In some personal injury cases issues arise that result in the need to file a lawsuit to purse damages to compensate an injured person. The issue can be liability (who caused the accident) and/or damages (the insurance company will not offer a fair or reasonable settlement). Here is a brief summary about lawsuits in Massachusetts and what they consist of.
PROGRESS OF A LAWSUIT
The plaintiff (the person seeking damages) begins a lawsuit by filing his or her complaint in the court. Thereafter the plaintiff’s attorney arranges for a sheriff or constable to serve or deliver the complaint, together with a summons, to the defendant. The defendant, usually through his or her attorney, must file a written answer to the complaint within twenty days and serve a copy of the answer upon plaintiff counsel. The consequences of the defendant failing to serve an answer within the allotted time can be severe and can possibly result in the plaintiff winning the lawsuit by default.
After the complaint and answer have been filed, the parties have an opportunity to learn about one another's cases through the process known as "discovery". Through the process of discovery, each party learns a significant amount about the other party's case. There are a variety of methods of discovery in Massachusetts which we briefly discuss below.
Depositions are question-and-answer sessions in which an attorney asks questions of a party or a witness in the presence of the other attorneys in the case. While this procedure is somewhat less formal than giving testimony in court, the questions are answered under oath in the presence of a court reporter who prepares a word-for-word record of the questions and answers. This record of the questions and answers can be read at trial in open court and will frequently have a significant impact on the course of a trial. For this reason, deposition testimony is extremely important. Cases are frequently won and lost based upon what is said in a deposition.
Interrogatories are also questions which one party presents to the other. Unlike depositions, however, interrogatories are in written form. The parties (plaintiff & defendant(s)) assist their lawyers in providing the information necessary to draft the answers. Their lawyers will then answer the interrogatories by putting the answers in "legal form". The Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure sets time limits within which a party must answer interrogatories. So, it is absolutely essential to answer them promptly.
Requests for Production
A party to a lawsuit may also ask the other parties to the lawsuit to provide certain documents, reports, or other tangible things. Since parties are usually requested to provide certain documents, it is strongly recommended to preserve any documents or writings that are related to the lawsuit.
When all parties have completed discovery within the period of time designated by the court, the case will be scheduled for trial. In Massachusetts, the courts try to insure that cases are tried without delay. Many cases are scheduled for trial within 18 months of the complaint being filed, but every court and County is different. Notwithstanding these efforts by the court, trial dates are never firm and only indicate that the parties must be ready to appear for trial if the court is available for trial on that date.
A trial is where the jury will listen to the witnesses testify and see all the admitted evidence pertaining to the case. After the close of all the evidence, the jury will render their verdict and, hopefully, for the plaintiff award damages to compensate him or her.