New Jersey personal injury lawsuits are complex matters that involve a significant investment of time and resources. An experienced personal injury lawyer can protect the interests of a wrongfully injured person and begin building a successful case early on. This article provides a basic overview of New Jersey pre-trial personal injury case procedure. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a comprehensive guide to litigating these cases or do-it-yourself guide.
Once a personal injury lawyer is retained by an injured person, the attorney will typically begin the process of investigating the facts and circumstances surrounding the injury. This may involve interviews with eyewitnesses, family members and other persons who have factual knowledge of the accident and the injuries. The lawyer will review all available records from doctors, hospitals, employers, and law enforcement, as well as records from any involved insurance companies. An investigator may also be hired by the attorney to seek out witnesses, take photos and preserve physical evidence. During this time, the lawyer may engage in negotiations with the negligent parties or their insurance companies to determine whether a fair and reasonable pre-suit settlement is possible.
If an acceptable pre-suit settlement offer is not made, a personal injury lawyer will prepare and file a Complaint. A Complaint is a carefully-crafted statement of the injured person's legal claims and the factual basis for same. This is the first document filed with the court, which initiates a personal injury lawsuit. The Complaint names as defendants all known negligent and responsible parties, and may also name certain categories of potential defendants who have not yet been identified by name. Once filed with the court, the Complaint must be served on all defendants in order to provide them proper notice of the lawsuit and give them adequate time to respond to the Complaint.
Unless a defendant responds to the Complaint with a motion, an Answer is typically filed. An Answer is a defendant's response to the allegations contained in the Complaint. The Answer typically provides a separate response to each of the allegations in the Complaint, as well as any affirmative defenses that the defendant will rely on at trial.
After a defendant files an Answer to the Complaint, the discovery period begin. This is the longest phase of the lawsuit, where the parties parties obtain information from each other, and third-parties, and prepare the case for trial. Initially, written discovery requests are typically served, including interrogatories and document requests. Interrogatories are questions that the opposing party must answer, while document requests may seek relevant documents, tangible things and other physical materials.
Once the parties have responded to written discovery, depositions of parties and witnesses are conducted by the lawyers. Depositions are essentially interviews under oath. A court reporter is present and records everything that is discussed at the deposition. The testimony is later reduced to written form in a book called a transcript, which can be relied upon to cross-examine witnesses at trial. Once depositions are complete, expert discovery is typically conducted. In New Jersey, expert witnesses who are expected to testify at trial must prepare a report setting forth their opinions and the bases for their opinions. After expert reports are served, the expert witnesses may then be deposed.
At the conclusion of the discovery period, a non-binding arbitration will be scheduled by the court in New Jersey personal injury matters. Arbitration is a form of alternative dispute resolution. At arbitration, the parties present their case to a neutral arbitrator. At the end of the arbitration session, the arbitrator will prepare an award. The award can be accepted or can be vacated by any party after 30 days. If the arbitration award is vacated, the case will be set for trial.
With so many moving parts, and strict deadlines for filing and serving various documents, an experienced New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer can make all the difference in a personal injury case.