If you were involved in an accident or suffered an injury as the result of someone else's negligence, you may have to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to be compensated for your injuries. For people who have filed a small claims case, or represented themselves in traffic court, they may be tempted to represent themselves in their personal injury lawsuit. However, even though our legal system provides for self-representation, it is important to understand how complicated personal injury lawsuits can be. Before you risk losing the chance to recover for your injuries, you should consider at least talking to an attorney about your case.
Self-Representation in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
People who represent themselves in a civil lawsuit are considered pro se litigants. This is a Latin term meaning “for one's self.” In a civil case, the same rules apply to a pro se plaintiff as they do for a plaintiff with a lawyer. The courts expect pro se plaintiffs to be familiar and comply with the court rules. If the rules are not followed, the pro se plaintiff may have their case dismissed.
The D.C. court system provides guidance for people who want to file a civil lawsuit on their own behalf. This includes basic information on how to file documents, filing motions, the discovery process, and what to do if they lose at trial. However, the Handbook for Self-Represented Parties also advises pro se litigants on when they may need a lawyer to represent them. The handbook states, “A lawyer can advise you about what your rights are and how the court system works. A lawyer can help you understand the court's rules and procedures, which are often hard for a nonlawyer to understand and follow.”
Many pro se litigants who want to represent themselves in a case do so because they think they cannot afford an attorney. However, in most personal injury cases, an experienced D.C. personal injury lawyer will take the plaintiff's case without the plaintiff having to pay anything unless they win. In a contingency fee agreement, the lawyer agrees to represent the client, with the payment to be a percentage of the damages recovered. This usually means the client pays nothing up front, with the lawyer advancing costs and waiting to be paid a fee once the case is successfully resolved. Only if the attorney wins the case will they collect a percentage of the damages recovered for their client.
Small Claims Court
Self-representation in small claims court may be easier for a pro se litigant to handle. Small claims court in Washington D.C. involves cases where the amount in controversy is $5,000 or less. If your injuries are minor, and the costs you are facing will not likely ever amount to more than $5,000, the case may be filed in small claims court. However, it is important to understand the full extent of your injuries before you make an assumption about how much damage was done. In personal injury cases, aches and pains may linger. The seriousness of the injury may not be made clear until weeks or months later, and may impact your ability to work. In these cases, damages will often exceed the $5,000 limit for small claims.
In a small claims personal injury case, the plaintiff will give the Small Claims Clerk's Office an original statement of the claim, and a copy of the statement for each defendant. The statement of claim includes a complete statement of why the plaintiff is filing a lawsuit against the defendant, including dates and places of the incident, and names and addresses of the parties involved. If everything is in order, the clerk will set a hearing date for 21 to 30 days from the filing date.
Even though the case is filed in small claims court, the plaintiff is still responsible for following the court rules, filing requirements, and adhering to the deadlines. The plaintiff is responsible for paying the filing fees, and the cost of service on the defendants. If the complaint is not properly served on the defendants, the case may be dismissed for lack of service.
Washington D.C. Personal Injury Attorneys
The Gilman & Bedigian team has been handling personal injury cases for years in Washington D.C. and throughout the metro area. Our attorneys have extensive experience in all sorts of cases, from car accidents to class action lawsuits against large multinational corporations. Having an attorney on your side can help you navigate the complicated legal system and fight for your rights for you so you can focus on recovery. If you are considering filing a lawsuit for injuries you or a loved one suffered, please do not hesitate to contact us.