When you become involved in a car accident, between the person at fault’s insurance and your own, you typically receive just compensation for your injuries and vehicular damage. In fact, 95% of car accident claims never go to court because the parties settle the matter pretrial. What if you belong to the tiny 5% that needs to go to court?

Finding an Attorney

First, you need to hire a lawyer. Most personal injury lawyers accept cases on contingency, which means the attorney gets paid out of your settlement at the end of the case. This fact means that the seven out of 10 Americans that StudyFinds reports live paycheck to paycheck can afford an attorney to represent them.

Preparing to Go to Trial

A lot happens while you and your lawyer get ready to go to trial. Once you relate your account of what happened to the attorney, their office prepares a pleading, a document that explains the events that transpired and the action you want the court to take. Also called a petition, these court documents by the petitioner or plaintiff require a written response from the defendant, also known as the respondent. The respondent’s document tells their side of the case.

All court filings, except those in family court, require filing fees. When a client cannot afford the court filing fee, they can apply for a fee waiver from the court. If granted, their filing becomes free of charge.

Entering Discovery

A case enters discovery once the plaintiff files their petition and serves notice to the respondent. The respondent’s statement becomes part of the plaintiff’s discovery and vice versa. During the discovery period, each side collects information, investigating what occurred. They each must share this information with the other, so each attorney develops a clear understanding of what actually occurred.

Pretrial Meetings and Conferences

Before many matters go to trial, the court holds a pretrial conference consisting of the plaintiff, defendant, their attorneys, and the judge. Although it occurs before the trial begins, you call witnesses, and the judge hears evidence. The judge sets the trial schedule. All parties can discuss settlement options during the pretrial conference.

Going to Trial

If you do not settle your case by the end of the pretrial conference, the case goes to trial. A jury typically decides the case, but in some proceedings, the judge makes the decision. A trial may last one day or many months. If the plaintiff counts on the settlement for medical care, in the interim, they should file a long-term disability claim, the average of which lasts about 34.6 months, according to Finity Group.

The trial consists of four essential parts, but post-trial motions can occur, too. First, during the initial appearance, the court reads the charges to the defendant. If the defendant did not obtain counsel, the judge can appoint an attorney for them if requested.

Next, at an arraignment date, the defendant enters a plea. The plea can consist of a claim of guilty, not guilty, or nolo contendere, meaning no contest. When a defendant pleads no contest, they admit no guilt but decline to argue their innocence. Some jurisdictions combine the initial appearance and arraignment into one court date.

When a person pleads not guilty, the trial continues. During the other trial dates, the jury and judge hear evidence from both the plaintiff and the defendant. Eventually, the jury votes on the guilt or innocence of the defendant. If they cannot come to a decision, they can request a mistrial because they’re a hung jury. If found guilty, the defendant attends a sentencing hearing at which the court issues the punishment, referred to as a sentence.

Hopefully, you never need to go to court over a criminal or a civil matter. If you do, whether you incurred a personal injury or you have been named the defendant in a criminal matter, the legal system provides a method for you to obtain legal counsel by paying for it upfront, or in a criminal case, at all. Although not as exciting as TV shows or broadcast news make it seem, the U. S. legal system offers a useful tool for addressing legal issues.