of a personal injury lawsuit, you need to be prepared for the fact that the trial will likely last several days at least. During this time, your attorney will be pleading your case in front of a jury and may utilize expert witnesses, such as an accident reconstructionist, or medical expert to help them refute or discredit any testimony offered by the defense.
At the same time, the defense will either be trying to prove they hold no responsibility for your injuries, your injuries are nonexistent or exaggerated, or both. They will utilize any evidence they have gathered, along with testimony by the doctor who performed your compulsory medical exam, and any expert witnesses they maybe have hired to help strengthen their case.
Personal injury lawsuits typically end at the settlement negotiations phase, as an amount of damages acceptable to both sides is typically reached prior to the trial stage. If you do end up at a jury trial, and the jury finds in your favor, they will then assess and award you with a judgement based upon the severity of your injuries, and how they will affect you in the future.
If the defendant dislikes the damages awarded or is insistent they are not liable or responsible for your accident at all, they may choose to appeal the decision reached by the jury to a higher court in the state. This process could, unfortunately, take months to years to complete.
Likewise, if the jury finds against you in the trial, you have the option to appeal their decision to the same higher court. The process will take as long, regardless of who files the appeal.
Collecting Your Judgement or Settlement
After you’ve reached a negotiated settlement agreement, or a jury has issued a judgment in your favor and the defendant has exhausted their appeals, or chosen not to exercise them, your attorney will collect the judgment that has been awarded to you. They will then deduct their fees according to your fee structure agreement, and any costs you are responsible for in paying for the expert witnesses hired, and write you a check for the remainder. How a personal injury lawsuit works, then, is that once you’ve accepted a settlement offer, or received a judgment, the defendant will no longer be considered liable for your injuries.