Each year, thousands of Iowans are hurt in accidents. In addition to the physical and emotional pain they cause, accidents can also lead to medical bills, lost income, and other financial costs. To recover these losses, you may want to file a personal injury case. Here's what you can expect during a personal injury case in Iowa.
What is Personal Injury?
The term “personal injury” is a broad one. Generally, the phrase refers to any injury that a person causes to another by acting carelessly. Injuries caused by car accidents, slip-and-falls, medical malpractice, product defects, and many other types of negligence fall under the personal injury umbrella. Lawyers sometimes refer to personal injury law as tort law.
Who are the People Involved in a Personal Injury Case?
In an Iowa personal injury case, the person who has been hurt is the plaintiff. The person (or persons company) who harmed the plaintiff is the defendant.
The lawyers for the plaintiff and defendant will file any necessary papers with proper court. In Iowa, this court is called the district court. The clerk's office at the district court will maintain the records throughout the case.
The clerk's office will also assign the case to a judge. The judge will make all legal rulings in the case. If the case goes to trial, there may be a jury. While the judge makes legal rulings, the jury decides any questions of fact. For instance, if the plaintiff says a light was red and the defendant says the light was green, the jury will decide who to believe. However, the judge will decide if the color of the light has any legal relevance.
What Happens During the First Meeting with a Personal Injury Lawyer?
If you have been injured, you should contact an Iowa personal injury lawyer. At the first meeting, be prepared to present any relevant documents (medical bills, letters from your employer, etc.) or photos related to the injury. You should also be ready to give honest answers to any questions the lawyer asks you about your case. (Note that anything you say to the lawyer during this first meeting is confidential, so being honest will not hurt you.)
In addition to asking questions and looking at any documents, the lawyer may also talk to you about the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations is a law that requires plaintiffs to file their lawsuits within a certain time. In Iowa, the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years. However, there are exceptions that extend this period under some circumstances. You should speak to an Iowa personal injury lawyer to see if any exceptions apply in your case.
During the first meeting, the lawyer may also discuss payment options. Most personal injury attorneys in Iowa use contingency fee arrangements. In a contingency fee arrangement, rather than charging the client, the lawyer takes a portion of any monies that are recovered in the suit. In the first meeting, be sure to ask the attorney if they use contingency fees and how they use them. Some lawyers who use contingency fees still charge clients for expenses (e.g., copying and filing costs, etc.), so be sure to ask clear questions about the fees before retaining a personal injury lawyer.
What Happens During the Early Part of the Case?
Once you hire an Iowa personal injury lawyer you and the lawyer will decide if it's best to resolve your claim(s) without filing suit or if filing suit should be done right away. If suit is filed, the petition (also known as a complaint) outlines your allegations against the defendant. The complaint is an important document because it not only states the legal basis for your lawsuit, it also specifies the type and amount of damages sought.
After the petition is filed, the defendant must file an answer within 20 days. The answer allows the defendant to dispute the factual and legal allegations in the petition. The answer may also include a defense.
Defendants do not always file an answer. Some defendants file motions to dismiss. If a judge grants a motion to dismiss, the case will end. However, a skilled Iowa personal injury attorney will know how to defeat any such motion.
If your case is not dismissed, it will proceed to the discovery phase. During discovery, both the plaintiff and the defendant can request information from the other side. Most discovery requests ask for written documents, such as medical records. However, parties sometimes request other forms of discovery. In personal injury cases, the defendant might request that you undergo a medical examination to prove the extent of your injuries.
After discovery ends, the defendant will likely file a motion for summary judgment. If successful, this motion will dismiss the case. If this motion fails, the defendant will likely make a settlement offer. If you accept the offer, the case will end. (An Iowa personal injury attorney can help you evaluate any settlement offers to ensure that they are fair.) If you reject the offer, the case will proceed to the trial stage.
What Happens During the Trial?
If the case does not settle, there will be a trial. The trial will begin with jury selection. The clerk's office will bring a large group of people into the courthouse. The lawyers for both sides will ask the people questions to determine if there is any reason why they cannot serve on the jury. Both sides have the right to dismiss jurors. Eventually, eight people will be chosen to serve as jurors.
Once the jury is seated, both sides will make their opening arguments. You, the plaintiff, will then present your case. Your lawyer will call witnesses who can testify about how the injury happened and how it harmed you. Your lawyer will also admit documents and photos into evidence. The other side will have the opportunity to do the same.
Once both sides have presented their evidence, the jury will decide who should win. The judge will instruct the jury on the law it must apply in the case. After being instructed, the jury will go to a separate room to deliberate. The jury will then decide who is responsible for the accident and how much money you should receive. (Note that in Iowa, the jury can reduce your recovery if it finds that you contributed to your own injuries.)
What Happens After the Trial?
If you are disappointed by the verdict, your attorney can file a motion for a new trial or other motions. These posttrial motions can ask the court to reconsider its rulings or review the jury's verdict. If the trial ends in your favor, the defense may also file motions. The defense may file a motion for a new trial, a motion to set aside the verdict, or a motion to reduce the amount of the award.
Note that once the district court rules on any post-trial motions, there may be another step. The case is not wholly complete until all appeals are exhausted.
Any party that disagrees with the trial court's decision can file an appeal. In Iowa, the Iowa Court of Appeals is the court that will most likely hear the appeal. After the Iowa Court of Appeals makes its decision, the losing party can ask the Iowa Supreme Court to review the case. However, because the Supreme Court only hears complicated or unique cases, this review is rarely granted.
What Should You Do if You Have More Questions?
Filing a personal injury case can be a complicated, confusing, and stressful process. However, a caring and competent personal injury attorney can make the process easier and less stressful. If you have been injured in the state of Iowa, contact The Smith Law Firm. Our firm has years of experience with personal injury law. We can help you get full and fair compensation for your injuries. Contact us today for a consultation on your personal injury case.