What happens after you retain us to represent you in a personal injury case?
This information is prepared as a professional service so that you may understand the legal procedures in presenting a claim for damages arising out of an accident.
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
The success of your case depends upon the mutual confidence and complete cooperation between client and attorney. It is absolutely necessary that you confide in your attorney, bearing in mind that any information you give will be considered confidential. If you fully cooperate, you will avoid surprise at trial and your attorney will be in a better position to understand and combat any weaknesses in your case.
You should save all bills and expenses which you have incurred following the accident even though your hospital and medical care may have been paid for by social security, Blue Cross or other insurance benefits.
We will need a complete record of your employment setting forth the amount of wages you have lost, regardless of whether or not you have been paid any social security benefits, workmen's compensation, etc. In computing your lost wages, you should figure them on the basis of your gross pay and not your take-home pay.
In describing the details of your accident, try to remember fixed physical landmarks and other identifying characteristics of the scene of the accident. Do not hesitate to draw a diagram if this will enable you to explain your accident.
Furnish us with the names and addresses of all witnesses indicating who they are and their opportunity to observe the accident in question.
Under no circumstances are you to sign any papers without first consulting us. Furthermore, do not discuss your case with any strangers and report any inquiries to your attorney obtaining the name and address of the inquirer.
If you desire information concerning your case, it is important to telephone the office rather than come in without an appointment. In this way, you will be sure of seeing us when we are in our office, and we can give you the attention, which your case deserves.
II. PREPARATION OF CASE
In spite of what you see on television regarding the successful trial attorney who can win your case on the basis of courtroom tricks, cases are won as a result of thorough preparation rather than skillful maneuvers at trial. Accordingly, it is necessary to spend considerable time in investigating your case before it can be presented for trial. This requires interviewing of witnesses, obtaining police reports, photographs, hospital and medical reports. Only after all of this information is obtained will we be in a position to prosecute your claim and, if possible, evaluate for settlement or prepare for trial.
III. FILING COMPLAINT
You have within two (2) years following the accident to file a complaint. In your complaint we charge the defendant with negligence. You may ask how much we are suing for. Under New Jersey law, we cannot sue for any specific amount, but merely set forth the general statement in the complaint that the plaintiff will seek judgment for damages and costs. The amount of the damages will depend upon your pain and suffering, permanent injury, etc.
IV. DEFENDANT FILES ANSWER
When the defendant has been served with a complaint, he will forward it to his insurance company or his personal attorney who will then prepare an answer. In the answer, he will usually set up a general denial of negligence and may also charge you, the plaintiff, with negligence. We receive a copy of this answer.
V. PRE-TRIAL DISCOVERY
After the complaint and answer have been filed, both the plaintiff and defendant have a right to seek information from each other. This is known as pre-trial discovery, wherein both sides have a right to question the other side. It has been stated that a lawsuit involves a search for the truth and the answers, which you give to your opponent in pre-trial discovery proceedings, may very well determine the outcome of your case. Both sides are bound by answers to questions, which seek to obtain the respective versions of the accident, names of witnesses and claims for damages. While only the questions asked by the defendant might be brought to your attention, bear in mind that you, as the plaintiff; also have a right to question the defendant concerning his defenses. Pre-trial discovery is a double-edged sword and both sides may use it. Because of the importance of pre-trial discovery, we are going to outline to you two methods utilized by defendants, who are referred to as (1) Interrogatories and (2) Depositions.
Interrogatories" is a fancy legal word meaning "questions" which are in writing and forwarded to the attorney for the plaintiff, requiring the plaintiff to answer same with the help of his attorney and to certify as to their truth and accuracy. After the defendant has filed his answer, he usually serves the plaintiff with a set of Interrogatories, which the plaintiff must answer. When we receive these Interrogatories, you will be called into the office and with our help, we will furnish answers to the defendant.
A discovery deposition is the oral testimony of a witness taken under oath before trial. You will be notified by your attorney when and where to appear for the deposition, and it is most important that you become thoroughly acquainted with this procedure, since what you do at the deposition can help you or hurt you, depending upon your attitude, truthfulness and appearance.
Since this is the first opportunity that opposing counsel has to see you, it is important that you make a good impression upon opposing counsel at deposition time. Accordingly, you should dress as if you were actually going to court to appear before a jury. You should be clean and dressed neatly, and not gaudy. Have with you all facts and figures with respect to your time lost from work, amount of wages lost, doctor bills, hospital bills and all other facts with respect to the damages caused as the result of the accident.
The following suggestions will aid you in giving your testimony at oral depositions:
(1) Tell the truth.
(2) Never lose your temper.
(3) Don't guess--if you don't know--say you
(4) Take your time and if you do not
Understand the question, do not hesitate to
ask counsel to explain the question.
(5) Answer the question that is asked and
(6) Don't volunteer information.
(7) Speak slowly and clearly, and don't nod since
The reporter who is taking down the questions
And answers must hear what your answer is.
(8) Beware of questions involving distances
And time, and if you are not sure, do not
Guess--merely state that you are estimating
Same to the best of your knowledge and
(9) Don't fence or argue with the lawyer on
The other side. If he is harassing you, your
Attorney will protect you.
(10) Wait until your attorney makes an
Objection, and if he orders you not to answer
The question, do not answer same since the
Judge may have to rule upon the propriety of
(11) Testify only to facts and what you know
Personally, and do not attempt to give
Opinions unless you have good reasons for
Knowing such matters.
(12) If you don't know, admit it. You will do
A disservice to yourself if you attempt to
Testify to facts with which you are not
(13) It is imperative that you be honest and
(14) Be prepared to fully explain and
Exhibit your injuries.
At the deposition, your attorney may make certain objections to questions, which are put by the opposing counsel. Unless you are instructed by your attorney not to answer, you will then answer the question, and the trial judge will later rule upon the question and answer. You are to answer all questions unless instructed by your attorney not to answer. Your attorney may not question you at the deposition unless there is some mistake, misunderstanding or helpful additional information which your attorney may wish to bring out.
If you have any questions pertaining to the deposition, be sure and discuss them with your attorney prior to giving your testimony.
VI. PRE-TRIAL CONFERENCE
When all discovery proceedings have been completed, your case may be scheduled for a pre-trial conference. At this time, attorneys for the plaintiff and defendant meet in the presence of the Judge to discuss the issues of the case and prepare a pre-trial order, which will embrace the issues on which the case will be tried. There is also a possibility of entering into settlement negotiations. Your presence will not be needed unless your attorney notifies you.
You are to handle yourself at the trial in the same manner in which you handled yourself at the oral deposition, the only difference being that at this time your testimony will be given in the presence of the judge and jury. Accordingly, you will come dressed in the same manner as you did for the deposition, that is, in a conservative fashion. Once you enter the courthouse, you should not discuss your case with anyone, particularly strangers, since you never know whether or not a member of the jury may be present. Above all, do not joke, but consider your lawsuit as a serious matter. Do not comment or show any facial expressions during any of the testimony that is given in court. When testifying, be sincere and tell the truth. Do not look at your attorney before you answer any question, since the jury may have the impression that you are looking for guidance. Observe the same rules as you did in oral depositions. At no time should you lose your temper or argue with the lawyers. If you don't understand a question, ask that it be explained. Answer all questions directly and simply. Always be respectful of the court and when the Judge directs a question to you, be sure to refer to the Judge as "Your Honor."
As your attorneys we are dedicated to represent your legal interests.