Hi, my name is Tim Rayne and I’m a Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorney. In today’s legal tip, we’re going to talk about the three phases of a lawsuit in Pennsylvania.
If you’ve been injured and need to move forward with a lawsuit on account of your injuries, there are three major phases of a lawsuit. First of all, there’s the pleadings phase. Second, there’s the discovery phase. Third, there’s the trial phase.
First of all, the pleadings phase. That’s the initial part of the lawsuit. What happens is the injured person, who’s called the plaintiff, has to file a lawsuit in court that explains the case and sets forth the legal claims that he or she is making against the defendant, the person whose been accused of causing the injury. That complaint is filed in court and then it has to be served on the defendant usually by the sheriff. Then the defendant has to hire an attorney. That’s usually done by the insurance company. The defense attorney has to file an answer to the complaint answering all of the allegations and setting forth any defenses. The plaintiff then has to reply to that answer and that’s usually the end of the pleading stage. That’s usually the way a pleading stage goes.
In the discovery phase, each side gets to find out about the other side’s case. That is the plaintiff gets to find out about the defendant’s defenses and the defendant’s position on the accident and the injuries. Likewise the defendant gets to find out about the plaintiff’s side of the case, what the plaintiff is alleging by way of injuries, what the plaintiff is saying happened in terms of the accident. Each side gets to discover what the other side is talking about in the lawsuit.
Now this discovery takes place in various different forms. Each side can send written questions to the other side called interrogatories. Each side can send request for production of documents to the other side requesting that all relevant documents be produced. In addition, each side can send out subpoenas to third parties to get production of documents, like medical records, or employment records, or any other records. Each side can conduct what are called depositions.
Depositions are oral interviews under oath in front of a court reporter where questions are asked. Usually the deposition of the plaintiff will be taken, the deposition of the defendant will be taken and depositions will be taken of any relevant witnesses.
Also in the discovery phase, each side has to disclose any expert witnesses that are going to be used in the case and usually the defense in a personal injury case will have the plaintiff, the person suing examined by a doctor. The defense tries to call that an independent medical examination, but really because that doctor is hired by the defense, it’s a defense medical examination and that doctor is able to testify for the defense. So in the discovery phase, each side is discovering the other side’s case.
The final phase of a lawsuit in Pennsylvania is trial. If a case has to go to trial, a personal injury case usually involves a jury. So the first phase of the trial will be the picking of a jury. That process is called Voir Dire. In that process, each attorney gets to ask questions to the potential jury members to make sure that they don’t have any biases that would disqualify them from hearing the case and deciding it in a fair and impartial manner. At the end of Voir Dire, questioning each side gets to try to strike certain jurors if there’s a reason for it, and if they can’t strike jurors for a reason, each side is given a few strikes just because they’re allowed to strike a few people, because they don’t think those people will be fair.
After that, after the jury is chosen the first actual part of the trial where the attorneys are presenting the case is called opening statements. In opening statements, the attorneys are able to explain to the jury what they intend to prove and give the jury kind of a road-map for the case and how it’s going to go. After the opening statements in which the plaintiff goes first and the defendant goes second, the plaintiff will call witnesses and present evidence. As those witnesses testify, the defense will be allowed to cross-examine the witnesses. After the plaintiff finishes his or her case, then the defendant gets the option of presenting testimony and evidence with again the plaintiff’s attorney being able to cross-examine any witnesses called by the defense.