Nobody expects to be involved in an accident and for many, the aftermath is unchartered territory. Being involved in an accident can have devastating consequences. You may suffer injury, pain, psychological injuries, financial loss, and inconvenience. To protect victims of a fault injury, be it at work, in a traffic collision, or on a public highway, the law allows for victims to seek compensation and recover any losses that have occurred. If you have been injured and believe you may be entitled to compensation then you should instruct a personal injury attorney to handle your claim on your behalf. You will no doubt have lots of personal injury questions and legal professionals are the best people to answer them. If you are looking to find out more about the personal injury claims process then do read on.
Before taking your first steps it is important to remember that personal injury claims can be settled at any stage of the claim. The majority of claims will not reach the litigation stage or end up in court. That said, a personal injury lawyer is still the best person to represent your claim whether or not it ends up in court.
In the immediate aftermath of an accident, it is advised you seek medical attention for your injury. Either by visiting the emergency room or your doctor, whichever is appropriate for your injury. Failure to do so may adversely impact your health and your claim for compensation, as the opposing side may seek to argue that your injury cannot have been serious enough to warrant medical attention.
Once you have sought medical attention and are well enough now is the time to consult a personal injury attorney. Many attorneys work on a no win no fee basis or offer free initial consultations, so you do not need to worry about the cost as yet. It is always recommended you instruct a lawyer but if you choose not to at this stage, be mindful that there will be time frames you must abide by and l rules to adhere to. Further, regardless of how comforting the other side’s telephone manor may be with you, they will have competing interests when it comes to settling your claim. Ultimately a personal injury attorney will be the best person to seek maximum compensation.
Personal injury attorneys will then review your claim in detail and advise you on any potential liability disputes and the medical issues that are being considered. In order to do this, your lawyer will need to speak with you at length about the case and the injuries sustained. They will require you to undergo medical examinations and review all of your medical records to enable them to value your claim. Lawyers will also collate all of the information and evidence to substantiate any financial losses you may have incurred, losses such as loss of earnings or car repairs. This stage may take years, especially if you have sustained a serious injury where a final prognosis has taken a long time.
Once lawyers have valued your claim they will then be in a position to make settlement offers and start negotiations on your behalf. This isn’t to say that settlement offers cannot be received. It is often the case that the other side will ‘hedge their bets’ so to speak and put forward an early offer to stop the matter from continuing and incurring costs for both parties. Your legal team will be able to advise you as to whether it is a good time to settle your case. While accepting an offer before all the evidence has been received will save both parties from incurring further costs, time, and effort it will result in you accepting compensation before you have fully recovered. This can be a precarious situation as you may not recover as expected, and consequently, your claim may incur further expenses that have not been, and cannot be, compensated for. Therefore lawyers will not generally advise settlement until you have reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). Ultimately, however, it is up to you and your legal advisors as to what offers you are prepared to accept and at what point.
If you cannot agree on a settlement at this juncture then the litigation phase will start. This is where your lawyer will file a lawsuit on your behalf and the end game will be a trial if settlement is not reached. Every state has a different litigation procedure and different rules apply but cases can take up to two years to reach trial. There a number of stages and requirements that have to be met before a trial is reached. It is at this point that legal representation is paramount as failure to comply with court rules will affect your settlement entitlement. Non-compliance could result in you being awarded a lower sum than you are entitled to or even seeing your claim thrown out.
Before reaching trial both parties will have to go through discovery. This is where both parties disclose all of the documentation they intend to rely on at trial. In personal injury cases, this evidence typically consists of medical reports, receipts, and other proof of financial losses. During discovery, both parties are entitled to send questions to each other and take depositions from all relevant parties and witnesses. How long this takes will be dependant on the complexity of the case and the volume of evidence in question. Commonly, this stage takes between six and twelve months.
Following discovery and prior to reaching trial a settlement will be attempted. This can be done between the legal representatives or with the help of a third-party mediator. Commonly, parties will be keen to reach a settlement and thus avoid the expense and stress of a court case. That said, where the settlement cannot be agreed a case will ultimately end up before a judge in the courtroom.
A personal injury trial is not dissimilar to any other trial in that it involves jury selection, opening statements, presentation of evidence from both the plaintiff and the defendant, closing arguments, and of course the jury’s deliberation and verdict. Personal injury trials can last anything from one day to a week or longer depending on the complexity of the case, the seriousness of the injuries involved, and the volume of evidence to be addressed. Attending a trial can be daunting but your legal representative will ensure you are fully prepared.