Most people have never been through a personal injury lawsuit. After you suffer serious injury due to the negligence of another party, you may have questions about what comes next and how to manage your claim. What does a personal injury lawsuit look like? What steps should you expect? How long does it take? Every personal injury lawsuit may look a little different. Most claims, however, will follow these steps.
1. Consult a Personal Injury Attorney.
A personal injury lawsuit generally begins with an attorney consultation. Most attorneys will offer a free consultation to help determine whether they will take your case. That consultation can also give you a reasonable initial understanding of the compensation you could expect from your personal injury lawsuit and who may bear liability for your injuries.
During this consultation, you will also have a chance to decide whether a specific attorney fits your needs. Not only should you consider whether the attorney will provide the services you need as you move forward with your claim, you should carefully consider an attorney’s communication style, his or her record of successes, and how he or she has handled past personal injury claims. You do not have to choose the first attorney you meet for a consultation. In fact, many accident victims decide to consult more than one attorney as they decide how to manage their claims.
2. The Attorney (and the Liable Party or Their Insurance Company) Would Investigate the Claim.
After a serious accident, you may need to move quickly to collect the evidence you need to help establish the liable party or parties in the accident. Once you choose an attorney and sign a contract to work with that attorney as you file your personal injury claim, he or she can start investigating your accident and the circumstances that led to it.
Consider a car accident, for example. An attorney may start by taking a look at the facts of the accident, including reviewing the police report, going over your statement about the accident, and reviewing any statement issued by the liable driver.
Depending on the circumstances that led to the accident and what information your attorney can access, he or she may also look at:
- Witness statements from the accident, especially in cases of disputed fault.
- Any video footage from the accident. In a car accident, this might include dashcam footage as well as traffic camera footage or footage from nearby security cameras.
- The damage to the vehicles.
- Photos from the accident scene.
An attorney may also bring in an expert witness to assess the accident and what led to it. Some expert witnesses, for example, can recreate a car accident based on the damage patterns on the vehicles and a look at the scene of the accident.
Sometimes, your attorney may need to look for deeper evidence related to the accident. For example, when a driver on the clock causes an accident, an attorney may look at that driver’s record and assess his or her driving history, while employed by the company and maybe before. The attorney may also look at the company’s policies or examine the driver’s logbooks.
The sooner an attorney starts working on your behalf, the easier he or she can collect relevant evidence. Not only do witnesses often struggle to remember the events of an accident accurately as more time passes, evidence could get lost as time progresses after an accident. For example, video footage may get deleted or the evidence from the scene of the accident may get wiped away.
In addition to looking for evidence about the accident itself, an attorney could go through the evidence concerning your injuries to develop a better idea of the extent of your medical expenses or the overall impact of the accident on your life. This information could help your attorney shape a personal injury claim that better reflects your expenses and your physical losses due to the accident.
While your attorney investigates the accident to look for evidence in your favor, the other party’s attorneys or insurance company may investigate on their own. You might, for example, need to go through an independent medical evaluation to give the liable party a better idea of the extent of your injuries. You might also need to provide a report concerning the events of the accident. Your attorney would help prepare you for this process, including helping you provide the information the insurance company needs to help influence its decision regarding your claim.
3. The Attorney Would Submit a Demand Package to the Liable Party or Parties.
Often, the demand package gets submitted to the insurance company that covers the party that actually caused your accident. Most drivers, for example, usually carry auto insurance that would provide compensation for injuries suffered in an accident caused by that driver.
The demand package would include your expectations for compensation related to the accident. Your attorney would likely start with your medical bills: everything from the cost of emergency treatment to the cost of ongoing therapy following your accident. It may take some time before you have a full understanding of your medical expenses and what they will look like after your accident.
An attorney may recommend waiting six months or more after your accident before filing your demand package, since some injuries (including spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries) may make it difficult to predict the progression of recovery until you have had a chance to heal. Complications during your recovery can not only decrease the physical function you ultimately retain after your accident, they can increase your medical bills and leave you having to take more time off of work after your accident.
The demand package could also include a demand for compensation for wages lost due to your injuries and an assessment of the compensation you feel you deserve for pain and suffering related to the accident.
4. Negotiation With the Liable Party or the Party’s Insurance Company.
Often, the insurance company will not simply submit a payment in the amount of your initial demand. In fact, long before you submitted your demand package, you may already have received a settlement offer from the insurance company. Chances are, that offer did not look like the demand package your attorney eventually helped you put together.
Most insurance companies want to decrease the compensation they have to pay out for a personal injury claim. You, on the other hand, want to maximize the compensation you receive for your injuries. Not only can that compensation help pay your medical bills and cover the loss of wages you could not earn during that period, but it can also help you rebuild your life after severe injuries.
Victims who end up confined to a wheelchair, for example, may need to modify their homes to make it easier for them to get around and maintain their independence. Victims, who can no longer work in their former fields, may need to pursue new education or certifications to improve the odds that they can go back to work at all. A personal injury claim might help you achieve all those goals.
Since your goals conflict with those of the insurance company or liable party, you may need to go through several rounds of negotiation before you reach an agreement with the liable party. At each stage of the negotiation process, you can either accept the offer provided by the liable party or choose to continue negotiations. When you accept an offer, you will move on to receive payment for your claim.
5. If an Agreement Cannot Be Reached Negotiation, the Next Step Would be the Discovery Period.
During the discovery period, both sets of attorneys—yours and the firm that represents the liable party or that party’s insurance company—would go through a period of discovery. During this discovery period, you will exchange additional information related to the accident, if needed. While you likely already included a great deal of information in your demand package, include copies of your medical reports and any evidence your personal injury attorney collected from the scene of the accident. During this stage, however, you would have the opportunity to provide any additional information, including evidence that you plan to present if you need to take your claim to court to reach a resolution.
6. Sitting Down With a Mediator for a Final Opportunity to Reach a Settlement Agreement.
If you cannot reach an agreement through negotiation, you may have the chance to sit down with a mediator to go over your claim and your demands. This offers a final chance to resolve your claim without going to court.
A mediator cannot mandate a decision or force either side to go a specific direction with the claim. A mediator can, however, provide recommendations based on what the court would likely decide related to your claim. This could help you reach a settlement arrangement that works for both you and the liable party. As with negotiation, if you accept an agreement during mediation, you can skip further steps and proceed to payment for your claim.
7. Taking a Claim to Court.
Once you have gone through mediation, if you cannot reach an agreement with the liable party, your attorney would likely advise taking your claim to court. If you must take your claim to court, plan for this to take much longer to settle than if you reached an agreement out of court. Most personal injury claims settle out of court; however, some require a judge or jury’s decision to reach a resolution.
An attorney would try to prepare you for what to expect when your claim goes to court. Both sides will have the opportunity to lay out their arguments. The judge, and jury (if needed), will hear the evidence related to your claim.
This may include:
- Evidence concerning who caused or contributed to the accident.
- A look at your medical records.
- Information about your expenses related to the accident.
- Witness testimonies concerning the accident itself.
- Review of any video footage of the accident.
- Testimony from expert witnesses, including both medical professionals and experts who could help recreate the accident.
The liable party would have the opportunity to provide evidence as well. Often, a liable party attempts to prove that the victim caused or contributed to the accident in some way, which can reduce the compensation the liable party or its insurance company must pay out for any injuries. The factfinder would hear your evidence, then decide your claim and the funds you deserve.
While you can contest the court’s decision, most victims do not contest an agreement that the court mandates. After a court decision, you may receive payment for your injuries.
8. The Insurance Company or Liable Party Would Issue Payment for the Claim.
Once you agree to the compensation you deserve for your injuries, either through negotiation, mediation, or court mandate, you would receive payment for your personal injury claim within thirty days. If the liable party does not issue a payment or make other payment arrangements, you may need to contact your attorney to begin further legal proceedings against that company or individual.
Once you have the funds in hand, you must use a portion to pay your attorney. Speak with your attorney about how they handle their payment structure. Funds from a personal injury claim also often make it possible for victims to cover their medical bills or to manage other expenses following a serious accident.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident due to another party’s negligence, you may need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you better understand the compensation you may deserve or to pursue that compensation on your behalf.
Contact an attorney as soon after your accident as possible. The sooner an attorney starts working for you, the easier it might be to collect evidence related to your accident. Contact a personal injury attorney today for more information.