If the insurance company won’t give you a fair settlement on your accident claim, your attorney may file an injury lawsuit in Michigan on your behalf. Don’t be intimidated. The legal process doesn’t have to be overwhelming or take a lot of your time. Here’s what to expect if you file a lawsuit:
Filing the Complaint
The lawsuit starts when your personal injury lawyer files a “Complaint” with the court. A Complaint lays out what happened, the people you and your lawyer say are at fault (called defendants), and generally what losses you suffered.
When the Complaint is filed, the court clerk randomly assigns a judge to oversee your case. The judge issues a Summons, calling on the defendants to appear in court and answer your Complaint. Then your lawyer will have a process server personally deliver copies of the Summons and Complaint to each defendant.
The defendants will give the Summons and Complaint to their insurance companies, who will assign an attorney to fight the case. The insurance companies pay all the legal fees as well as any settlement on the defendant’s behalf. The defendants’ lawyers file “Answers” to the Complaint, denying your lawyer’s claims.
Scheduling the Lawsuit
After the defendants’ lawyers file their Answers, the judge will issue a “Scheduling Order” setting all the deadlines and significant events in the lawsuit. The last event is always a trial. An injury lawsuit in Michigan Circuit Court usually takes 1 to 2 years to complete. Big, busy counties have fuller schedules, so cases in their courts can take longer than in small, rural counties.
Investigating the Lawsuit
The first, and longest, phase of a lawsuit is a period of investigation that lawyers call “Discovery.” The attorneys from either side can do a number of things to investigate all the facts related to your case. They can:
- Request documents from the other party, including you, or subpoena them from outsiders, including your medical records. The defendants are allowed to review your diagnosis and verify that your injury arose from the accident, and not before, because you are asking to be compensated for the injury.
- Ask written questions called “Interrogatories” that must be answered under oath. These are usually straightforward questions about your background, employment history, injuries, and treatment.
- Require witnesses or parties, including you and the defendants, to answer questions under oath at a “Deposition” which are recorded by a court reporter. Your attorney will help you prepare for your deposition ahead of time, so you will be ready.
You may also be asked be seen by a doctor hired by the insurance company, called an “independent medical examination.” This exam is clearly not independent and will almost always support the defendants’ claims that your injuries are not related to the accident or have reached full recovery.
Settling the Lawsuit
After Discovery is over, your lawyer will try to settle the lawsuit with the defendants’ attorneys. The court has several mediation processes that help resolve cases without going to trial. The judge will likely order you to go through those efforts. Trial is very risky and expensive, so it is always worth while to try to fairly resolve your differences short of trial. In fact, over 90% of all cases are settled instead of going to trial.
Taking the Lawsuit to Trial
Even though most cases settle, sometimes trial is necessary. Your lawyer will prepare you to testify ahead of time. During the trial your attorneys will question your witnesses, cross examine the defendants’ witnesses, and will present all the evidence gathered throughout the case. Be sure your attorney has a strong trial record to get you the best result. The insurance companies know which lawyers are skilled and will win at trial, and which ones won’t, and they pay accordingly. So be sure you are hiring the best attorneys for your lawsuit.