There are approximately five occasions a victim will be called upon to actively participate in and assist your attorney in the pursuit of your case. Every civil case has a period called “discovery” when the parties exchange useful information about the case. Their assistance will be required during discovery on the following occasions:
The victim will assist in reviewing and verifying the accuracy of the initial lawsuit papers. The “petition” or “complaint” is the instrument that begins the lawsuit, and its factual accuracy is vital.
Interrogatories are written questions posed from one side to the other that seek general information about the case and the litigants. Those directed to the plaintiff or injured party will ask for basic information about witnesses, medical care, employment and education. Many courts impose strict limitations on how many “interrogatories” (written questions directed to an opposing party), may be asked. Your attorney will rely on you to supply basic information and will then use that information to draft formal responses, and any objections to unacceptable questions.
Similarly, written discovery may seek documents (e.g. medical records and bills) or tangible items. Your attorney will rely on you to provide the basics about the existence and location of any such documents and things.
The victim will need to appear and give testimony to a court reporter, under oath in response to questions asked by opposing counsel. This process can take several hours. Your attorney will meet with you to prepare you and will be present during the duration of any questioning. Although a party to litigation is always entitled to attend the deposition of any witness, the case will only require the victim’s attendance at their own deposition.
Mediation is a formal settlement discussion that is now pursued in nearly all civil lawsuits. An impartial mediator is retained and paid by both sides who will act as a go-between for settlement discussions. Generally, the mediator renders no final opinion as to settlement value, although some states recognize a non-binding “mediator’s opinion” in cases that do not settle during the mediation. The process is confidential, and you are required to attend. It may be the best opportunity to settle your case out of court, but frequently less formal settlement discussions are held between sides that also require your input.
Most civil lawsuits settle out of court, although many proceed “to the courthouse steps” before resolving. If there is a trial, which statistically happens in only about 5% of all civil lawsuits, your attendance for the duration of what can be a 1 to 2-week trial is necessary. You will likely be called as a witness and will be present to observe the entire presentation of evidence and testimony.
Communication with your attorney and his/her staff throughout the process is a must. While you may not speak to your attorney on a weekly basis, regular communication to and from your attorney about all important developments is necessary.