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Steps of a Personal Injury Lawsuit: Timeline Explained

If you’ve been injured in an accident that was not your fault and are planning to file a personal injury lawsuit, you may be wondering what happens during the process. In this article, we will walk you through a sample of a personal injury timeline from beginning to end. You’ll understand what to do immediately after your accident, what topics you may discuss with your attorney during the initial stages, what generally happens during the lawsuit, and other essential information to better help you 1) understand what’s happening with your case and 2) anticipate next steps.

The personal injury process begins when you have injuries from an accident in which another party was legally responsible. While getting medical care for your injuries, you can also pursue compensation to cover the cost of your medical bills and other damages. What should be a simple process is often complicated by insurers seeking every possible way to get out of paying you what you deserve.


  1. What Should You Do Immediately After an Accident?
  2. What Will Happen in My Meeting With a Personal Injury Attorney?
  3. What Does a Personal Injury Attorney Do After an Accident?
  4. Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
  5. How Likely Is a Trial?
  6. How Much Does an Attorney Cost to Retain?

What Should You Do Immediately After an Accident?

Immediately after an accident in which you were hurt, you must focus on getting a medical evaluation and treatment. Early treatment is best for two reasons: firstly, you minimize the potential medical complications. Secondly, you start the paper trail that you will need to get compensation for the injuries you suffer.

What Will Happen in My Meeting With a Personal Injury Attorney?

A personal injury attorney has many roles to play throughout your claim. Our team routinely works with clients from the beginning of a case all the way up until they receive their settlement or verdict. The attorney you choose should do the same.

Any strong and experienced attorney is also an excellent listener. You will talk, preferably in a one-on-one conversation, explaining your accident, struggles and treatment to the attorney. The attorney will then review your options with you, and there may be many pieces to go over. Your attorney will ask you several important questions, such as:

  • What kind of incident was it? The appropriate way to pursue your claim will depend on the type of accident. For instance, a commercial vehicle accident will require different resources than a pedestrian accident. A bicycle struck by a car will need a different strategy from a construction accident.
  • How is your recovery going? Where you stand in your recovery matters. If you’re just at the beginning of your recovery, some attorneys can recommend resources to aid in that. If you’re further along, that means you’re starting to receive bills from the various medical providers. Your attorney needs to know this as well.
  • What have you said to the insurance company? If you’ve never experienced dealing with an insurance company as an adversary, there is a chance that you may have said something the insurer can use against you. This can happen when you’re in a disoriented state after the accident or when you don’t fully understand the extent of your injuries.  It can also be the result of inexperience. The less you say, the better, but if you have talked to your insurer, you must inform your attorney of what you said so they could plan accordingly.
  • What do you need? Essentially, much of any personal injury case revolves around a conflict over your needs. You believe you need something; the insurance company may contend that you do not need that. Your attorney’s job is to persuasively advocate for what you need.

Your conversation with your attorney may go in a different direction; you may hear differently phrased questions. But, in a fundamental sense, what your attorney needs to know falls under those four questions above.

Because the stakes in a lawsuit are so high – your recovery, your future – the earlier you speak with an experienced attorney, the better off you’ll be.

What Does a Personal Injury Attorney Do After an Accident?

The exact sequence in the personal injury lawsuit timeline is not always “go to the hospital after an injury, call attorney, file claim, receive compensation.” Sometimes, the order can be mixed up a bit. Sometimes, a person may call an attorney before seeing a doctor; sometimes, people file a claim before contacting an attorney.

Ideally, you contact an attorney as soon as possible after an injury. That is because your attorney’s experience will allow them to take the lead on the legal side of your case early. This means they will:

  • Investigate the accident: You may have a great deal of information for your attorney, but if they handle the investigation from the start, they have the experience and know-how to gather the information they need effectively. They know what information makes the most significant impact, and they can find it more easily.
  • Speaking with insurance: Attorneys understand precisely what the insurance company needs to hear from you. It is a shockingly small amount of information. While there will be times when comprehensive communication is necessary, your attorney will manage that process.
  • Filing a lawsuit: Even with effective communication managed by an attorney, an insurance company is highly opposed to providing adequate compensation. Negotiations may stall, and it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to ensure you receive what you deserve for your injuries.

The law firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy is recognized for landmark verdicts and settlements, including $110 million and $32 million jury verdicts in serious personal injury cases. Our attorneys offer free legal consultations to accident victims. Call 212-736-5300 or fill out our Contact Form to speak with an experienced lawyer. We serve New York and New Jersey.

The purpose of an attorney in a personal injury matter is to take much of the burden off your shoulders. Dealing with an insurance company is a difficulty that you simply do not need to have while you’re recovering, especially if you’ve been seriously injured.

Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

A personal injury lawsuit can be extremely lengthy – sometimes lasting years. This is where a court examines the questions surrounding your accident, your injuries and what you deserve for your recovery. There are five phases to a personal injury lawsuit. They include:


The discovery process comes before anything else in a lawsuit heading to trial. What happens in discovery is both parties’ representation, more or less, exchange information. Despite what has been popularized in television, movies and books, there are no surprise witnesses or evidence in a trial. All witnesses must be added to a witness list, and this list can include many people who may not ever take the stand. Each side should disclose all of the evidence they may use in the case, and this can be an exhaustive amount of evidence.

The goal of an extensive, thorough discovery is to place both sides on an even footing. However, this sharing of information does not extend to legal strategy. So, while each side details exactly what they have, they typically don’t share what they will say or how they will say it.

Negotiation And Mediation

Many civil trials in New York eventually end up in mediation. While mediation is nonbinding, you and your attorney will meet with a neutral party, the adverse parties and the insurance company and attempt to work towards a settlement.

A mediation can often resemble a mini-trial.  However, mediation is not a guarantee of success, and often settlements are not made during this part of the lawsuit.  Sometimes they are a bridge to a resolution and in some instances cases which are mediated end up being tried before a jury because the parties were not able to reach an agreement on a settlement.

Pretrial Motions

Before the trial begins in earnest, your legal team and the insurance’s defense team will trade motions before a judge. These are rulings on the various evidence and questioning that may or may not be appropriate at trial.

Essentially, pretrial motions are a way to set the rules of engagement for the larger trial. These motions may have an enormous impact on a trial. Often the insurance defense team will use motions to remove video or photographic evidence from the trial. Your attorney will counter each of these motions to defend your side of the story.


The trial is what happens inside the courtroom. Here are further points that you will want to understand:

  • Jury selection: Each party’s team gets to remove possible jurors from the pool for cause or without cause. They get to ask jurors questions to determine whether the person would be sympathetic or not to the case.
  • Opening statements: Each party presents their perspective on the accident injury to the court and the jury. This sets the stage for the entire trial.
  • Witnesses: Each side makes its case before the court via witness testimony and the presentation of evidence designed to sway the jury. The plaintiff presents first, followed by the defense. Each side gets to cross-examine witnesses.
  • Closing statements: Here is the summation point of the trial, where the legal teams attempt to present their reasoning and hit home on the evidence that matters in their case.

Trials can be short, within a few hours or longer, with no upper limit, with some lasting months. They take as long as they take.

Verdict And Appeal

Upon completion of the trial – provided you do not reach a settlement during the trial – the jury will return with a verdict. In New York, it is common for the jury to come back with a verdict over fault; for example, they may find that the other driver was indeed responsible for your injury. Then, once the jury determines fault, the sides may present more evidence to determine damages.

However, verdicts and damages are not yet final as the “losing” side has an opportunity to pursue an appeal. The appeals process for a personal injury claim can be arduous, but you will not have to go through it alone.

How Likely Is a Trial?

It is a fact that trials over any accident or personal injury are far more likely to end in a settlement than an actual verdict. While negotiations often start before the trial, they don’t end just because a case goes to court. In some rare occasions, defendants and plaintiffs reach settlements while the jury is in deliberations. Settlements vastly speed up the process of compensation for you and are often less expensive for insurers. If you and your legal team settle at any point in the personal injury process, from initial conversations to during the trial – or in some extreme circumstances during jury deliberations, you’ve achieved your goal.

However, just because settlements are more common than verdicts doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for taking a personal injury matter as far as you possibly can. A personal injury attorney must prepare every case as if they are taking it to a verdict. Doing so shows the insurance company that they cannot “low-ball” an offer to you.

With a trial-ready attorney behind you, your personal injury case gets the attention it – and you – deserve.

How Much Does an Attorney Cost to Retain?

In the vast majority of cases, personal injury attorneys work on what is known as a contingency fee agreement. A contingency fee is a promise to pursue a claim for as long as necessary for a percentage of the total final award. Attorneys’ fees are often calculated as part of the damages in some trials.

This contingency basis allows any person who has suffered from an injury the opportunity to find an attorney to represent them. Additionally, most personal injury attorneys offer each new client a free legal consultation.

This attorney fee structure is essential in the personal injury lawsuit process. As the health care and treatment system moved toward a privatized insurance model, insurers began to take steps to minimize their payouts for accidents. People were saddled with bills they couldn’t afford.

Personal injury attorneys serve an important place in holding insurers to their agreements. They use their understanding of the law on behalf of people with few options, mounting bills and no way to pay them.

What Do I Do Now?

If you have received an injury from any car accident, construction accident, slip and fall or other accident caused by another party’s negligence, you do not need to feel alone. With the information available to you, you can make an informed decision about your next step.

Our firm is one of the most successful in New York. Since 2012, our team of attorneys has returned with more outcomes exceeding $1 million than any other firm in the state. We pride ourselves on aggressive, attentive service because it gives to our clients and our cases a significant edge.

Our attorneys are all highly qualified and skilled in all aspects of New York and New Jersey personal injury law. We take pride in tackling all types of cases, no matter their difficulty and complexity.

When we take on a case, we treat our clients as they deserve to be treated; we are careful and caring and tough. Learn more about our track record of success by visiting our Verdicts and Settlements page. You can also reach our firm by calling 212-736-5300 or using this online form.

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