Lawsuit. The word alone is enough to give most of us the shivers. Finding a qualified motorcycle accident attorney is hard enough, and filing a lawsuit can be intimidating, I’m here to give you some insight into what it consists of. Bear with me as I use some not-so-straightforward words. The law can be very technical, but hopefully this blog will help you to understand what happens when you file a lawsuit.
When you and your attorney are unable to settle a personal injury case through negotiations, you will most likely start a lawsuit. You will first do this by filing a summons and complaint with the court. The defendant or defendants will then be served with the documents. Following this, the insurance company will then assign a defense attorney to represent the person who it insures.
The Lawsuit Process
In Washington State, a statute of limitations applies to motorcycle accidents. This means that a person injured in a bike accident must start their case within three years of the date of the accident or else it is gone forever. After the three years is up, there is usually absolutely nothing you, or anyone, can do. Time is of the essence in these accidents. If you decide to hire a motorcycle accident attorney, he or she will be responsible for meeting the technical requirements to begin the lawsuit properly, in the right place at the right time.
Once this is accomplished, the “discovery” phase begins. During the discovery phase, the parties each send written questions to each other. Aditionally during this time, witnesses can be compelled to testify in depositions. They are sworn in and give testimony under oath. Sometimes, independent medical examinations are requested during the discovery phase as well. All in all, the discovery is the time when both parties have a chance to look into the other person’s case – measure it’s strengths and weaknesses and develop legal strategies after measurement. The discovery phase can last anywhere from months to years.
After the discovery phase, the parties may enter into alternative dispute resolution. This is an attempt to get the case settled. Some choose to do this in the form of mediation. During mediation, the parties hire an experienced attorney to assist them in reaching a fair resolution. Mediations are held at an office, and both parties each have their own separate rooms. The mediator goes between the two rooms until both parties agree to a single settlement or give up. While mediation can be time-consuming and a bore, it can also be successful.
In some instances, arbitration may be used to resolve a case. Washington State courts have set up a program called “mandatory arbitration.” Mandatory arbitration is geared towards quickly resolving a case that is valued at $50,000 or less. It is conducted through an informal hearing that takes place in front of an experienced attorney. This way, the parties can present the evidence to support their case. The arbitrator will then weigh the evidence and give an “award.” Arbitration is like an informal trial and is held outside of a courtroom. Many attorneys prefer arbitration because the rules of evidence are not as strict and the plaintiff is not put under as much stress as they would face in a trial. Mandatory arbitration is not binding and if a party feels the award is unfair, they can appeal and send the case to trial. But, if an appealing party does not do better at trial than they did at arbitration, they must pay the attorney fees to the other side.
If Your Motorcycle Accident Case Goes to Trial
The final option for resolving a case is of course to go to trial in front of a judge and a jury. If both parties agree to it, the right to a jury can be waived and a judge can decide everything. However, insurance companies are usually not willing to a trial in front of just a judge. Juries are unpredictable. Usually they are conservative in personal injury cases and will not award very much. There is no way an attorney can predict with certainty how a jury will act. Trial is the last option because it is costly, stressful and considerably risky.
Regardless of how your case is handled, be ready for a rollercoaster ride. Lawsuits are not fun, but they are often necessary. If you have been injured in a motorcycle accident and have questions, do not hesitate to contact me and I will be more than willing to answer them.