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How To File a Personal Injury Lawsuit in New Jersey: A Guide

Despite our efforts to stay safe, accidents happen every day. A commercial truck may collide with your car on your way home from work. You might trip down a broken stairway at a hotel. A neighborhood dog on the loose could severely hurt your child.

In many cases, injury victims heal relatively quickly, and insurance covers the costs of the accident. But in cases of serious accidents, that may not be enough. If you or a loved one has suffered a serious injury, you may be wondering how to file a personal injury lawsuit.

This post covers the basic steps and timeline of a personal injury lawsuit, from determining whether your claim is valid through the trial process.

Determining Whether You Have a Valid Claim

While any injury can be painful, expensive, and even tragic, not every accident leads to a personal injury case.

Types of Incidents That May Lead to Personal Injury Claims

You may qualify to file a personal injury claim in the following situations:

Factors To Consider in Determining Liability

To qualify for a personal injury lawsuit, someone else’s negligence must have contributed to your injury. Specifically, you must prove that the person or organization was legally obligated to take reasonable steps to ensure your safety but failed to do so.

You must also prove that their actions (or inactions) caused your injury and that you suffered damages as a consequence. Damages can be economic (like property damage and medical bills) or non-economic (like pain and suffering).

In New Jersey, you may still qualify for a personal injury award even if you were partially at fault. However, a court must find that your contributory negligence was less than the defendant’s.

Statute of Limitations

Every state limits how long you have to file personal injury cases. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the accident. If you miss this deadline, you typically lose your right to file for compensation.

Gathering Evidence

police respond to traffic accident

The success of any legal claim depends on what you can prove. Proving the elements of your claim requires gathering evidence.

Documentation Required for a Personal Injury Lawsuit

To win a settlement or jury verdict, you’ll need to provide documentation of the following:

  • Facts: The practical details of the case, such as when the accident occurred and who was involved
  • Negligence: The other party’s carelessness, recklessness, or failure to behave reasonably
  • Causation: How the defendant’s actions or inactions caused your injury
  • Damages: The losses you sustained, such as bodily harm, emotional suffering, and financial costs

Types of Evidence To Collect

Depending on your case, the following evidence may help prove your claim:

  • Police report of the accident
  • Photos and videos of the scene and your injuries
  • Witness testimony, including eyewitnesses and professional analysts
  • Medical records and receipts, such as hospital invoices or doctors’ notes
  • Employment documentation, such as pay stubs or letters from your employer indicating lost wages or missed time at work
  • Safety reports and inspection logs showing the other party’s negligence

Hiring an Attorney

You may feel comfortable filing a simple insurance claim for property damage on your own. However, the more serious the injury, the more money is at stake. When going up against a big insurance company or other organization, it’s essential to hire an experienced personal injury lawyer.

To find a personal injury lawyer, you can ask friends and family for recommendations, request a referral from an attorney you’ve worked with previously, or do a simple Google search.

Qualities To Look for in a Personal Injury Lawyer

Once you’ve gathered a list of candidates, how do you choose? Here is a basic list of what to look for in a personal injury attorney:

  • Experience with your specific case type (such as car accidents or defective products)
  • Trial experience in your state
  • Successful record of settlement negotiations
  • Good communication skills
  • A professional legal team
  • Free initial consultations

Initial Consultation Process

If you’ve found several attorneys offering free consultations, visit a few. Ask questions like the following:

  • How long have you been practicing personal injury law?
  • What is your success rate?
  • What is your fee structure?
  • Do you have references from past clients?
  • What is my personal injury case worth?
  • Do you see any problems with my case?
  • What happens if my case goes to trial?
  • How much time can you devote to my case?

Look for someone who listens to you carefully, answers clearly, and communicates well.

Initial Steps in Filing a Lawsuit

two parties settlement negotiations

If you hire an attorney, they will know how to file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. The initial steps are as follows:

Pre-Litigation Negotiations and Settlements

Before filing a lawsuit, your attorney may send a pre-litigation demand letter to the other party. This could lead to settlement negotiations that resolve the dispute quickly, or it could fail and require you to proceed with the lawsuit.

Drafting and Filing a Complaint

A personal injury “complaint” is a formal legal document outlining the basis for your lawsuit. The complaint identifies the parties involved and the court you’re filing in, the facts and legal theories behind your allegations, and how much money you seek from the defendant.

Serving the Defendant

Your attorney will also prepare a summons, which tells the defendant they’re being sued. After filing the complaint and the summons with the court, you must follow the proper procedures to serve the defendant with a copy of each.

Discovery Phase

Typically the longest phase of a lawsuit, the discovery phase is where both sides gather evidence to support their case in preparation for trial.

Exchange of Information

Designed to prevent major surprises in court, discovery enables each party to receive information about the evidence and witnesses that the other side plans to present in court.

Depositions and Interrogatories

To collect information, you can ask questions that the other side must answer under oath. Interrogatories are written questions, while depositions are oral examinations (and cross-examinations) conducted out of court.

Requesting Documents and Evidence From the Opposing Party

If you don’t feel you have all the pertinent information, you can request specific evidence from the other side. For example, you can ask other parties to produce records for examination, undergo a physical or mental assessment, or admit or deny certain facts.

Settlement Negotiations

man receives settlement offer from the other party

Trials are lengthy, expensive, draining, and unpredictable. Reaching an out-of-court settlement with the other side is often preferable. In settlement negotiations, both sides give up the opportunity to make their case at trial in return for a known resolution they agree upon.

Understanding Settlement Offers

In a settlement, the other side typically does not admit fault but offers you a set amount of money for your claim. As part of the agreement, you must pledge not to sue them in the future.

A fair offer compensates you not only for medical costs and property damage but also for lost income and any impact on your quality of life. A personal injury attorney can help you calculate non-economic damages with a specific formula.

Negotiating With Insurance Companies

Insurance companies often try to pay as little as possible for your claim. They may dispute the facts of the case, who was at fault, the nature and extent of your injuries, the required medical treatment, and whether an insurance policy covers your accident.

Negotiating with the lawyers from a big insurer can be daunting for a layperson. Attorneys, on the other hand, have experience with common strategies, negotiation tactics, making counteroffers, legal requirements, and defending client interests.

Trial Process

The majority of personal injury cases are resolved before they reach a courtroom. However, if negotiations fail, you may have to take your case to a judge or jury. Trials involve the following stages:

Opening Statements

During opening statements, attorneys for each side concisely summarize the facts of the case. They set the scene for jurors, outline the dispute at hand, and lay out what they plan to prove.

Presentation of Evidence

Each side presents evidence to support their claim. Evidence may include documents like police reports, medical records, text messages, and emails. The attorneys may also present visual evidence, such as photos of your injuries or surveillance footage of the accident.

Examination of Witnesses

Evidence also includes witness testimony from bystanders who saw the accident, police officers at the scene, and medical consultants or accident reconstructionists hired to give their professional opinions.

Your attorney will interview the witnesses one at a time, asking them pre-determined questions. Then, the opposing side’s attorney has the opportunity to ask them questions during cross-examination.

Closing Arguments

Unlike during opening statements, attorneys can use their closing arguments to persuade the jury. In addition to reviewing key details of the case, closing statements can comment on the credibility of the witnesses, the merit of the evidence, and why jurors should vote in their favor.

Verdict and Appeal

judge holding gavel making decision in court

A trial typically concludes after the defendant’s attorney makes closing statements and the plaintiff makes a brief rebuttal. Following this, the case goes to a judge or a jury for a verdict.

Judge’s Instructions

Before giving the case to the jury, the judge provides the legal definitions and principles the jurors must use. For example, the judge may explain the “preponderance of the evidence” legal standard, what claims the jury may consider, and different damage types (like compensatory and punitive).

Jury Deliberations

During deliberations, jurors try to agree on whether to hold the defendant liable for the injuries claimed by the plaintiff. This process takes a few hours to a few weeks.

Whether the decision needs to be unanimous depends on the state. In New Jersey, at least five of six jurors in civil trials must agree. If they do not, the plaintiff can take their case to court again.

Grounds for Appeal

Neither side can appeal a verdict simply because they don’t agree with it. Instead, you must prove that an error in the trial caused an unjust outcome. Grounds for appeal in a civil case include mistakes in the jury instructions, juror misconduct, and a judge’s abuse of discretionary power.

Appellate Process

There are strict rules for how to file a personal injury lawsuit appeal in New Jersey. You must appeal within 45 days of the filed decision date, pay a fee, and have a transcript of the proceedings. Because the appellate process for civil litigation is complex, an attorney is invaluable in helping you follow proper procedures.

Alternative Dispute Resolution Options

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods allow you to resolve claims without going to court. They are typically faster and less expensive than trials.

Mediation and Arbitration

In mediation and arbitration, a neutral third party helps the opposing sides resolve their disputes. The third party is typically a retired judge or lawyer but may also be an accountant, professor, or other professional.

In mediation, the mediator works to bring the two sides together to reach a voluntary agreement. However, they do not make rulings or judgments. In contrast, arbitrators hear each party’s evidence and make binding decisions that are legally enforceable.

Settlement Conferences

Although a settlement conference involves a judge, it is shorter and less formal than a trial. The two sides give the judge basic information, and the attorneys present their positions. The judge tries to help the parties agree. If they cannot, the case will continue to trial.

Schedule a Consultation With Sadaka Law

Now that you know how to file a personal injury lawsuit, perhaps you’ve decided you want an attorney by your side. At Sadaka Law, our experienced New Jersey legal team will answer your questions, fight for your rights, and help you during every step of the personal injury claim process.

Call us today at 1-800-810-3457 for a free consultation.



Principal & Founder
This article was written by Mark Sadaka, a seasoned trial lawyer in nationally significant cases. He fearlessly champions clients impacted by fatal or severe injuries caused by others or corporations. Renowned for his expertise in complex litigation, he's featured in books, sought after by media for interviews, and a highly sought speaker. Notably, he exclusively represents individuals facing life-changing injuries or substantial financial losses.

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