There are two parts to a North Carolina personal injury case – the pre-suit phase and the lawsuit phase. These two phases represent different approaches to resolving the case. Since approximately 95 percent of all personal injury cases are settled before ever reaching a courtroom, it is important for clients to understand the differences between the two.
In personal injury cases, there are two main stages: the pre-suit phase and the lawsuit phase. These stages represent different approaches to resolving a personal injury claim and have distinct characteristics. Understanding the differences between pre-suit and lawsuit personal injury cases is essential for navigating the legal process effectively.
The pre-suit phase is the initial stage of a personal injury case that initiates the claim before actually filing a formal lawsuit. During this phase, the injured party and their attorney engage in negotiations and attempt to reach a settlement with the at-fault party. In most cases, these negotiations are with the at-fault party’s insurance company. Here are some key aspects of the pre-suit phase:
- Investigation – The injured party’s attorney conducts a thorough investigation to gather evidence, assess liability, and determine the extent of damages. This includes collecting medical records, witness statements, accident reports, and any other relevant documentation.
- Demand letter – To initiate settlement negotiations, the injured party’s attorney typically sends a demand letter outlining the case’s facts, injuries sustained, and the requested compensation. The demand letter serves as a formal proposal to resolve the claim without resorting to litigation.
- Negotiations – The injured party’s attorney communicates with the opposing party, often an insurance adjuster, to negotiate a fair settlement. This involves presenting the evidence, establishing liability, and advocating for compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages.
- Mediation or arbitration – In some cases, parties may choose to participate in alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation or arbitration during the pre-suit phase. These processes involve a neutral third party who facilitates negotiations and helps the parties reach a resolution.
If the pre-suit negotiations fail to reach a satisfactory settlement or if liability is contested, the victim’s attorney will file legal action with the appropriate court. This initiates the lawsuit phase, which involves formal legal proceedings and court involvement. Here are the key aspects of the lawsuit phase:
- Filing the complaint – The victim’s attorney files a formal complaint in court, detailing the allegations against the at-fault party (referred to as the defendant), the damages sought, and the legal basis for the claim. The defendant then has a specific period to respond to the complaint.
- Discovery – During the lawsuit phase, both parties engage in the discovery process. This includes exchanging relevant documents, submitting interrogatories (written questions), conducting depositions (recorded statements under oath), and retaining expert witnesses if necessary. Discovery allows each side to gather evidence and build their case.
- Pre-trial motions – Before the trial begins, either party may file pre-trial motions to address legal issues or seek resolution on certain matters. These motions can include requests for summary judgment, which aim to dismiss the case if there are no genuine disputes of material fact.
- Trial – If the case proceeds to trial, both sides present their arguments, evidence, and witnesses before a judge or jury. The judge or jury then evaluates the evidence, determines liability, and awards damages if the plaintiff (the victim) prevails.
- Appeals – If either party is dissatisfied with the trial outcome, they may choose to file an appeal to a higher court. Appellate courts review the trial court’s decisions to ensure legal procedures were followed correctly and the law was properly applied.
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While the pre-suit phase focuses on negotiation and settlement, the lawsuit phase involves formal litigation and court proceedings. Both stages have their advantages and disadvantages, and the appropriate approach depends on the specific circumstances of the case. Both phases require the expertise of a skilled North Carolina personal injury attorney in order to obtain the best possible outcome.