South Carolina personal injury lawsuit is not a simple matter. There are multiple stages to the process. And while many cases do not go through all of these steps, it is still helpful to understand how the full process works.

Step 1: Filing the Pleadings

All personal injury lawsuits begin with a complaint. This is a statement of your allegations against the at-fault driver. The complaint does not include all the evidence or information you may present at trial. Rather, it serves as a brief overview of the facts of the case and identifies the specific legal basis on which the defendant (or defendants) may be liable for some harm caused to you, the plaintiff.

Once a complaint is filed and served, the defendant will file a responsive pleading known as an answer. The answer usually contains a series of statements admitting or denying the allegations in the complaint. The answer may also include one or more counter-claims against the plaintiff. For example, if you are in a two-car accident and sue the other driver for negligence, they may turn around and file a counterclaim alleging you were responsible for the accident.

In many cases, the defendant will defer filing an answer and instead move to dismiss your complaint. This can lead to an extended back-and-forth process where the plaintiff will file one or more amended complaints. Eventually—assuming the judge does not dismiss the case—the parties will file their final pleadings, which define the exact factual and legal issues for the court to resolve.

Step 2: Discovery

The next stage of the litigation process is discovery. This allows both sides to seek information from the other that may be relevant to the case. Much of discovery involves paperwork. This process involves exchanging written questions (interrogatories), document requests, and even admissions to particular statements of fact.

It can also include taking oral depositions from the parties and other witnesses. Depositions are usually conducted under oath, which means that all parties are sworn to give truthful testimony under penalty of perjury. Deposition testimony may also be introduced at trial to challenge the credibility of a party or witness who might have changed their story.

Another element of discovery is the introduction of expert witnesses. Many times, the testimony of the parties and eyewitnesses alone is insufficient to establish (or disprove) liability. For instance, in a medical malpractice case, the plaintiff will produce one or more experts to explain how the defendant’s actions departed from the accepted standard of care. Even in a car accident lawsuit, a technical expert can help reconstruct the events leading up the accident.

Also during discovery either party may ask the judge to grant summary judgment in its favor. A summary judgment means that there is no genuine factual or legal dispute for a jury to resolve. The judge considers a summary judgment motion by looking at the available facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. In other words, if the plaintiff moves for summary judgment, the judge will only grant the motion if, looking at the facts in the light most favorable to the defendant, there is no question that the plaintiff is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.

Step 3: Trial

Once discovery is completed—and assuming the judge does not grant summary judgment to either side—the case can finally proceed to trial. The South Carolina and federal constitutions guarantee either side the right to demand a trial by jury. However, the parties can also agree to allow the judge to try the case without a jury. In the case of a jury trial, the attorneys for both sides will question potential jurors in a process known as voir dire. This process ensures that the jurors are impartial—that is, they do not have any advanced information about the case and are not biased for or against either party.

Whether the case is tried before a jury or a judge alone, the trial proceeds in a similar manner. Anyone who has ever watched a courtroom drama on television knows how this works: the attorneys for each side make opening statements, witnesses are called and questioned, and exhibits are introduced. Following closing statements, the judge or jury will render a verdict.

Step 4: Appeal

Almost immediately after a verdict is announced the losing side may appeal. The appeals process usually begins with the trial judge. The losing party may ask the judge to throw out the jury’s verdict as inconsistent with the law or even demand a new trial. If that proves unsuccessful, the losing party may ask an appellate court to review the judgment.

Appellate review is not the same thing as a trial. An appeals court usually consists of a panel of judges. They will generally not reconsider the evidence—i.e., they will not re-question the witnesses—but instead confine themselves to determining whether there were any legal errors made by the trial judge.

The appeals process largely consists of filing written briefs with the appeals court. Once the court has rendered its decision, the losing side may seek further review at a higher appellate court, such as the South Carolina Supreme Court. But once appellate review is exhausted, the case is over, unless the appeals court has ordered a new trial or further proceedings before the trial court to resolve any outstanding issues.

The entire process described above can take several years to complete. Appellate review alone often takes well over a year. But in many personal injury cases, there may be alternatives, such as settlement or mediation, that can resolve the situation much quicker. An experienced Myrtle Beach personal injury lawyer can advise you at all stages of the litigation process and ensure your best interests are represented. Contact the Joye Law Firm today at (888) 324-3100 if you would like to speak with someone about your case.

About the Author

Since 1968, the South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys of Joye Law Firm have been committed to securing compensation for accident and injury victims. Our compassionate and dedicated lawyers have over 300 years of combined litigation experience, and many of them have been recognized as South Carolina Super Lawyers. For many years, our South Carolina personal injury law firm has been listed with an AV rating in the prestigious Martindale-Hubbell legal directory.

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