If you have been injured in a car accident, at a construction site or at a hospital you may be entitled to a cash award. But you won’t just get a check in the mail. You have to go to court and follow a long process. If you and your lawyer are successful, you may receive money as compensation for your injuries.

The steps in a personal injury lawsuit include:

  1. Filing a summons and a complaint

To sue someone for a personal injury, you must file your complaint in the state where the injury occurred, or in a state with some connection to the defendant. The summons is a notice for a defendant (the person you are suing) to appear in court to respond to a complaint. The complaint describes your claim in detail. A state official or process server will personally deliver the summons and complaint to the defendant who must respond in writing to the complaint. That’s what you see in movies when they say “you’ve been served.”

  1. Proving the elements of the case

A personal injury case is usually based on negligence, intentional tort, or strict liability. To prove negligence, you must prove that the defendant failed to fulfill a duty to you (the duty to drive safely, for example, or to operate safely on you), that this failure caused an accident, and that the accident injured you in a significant way. In personal injury cases you don’t have to prove that the person you are suing intended to hurt you, just that you were hurt as a result of their actions or inactions.

You can prove an intentional tort by showing that the defendant acted with the intention of harming you – like by punching you in the nose. The intention part is often hard to prove since many times a defendant will claim they accidentally hit you.

In some cases you can win based on “strict liability,” without proving the defendant was at fault. Strict liability may apply if you were injured by a defective product. Strict liability is rare, but it is possible.

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