Phases of a Lawsuit:
The first step of any lawsuit involves an in person meeting with me. Some law firms will conduct initial client interviews by telephone or use a Para-legal or other non-attorney employee to conduct the interview. That is not the way I choose to operate. I believe the initial client meeting is a very crucial step in the lawsuit process. As a litigation attorney I tailor the initial interview to obtain the information that is important based upon the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence. As with most things in life the outcome is only as good as the information obtained.
The initial interview is also an important first step in forging the attorney - client relationship. You should feel comfortable with your attorney. Lawsuits are serious matters and involve extensive dealings between the attorney and the client. I believe that you should have an opportunity to get to know me, and vice-versa. I feel that I would be performing a disservice to my client if the first time I get to meet them is after the case has progressed deep into discovery or right before the time of trial.
The initial conference will take anywhere from one hour to two hours. You should bring all of the information at your disposal concerning your potential claim. Bring everything.
2. Collection of Relevant Documents
Immediately after the client interview is completed and a file is opened in the computer system, requests are sent to some or all of the following to obtain documents crucial to your claim:
(1) Police or other investigative agency
(2) Incident reports
(3) Medical providers
(5) Medicare / Medicaid
(6) Department of Public Welfare
(7) Internal Revenue Service (tax returns)
Not all of the above are obtained in every case. The records requested obviously depend upon the type of case and nature of the damages sought. All of the above information is held in the strictest confidence.
3. Review of Collected Records
Once the records are received they are reviewed by myself and sometimes other medical professionals to ascertain whether a claim exists, the nature of the claim and the extent of recoverable damages that will become part of the claim. The records are very important in any lawsuit because jurors are by nature very skeptical of people who sue for compensation. Thus, you should always create a record. If in a car accident, call the police. If involved in a slip and fall, always notify the property owner. Always seek medical attention for your injuries. It has been said by some "If it is not documented it did not happen". While this is not always true it does indeed form an obstacle. Be safe, have your incident and injuries documented.
4. Filing Your Claim with the Court
After all the documents are reviewed, I will prepare your Complaint, a legal filing which informs the Defendant (the person being sued) of the nature of your claim and injuries. In professional malpractice cases, before your Complaint can be filed a duly authorized expert must sign a document stating that there is a reasonable basis for the claim. Before your Complaint is filed we will discuss which Court your Complaint should be filed with, in the event there is more than one County with jurisdiction over your claim. Generally, a claim will be filed in the County in which the incident occurs. In medical malpractice it is mandatory that the claim be filed in the County in which the malpractice occurred. But for car accidents and slip and falls and other personal injury type claims there may be more than one County in which your claim can be filed. Also, before your Complaint is filed, we will discuss whether your claim should be filed as an Arbitration case, Jury case or non-Jury case. For cases with a value less than $50,000.00 (in most Counties) a Complaint must be filed as Arbitration. Arbitrations save money through relaxed evidentiary standards. We will discuss these options thoroughly at the time your Complaint is filed. There are simply too many factors and circumstances to set them all forth here. Each case must be evaluated on its own facts.
5. The Discovery Period
During the discovery phase of a case, generally the longest phase, opposing counsel exchange records. The discovery phase is normally broken into three parts. The first part is written discovery. Each side exchanges written questions for the other party to answer and requests documents from one another. The second part involves oral depositions. At a deposition the opposing attorney asks you questions under oath which are recorded by a court reporter. Typically, every party to the lawsuit is deposed as well as all witnesses or people who may have information concerning the happening of the incident or the injuries sustained in the incident. The final phase involves the obtainment of expert reports. In many cases this may involve the plaintiff going to a defense medical exam. From the Plaintiff's side experts may be needed to establish the nature and extent of injuries. In medical malpractice or other professional negligence claims expert reports are mandatory to establish that the defendant violated the applicable standard of care. Some Courts put restrictions on the length of time that the discovery period can last. Typically, in most cases, the discovery period takes anywhere from three to 12 months.
6. Settlement / Pre-trial Conferences
In cases filed as Jury or Non-jury the court may mandate that the parties attend a settlement conference. This conference may be presided over by a Judge or someone appointed by the Judge or Court to conduct these conferences. In all Jury and Non-Jury cases the Court will conduct a pre-trial conference wherein the Judge will attempt to narrow the issues to be presented. The timing of the Settlement Conference and / or Pre-trial conference is solely dependent upon the Court's schedule. It can take anywhere from one to six months or longer for the Court to schedule and conduct these conferences. Of course a case can settle at any time. Some cases settle before the lawsuit is filed. Other cases may settle as the case is being tried.