For victims of slip and fall accidents, filing a lawsuit against the business or person that caused the fall could be their first experience with the court system. If this is your situation, you may have never even considered the need to sue someone. The whole process may seem like a big mystery where you have no idea what will come next—even if your attorney explains it to you. However, filing a lawsuit does have certain predictable steps.
Eight Steps in a Slip and Fall Case
The point of your lawsuit is to prove that a business or person caused your accident and that you suffered damages as a result of their negligence. Proving this will entitle you to compensation either through a settlement or a trial. Your case will likely go through some or all of these stages:
1. Sending a Demand Letter
Before filing a lawsuit, your attorney will most likely send a demand letter to the negligent party or his insurance company. The letter will outline how the business or person’s negligence caused your fall, how you were injured, and the compensation you are asking for. If your attorney receives a response to the demand letter—often from the insurance adjuster—he may try to settle your case before filing a lawsuit if he thinks this strategy will be successful.
2. Drafting a Complaint.
To start your lawsuit, your attorney will draft a complaint—a legal document that states the basis of your claim. It will state who the parties are, how the business caused your fall, a description of your injuries, and the amount of compensation you are asking for. This document is filed with the court. Your attorney will then have the complaint and a summons—an order from the court to the business you are suing to answer the complaint—served on the business by personally delivering it to a designated employee.
3. Receiving the Answer.
This is the response to your complaint from the business and is a short document that admits or denies your statements in the complaint. The answer often includes the defendant’s affirmative defense, which is his defense to your complaint, for example that you were partially at fault in causing your fall.
This is the phase where the parties obtain documents and information from each other. This can be done through written questions, requests for documents, and depositions where an attorney asks a party or witness questions and the answers are transcribed into a written document.
5. Pre-Trial Motions.
During the discovery phase, you or the other party can file pre-trial motions. These are documents asking the judge to decide certain things, such as ordering a party to produce documents or to dismiss your complaint or defenses to it.
6. Settlement Conference.
A judge may require the parties to attend a settlement conference with him to attempt to resolve the case. This conference is often scheduled shortly before the trial.
Your attorney will engage in negotiations with the attorney for the insurance company at various stages of your case. Different cases will take longer or shorter to settle depending on the facts of the case and who the insurance company and attorneys are.
Most cases will be settled before they go to trial. If not, your case would be decided at a trial by a judge or jury. This is where you get to tell your story about what happened, present the testimony of other witnesses, and provide documents that help prove your case.
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