PHASE 1: INITIAL MEETING AND INVESTIGATION
Every case begins with a detailed client meeting. In this meeting we learn about the facts that brought the client to see us. Since memories are generally the freshest the closer to the accident, we spend as much time as necessary to learn everything about the accident and its effects. After this initial meeting, we will establish a game plan for further investigation which may involve hiring a private detective or accident reconstruction expert, interviewing witnesses and police officers and securing the vehicles involved. We will also monitor the client’s medical condition to determine when is the appropriate time to begin to gather medical information.
PHASE 2: FILING OF THE LAWSUIT
The lawsuit phase begins with us filing a Petition which very generally sets forth our allegations. Within about a month after the lawsuit is filed, the defendant’s lawyer files a Answer which triggers our duty to prove our suit.
PHASE 3: DISCOVERY
Under Texas law, both sides are entitled to fully and formally investigate the other side’s position through a process known as discovery. This is generally the most important and time consuming phase of your case. During this time, we will be aggressively discovering the evidence that benefits or harms your case and the defense will be doing likewise. This phase will likely determine the settlement and trial value of your case.
The two primary tools of discovery are written discovery and depositions. Written discovery is generally in the form of interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions. Interrogatories are simply written questions that each side must answer under oath. Requests for production require both sides to produce documents and things, such as vehicles or other evidence involved in the case. We will answer these with your assistance. Depositions are formal interviews taken by lawyers of witnesses and parties. These question and answer interviews are conducted under oath and are many times videotaped. The depositions may be used in front of the jury.
PHASE 4: MEDIATION
Mediation is a structured settlement discussion. Mediation is court ordered in almost all civil cases. In mediation, a neutral lawyer who is unfamiliar with the case engages both sides in an attempt to settle the case. During the mediation, lawyers for both sides will make general opening statements. The rest of the mediation day will be spent in separate rooms with the mediator taking offers and demands between the parties. Mediation is a useful process, and many cases settle or start the process that ultimately results in settlement during mediation.
PHASE 5: TRIAL SETTING
This is the day that the Court chooses to set your case for trial, usually nine to eighteen months after your lawsuit is filed. Unfortunately, your case is not the only case which will be set on a specific day. Generally, the Court will set ten to fifteen cases for trial on the same day. The Court will then take the oldest case first. Many times you will not get “reached” at the initial trial setting, and the Court will then reset your case for a new trial date. This is a standard procedure, but unfortunately requires the litigants to be prepared for trial on several different occasions.
PHASE 6: TRIAL
Trial begins with jury selection where we get to ask the prospective jurors their thoughts and opinions regarding certain issues that are important to the case. Both sides have a right to excuse a certain number of jurors who they do not want on the panel and sometimes the judge will excuse others whose answers indicate that they cannot be fair. The first twelve jurors not excluded by the judge or the lawyers are then selected as jurors. Both attorneys then make brief opening statements summarizing the evidence they anticipate presenting to the jury. Since the plaintiff has the burden of proof, the plaintiff goes first and we present our witnesses and our evidence to the jury. The defense attorney will cross examine our witnesses and then, presents his own case after we complete ours. After all the evidence is presented, the lawyers then present closing arguments to the jury.
PHASE 7: DELIBERATION AND VERDICT
Before closing arguments, the judge gives the jury a series of questions to answer called the charge, which determines liability for the accident and the amount of money to b e awarded. After closing, the jury retires to their jury room to deliberate in secret. On most issues, ten of the twelve jurors must agree. After they answer all the questions and reach a verdict, the judgment is notified and the verdict is read.
PHASE 8: POST VERDICT — MOTIONS, JUDGMENT AND APPEAL
During the few weeks following receipt of the verdict, either side can file documents with the court asking the court to negate or alter the verdict. After those issues are heard, the Court enters a judgment regarding liability and the amount of money, if any, awarded. Both sides have a set time afterwards to ask the Court to grant a new trial or appeal. If there is no appeal, the defense must pay the money awarded if they are able. If there is an appeal, then another process begins with its own timetables and phases.