Litigation, simply put, is the process of taking legal action. In personal injury cases, litigation is the process of resolving a dispute through the public court system once an insurance adjuster will not meet your settlement demand or will not negotiate in good faith.
In a typical car accident or slip and fall claim, your attorney will begin the process of getting you compensation by sending a settlement demand package to the negligent party's insurance company. The package will include proof of their policyholder's liability, and complete records of the economic damages and non-economic damages you deserve compensation for. In some cases, the insurance company may accept the demand, but usually they will offer less money, sometimes substantially less. If your attorney does not feel the insurance company will be fair without the threat of a trial, they will file a formal complaint in court, beginning the initial stages of a lawsuit, or litigation.
How Litigation Works
The litigation process is long, and consists of several intertwining steps:
- The plaintiff, or you, the injured party, and your attorney file a complaint with the clerk of the court
- The case is assigned to the court that has jurisdiction over it
- The defendant files an answer, and a pretrial conference is scheduled to hear any motions
- The case enters the discovery phase, where each side can request documentation, and will take depositions and find expert witnesses to corroborate their side of events
- Both parties will likely pursue alternative dispute resolutions, such as mediation, in an attempt to settle the case before trial
- Parties continue negotiating
- If a settlement is not reached, the case goes to trial, which has six steps:
- Voir dire, or jury selection
- Opening statements
- Testimony and cross-examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Jury deliberation and verdict
- The court signs, renders and files the verdict or judgment
While personal injury attorneys and insurance companies prefer to reach a settlement in initial talks instead of a lengthy trial, often, pursuing litigation is the only way to ensure you get the full compensation you deserve.