Imagine you've been injured, badly, and through no fault of your own. You're either in a hospital bed wondering what will happen to you once you get out, or you're at home, recovering and out of work, looking at a massive pile of medical bills. You're wondering what you can do, and you feel as though you are out of options. You decide you want to make a legal claim against the person or entity responsible for your injuries. But how does this process begin?
Small Claims vs Civil Court
The first step is choosing where to hold the case. Keeping in line with most jurisdictions, civil cases heard in Washington D.C. are heard in either D.C.'s small claims court or D.C's civil court. The deciding factor between where the case will be heard is the monetary amount in question, and also if you want the judge to take any action against a defendant. Claims for less than $5,000 where you do not want the judge to issue any additional orders will be held in small claims court; claims higher than $5,000 or claims where a party wishes the judge to issue an order in addition to damages will be held in civil court.
Filing A Complaint
For cases in small claims, you must fill out and submit a "Statement of Claim" at the small claims clerk's office. This statement will detail the reasons why you are suing the defendant and should also provide a general idea of the events leading up to the claim. If you have a contract or any other important document that is related to the case, this should be submitted as well.
For cases with a larger amount in controversy, the process is a bit different. There is a separate process for civil actions. Civil action complaints in D.C. can actually be filed online through the D.C. Courts "eFiling" system, as well as through writing. The complaint itself must contain certain information:
- The names and addresses of plaintiffs and defendants
- Signatures from plaintiffs and attorneys, along with contact information for both
- A summons for each defendant
Notifying a defendant with a summons can be done through mail, though the defendant must return an acknowledgement form for any mailings, or the summons may be hand-delivered by a process server. Anyone can be a process server so long as they are at least 18 years of age and do not have any relation to the case, however, in certain circumstances, professional process servers may be utilized to notify uncooperative defendants.
Contact an Attorney
The simplest way to go about this process is to get in touch with an attorney as soon as you wish to begin the process for legal action. An attorney will be able to help you with filing the complaint and contacting the defendants to ensure that they have their day in court. Your time should be spent on recovering and contemplating the matters of the case instead of fiddling around with mountains of paperwork. An attorney will simplify and walk you through the claims process, and will make sure you understand what is going on every step of the way. The legal claims process can be difficult to begin on your own when pursuing a civil action above small claims; your best bet is an attorney who knows the system inside and out. After your consultation, a team of professionals with years of experience will be able to handle the initial claim, the investigation, and evidence gathering. Civil litigation can be a battlefield; you don't have to go through it alone.
If you or a loved one has been injured and is currently seeking compensation, contact Gilman and Bedigian today and let us help you get the compensation that you deserve.