What is Pro Se Litigation in Massachusetts?
The Latin phrase pro se literally translates to, “on behalf of themselves.” Pro se litigation is another way to refer to self-representation during a legal claim. To appear pro se before the court means to appear without representation from an attorney. With a few limitations, anyone can appear before the court pro se. This is not in the best interest of the individual, in most cases.
How Does Pro Se Litigation Work?
The injured party (the plaintiff) has the option to represent him or herself during insurance settlement negotiations and/or a court trial during a case. This means that he or she will have no legal professional representing his/her interests in court. The individual instead acts as the plaintiff and the litigator. During pro se litigation, the party is in essence on his or her own. Only lawyers engaged in an attorney-client relationship should give legal advice. The party should not expect counsel from a court employee or other party.
Pro se litigation is not advisable unless the injured party is a legal professional or has extensive legal knowledge. Successfully negotiating personal injury claims in Massachusetts requires an in-depth understanding of federal, state, and local laws pertaining to the incident. A car accident case may require knowledge of Boston’s traffic laws, cell phone laws, sovereign immunity, insurance claims, product liability, operating under the influence laws, and much more. The average person will not have the knowledge required to maximize – or even secure – recovery in a personal injury claim.
Pro se litigation is an option open to almost any party. If you wish to represent yourself as a plaintiff or defendant during a civil case, you are free to do so in most scenarios in Massachusetts courtrooms. The only time you cannot become a pro se litigator is if you wish to bring criminal charges against someone. Only government prosecutors have this power. You must contact the prosecutor’s office to pursue these types of claims. You typically cannot join a class action as a pro se litigator, or act as the executor of a probate estate. State law may restrict pro se litigation rights further.
How to File as a Pro Se Litigator
Pro se litigation follows the same procedural rules as other claims, without help from an attorney. The individual must first file an official complaint against the party he or she wants to sue. This occurs through the District Court Clerk’s Office. There is a filing fee the individual will have to pay to bring the claim, as well as statutes of limitations the person must obey. Missing the deadline can mean losing the right to bring the lawsuit. Submit your name, address, statement of facts, and a caption in your complaint, along with your signature. You may either type or handwrite your complaint, as long as handwriting is legible.
Your claim will then go through the court system. The defendant will have a certain amount of time to respond to your claim with a settlement offer, or to deny the claim. You may enter into settlement negotiations or file a personal injury lawsuit at this point. You will be on your own to go up against insurance companies, or to stand in front of a judge and jury to present your case without help from an attorney. Speak to an attorney first if you’re considering pro se litigation for your claim. Initial consultations are free, and you may realize that this course of action is not in your best interest.