Navigating the complex process of a personal injury lawsuit can overwhelm anyone, especially when you reach the deposition phase. Here, your attorney will collect evidence and testimony to build your case. It involves providing testimony under oath and answering questions from opposing counsel.
But what happens once the deposition ends? Below, we will discuss the steps that follow a deposition in a personal injury lawsuit, shedding light on the various preparations, negotiations, and potential outcomes that lie ahead. Understanding this progression will not only demystify the legal journey but will also empower you to make informed decisions as your case moves forward.
Review and Finalize Deposition Transcripts
Once your deposition has concluded, the court reporter will prepare a written transcript of the full testimony you provided. Both parties can review the transcript for any errors or inaccuracies, request corrections, and use it as evidence.
Carefully read through the entire transcript, noting any misspellings of names or locations and any substantive errors in the questions and answers. Provide the corrections in writing to your attorney or the court reporter. They will then issue an amended final transcript. This verified transcript will serve as an official record of your deposition testimony.
While reviewing the deposition transcript, you and your attorney should also evaluate how the testimony may impact the rest of your case. The deposition may have revealed new details that require follow-up or clarification. You may need to address weaknesses or inconsistencies in the testimony through further discovery or trial. Analyzing the transcript at this stage will shape trial strategies and ensure the strongest possible presentation of your case.
After the deposition, your participation in the discovery process does not end. The remaining discovery period allows both parties to address issues that arose during the depositions and build an even more comprehensive understanding of the case in preparation for potential settlement negotiations or trial.
In complex personal injury cases, expert witnesses establish certain elements of a claim. Experts have specialized knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education in a particular field, allowing them to form opinions on matters beyond common knowledge.
The most common types of experts in personal injury cases include:
- Medical experts: Experts such as treating physicians, surgeons, nurses, and physical therapists can testify to the nature and extent of a plaintiff’s injuries, diagnosis and prognosis, necessary medical treatment, and costs of care.
- Accident reconstruction experts: Experts in engineering, physics, or transportation safety may be retained to analyze how an accident occurred and to determine the forces involved based on information like photographs, videos, or vehicle damage reports. They can provide opinions on issues like speed, location of impact, and visibility.
- Economists: An economist can calculate past and future economic losses resulting from personal injury, such as lost income, lost earning capacity, medical expenses, and other financial impacts. They determine how injuries have diminished a plaintiff’s ability to earn income and incur costs.
- Vocational rehabilitation experts: These experts assess how a plaintiff’s injuries have impacted their ability to work and earn an income. They can determine if alternative employment is feasible and estimate the costs of retraining programs to restore earning capacity.
- Life care planners: For catastrophic injury cases, a life care planner develops a comprehensive plan for the medical and rehabilitative care the plaintiff will require for the remainder of their life. They determine hospitalization costs, home health aides, physical therapy, medications, medical equipment, and more.
The opposing party may depose experts after producing a written expert report detailing their opinions and conclusions. At trial, experts will provide testimony to explain how their specialized knowledge supports the plaintiff’s allegations and claimed damages. Expert witnesses are crucial for painting a complete picture of both liability and damages, especially in cases of severe, permanent injury.
The information gathered during discovery, including through depositions and expert reports, commonly forms the basis for other pre-trial motions. These motions ask the court to rule on issues related to evidence, procedures, or substantive law before the case proceeds to trial.
Common motions filed following the discovery phase in a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Motion for summary judgment: Argues that, based on the evidence, there are no genuine disputes as to any material facts, and the party filing the motion is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If granted, it results in a court order rather than the case proceeding to trial.
- Motion to exclude expert testimony: Seeks to have the court exclude the testimony of an expert witness based on a failure to meet admissibility standards under the relevant rules of evidence. For example, if an expert’s methodology is flawed or unreliable based on scientific principles generally accepted in their field of expertise, then this motion seeks to exclude that testimony.
- Motion in limine: Asks the court for an order limiting or precluding evidence from being presented by the opposing party at trial. This motion is typically used to exclude irrelevant, prejudicial, or improper evidence such as hearsay statements, prior bad acts, or statements made during settlement negotiations.
- Motion to compel discovery: Is filed when an opposing party has failed to respond to properly drafted discovery requests like interrogatories, document demands, or requests for admission. This motion asks the court to order the party to fully comply with the discovery request.
- Motion to continue trial: Requests postponing the trial to a later date, often due to incomplete discovery, witness unavailability, or other legitimate reasons why a party cannot proceed to trial as scheduled.
Motions provide an opportunity to narrow or focus the scope of issues for trial based on evidence obtained in discovery. Arguments raised in the motions may also highlight weaknesses parties can address in the remaining pre-trial stage.
Once discovery has largely concluded, the parties will have a clearer sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the plaintiff’s case and the defendant’s potential liability and exposure. Armed with this information, the parties can determine whether settlement is advantageous compared with proceeding to trial.
Mediation involves using a neutral third-party mediator to help facilitate negotiations and explore areas of compromise. Mediation is non-binding, meaning either party can withdraw from the process anytime. However, mediation can be very effective at resolving even complex personal injury cases, as it allows for a focused discussion of the issues without the pressures and stakes of trial.
While most personal injury cases settle, it must be the right agreement for both parties. If unacceptable and no reasonable compromise can be reached, proceeding to trial remains an option to resolve the dispute.
If the parties do not settle, the court will schedule one or more pre-trial conferences to prepare for trial. Pre-trial conferences attempt to resolve any outstanding discovery disputes or issues and help streamline the presentation of evidence at trial.
The parties and court work to stipulate or agree to as many facts and pieces of evidence as possible during pre-trial to conserve time and resources at trial. The court may also inquire about the status of any settlement negotiations and encourage the parties to continue exploring that avenue as a means of resolution before trial.
What transpires at the pre-trial conference will directly impact the trial presentation and potentially even the outcome. By the conclusion of the final conference, all issues should resolve, and the parties can proceed to trial.
Extensive work is required to distill the information obtained through discovery into a persuasive trial presentation. Trial preparation typically includes reviewing all discovery materials, selecting exhibits to support your key arguments, preparing witnesses, and identifying weaknesses in your case. Your attorney can review your trial strategy and how you can prepare for your role in the courtroom.
Additionally, be prepared to thoroughly and objectively re-evaluate settlement negotiations up until the moment before trial.
If you do not settle, the trial commences as scheduled. In a civil trial, the plaintiff has the burden of proving their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that their claim is more likely to succeed than not. Key elements of a trial include jury selection (for jury trials), opening statements, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, introduction of exhibits, closing arguments, and jury deliberation and verdict.
Either party may file motions challenging the verdict based on alleged errors made during the trial that substantially impacted the outcome.
Verdict and Judgment
At the conclusion of a trial, the court enters a judgment based on the verdict reached by the jury or judge. The judgment formally resolves the dispute and determines the rights and obligations of the parties. In a jury trial, the jurors evaluate the evidence and reach a verdict. They must reach a unanimous verdict. At a bench trial, the judge alone determines a verdict.
The judge may declare a mistrial if the jury cannot reach a unanimous verdict. At that point, the court may schedule the case for retrial with a new jury. A mistrial is a significant expense and inconvenience for both parties.
If the verdict is in the plaintiff’s favor, the jury will consider an award of damages, including compensatory damages (to cover the plaintiff’s losses) and, in some cases, punitive damages (to punish egregious conduct). The jury will announce both liability and monetary awards. The court enters a final judgment reflecting the outcome. If in favor of the plaintiff, the judgment stipulates the amounts awarded for damages.
An unfavorable final judgment can be appealed to a higher court alleging errors that warrant reversal or modification. Appeals can add significant time before the resolution is truly final. However, appeals are not automatic and are not always granted.
Don’t Navigate the Legal Process Alone
The pre-trial and trial process is complicated and requires deep understanding and preparation. Personal injury lawyers go through years of school to perfect their understanding of the law, and the layman should not attempt to undertake any of the processes described above without the help of experienced legal counsel. Contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your case and determine what next steps you can take to pursue the compensation you deserve.