So, you’ve been injured in some type of accident caused by another person. An injury that potentially left you unable to do your job, with huge medical bills, or at its worst, permanently disabled. Your friends or family tell you to seek compensation for the injuries you’ve sustained, but you wonder, “If I make a personal injury claim, what does that really entail?”
As you weigh your options for retribution, you might be wondering what goes into a typical personal injury case — how long it takes or what it may cost. And you’re not the only one. This article will help walk you through each stage of a personal injury claim, including typical events and timeline.
You’ve Been Injured, Make Sure You Seek Medical Treatment
It goes without saying that if you have been injured in any way, shape, or form, that seeking adequate medical treatment should be your first step. Going to the hospital or seeing a doctor is not only the best thing to do for your health, but the best thing to do for your claim. Keeping a paper trail and visiting a doctor in a timely manner will help you prove your case to both an insurance adjuster and a potential jury.
For anything more than a minor injury claim, it’s in your best interest to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer. So, what is the difference from a minor and major injury claim? Minor injury claims are typically held in small claims court and are under the $5,000 limit (in most states). Although a lawyer is not always necessary in small claims court, it never hurts to consult one.
If your injury is significant enough to cause you to take a leave of absence from work, cause excessive medical bills, or any type of disablement, you should hire a lawyer. Because there will be more to proving your case and more monetary compensation at risk, it will be best if you have a legal representative to walk you through the process.
Luckily, most lawyers give out free initial consultations and work on a contingency fee basis – meaning you won’t have to pay anything unless you win.
Investigation of the Claim
Once you’ve secured your lawyer, the first thing they will do is heavily investigate your claim. This means they will spend time interviewing you about your background, past medical conditions, the details of the accident, and any current medical treatment. The best way for your lawyer to support you is for them to fully understand the extent of your claim. This means giving them as much detail as possible about your case and your injury. After extensive interviews with you, your lawyer will likely review your past and current medical records and bills.
This part of the process can take months, as your lawyer will want to be as thorough as possible. At the end of this investigation, your lawyers will likely give you their opinion on whether or not you have a possible case. If at anytime during the investigation your lawyer believes you do not have a case, they will let you know.
Demand Letters and Negotiating the Claim
Smaller claims are usually settled with the help of your lawyer before the claim is even filed. If your lawyer believes your case can be settled out of court, they will draft up a demand letter to the other sides attorney or insurance company. The purpose of a demand letter is to summarize your claim, lay out all of the facts and state the compensation you seek.
If your lawyer determines that your claim needs to be taken to court, they will file a lawsuit for you. Usually claims larger than $5,000 or that include permanent injury or impairment, will be taken to court for a hearing.
Neither the demand letter or the court filing will be made until the your have reached a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). This is typically when you have ended your medical treatment and recovered as much as possible. This is due to the fact that a lawyer will not know how much your case is worth until after you have completed your medical treatment.
This part of the process can take months and even up to a year, depending on the level of injury sustained.
Filing the Lawsuit
Once your lawyer determines how much your claim is worth, they will file a suit on your behalf. From this point, a personal injury claim can take one to two years to get taken to trial. Each state has a different set of rules regarding filing timelines called statute of limitations.
The discovery process of a lawsuit is a point where both sides share information before going to trial. This way both sides have an understanding of the evidence being presented and can make way for a smooth trial. In the pre-trial phase of discovery, each side will ask questions and share evidence, such as photos, interviews, and insurance coverage. They can also include depositions, requests for admissions, and interrogations under oath. This part of the process can take anywhere from 3-6 months to a year, depending on the courts deadlines and the complexity of the claim.
After everything has been laid out in the discovery process, the lawyers will begin discussing settlement options. Sometimes, lawyers can do this step without mediation, but in other cases where things aren’t so easily negotiated, they will go to mediation. Mediation is used to give each side and expert, unbiased, view of the case overall. The mediator cannot decide the settlement of the case, but can help either side find a resolution. A typical mediation process goes as follows:
- Initiation – filing a request for mediation to begin the process
- Mediator selection – where each party works together to select a mediator for their case
- Sessions – each side meets with and discusses the information laid out in discovery with a mediator
- Settlement – the two parties come to an agreement and resolve the claim via settlement
- Impasse – the two parties do not come to an agreement and the case moves on to a trial
If mediation fails, your claim will go to trial. A personal injury trial can last only a day or can go on for weeks. Only about 5% of all personal injury claims go to trial. A trial will proceed with a judge and jury examining the different evidence laid out by either side. Personal injury trials work the same as any other trial proceeding – consisting of six main phases:
- Choosing a jury
- Opening statements
- Witness testimony and cross examination
- Closing arguments
- Jury instruction
- Jury deliberation and verdict
The complexities of each personal injury claim are different and should be dealt with by an experienced attorney. A good attorney will help you maneuver a path to rightful compensation – providing strategic advice and technical skills to solve any problem.