Imagine that you’re having a great morning, driving the speed limit on the way to drop your kids off at school, and another driver coming from the other direction veers into your lane causing a head-on collision. It’s revealed that the other driver was texting on his phone, and you have sustained broken bones and a serious neck injury.
Now what do you do?
Your car is wrecked. You’re also in pain. You can’t go to work. You can’t take care of family commitments. You now need to take time to get to a doctor and a physical therapist. You don’t know if the other driver’s insurance company will agree to pay for your car. By the way, who pays for your care? It is going to be expensive.
Now you are faced with the daunting process of recovering lost wages and thousands of dollars in medical and physical therapy bills. It is important to stop, collect your thoughts and think about your future and the future of your family. This mostly takes the form of thoroughly documenting evidence and following the proper procedures. To better understand the basic timeline for a personal injury case, we have outlined the steps below.
1. Document Everything Following Your Accident
Immediately following your accident, if you are physically able, you should call the police, take several pictures of the damages and accident scene, gather witness information, and take notes of any other relevant information.
2. Seek Medical Attention
Brad Parker says it’s critical that you seek medical treatment immediately following an accident. “The insurance company can claim you were injured in some other way. They will say something else happened to you following the accident that caused the reported injuries.” Injuries may not always appear right away, especially following a traumatic incident. Many times the rush of adrenaline and shock can mask pain or serious injuries. You should also continue the recommended follow-up care.
3. Consult a Certified Personal Injury Attorney
Perhaps you think you should wait to see what the insurance company will offer before seeking legal advice. It’s best to get a consultation from an attorney familiar with the personal injury process early on. They can help you get a settlement that is much greater than what an insurance company would give you on your own. Brad says, “When a client comes to our office for the first time, we recommend that they bring with them a copy of the accident report if they have it, copy of their own insurance (not the card but the declarations page), any photographs of the damages and any hospital bills.”
4. Identify/Notify Insurance Companies and Coverages
Once you hire an attorney, they will begin investigating the claim and reviewing your case. One of the first steps is identifying the types of coverage the client has, including personal injury protection, third-party insurance, first-party insurance and health insurance. They will also determine lost wages and out-of-pocket medical expenses.
5. Gather Medical Records and Other Documentation
During this stage of the process, your attorney will speak with a client’s medical provider and any witnesses, collect wage information, lien and subrogation interests, and research the defendant’s assets.
6. Finish Medical Treatment
A claim can’t be settled until you’ve finished all of your treatment. “The insurance companies are only going to pay one time. They will not pay until you are ready to settle the case. Once they know you are going to get well and are finished treating, they will pay one lump sum,” Brad says.
7. Prepare and Send Demand
A demand letter lays out your theory of liability, what your injuries are as reflected in your medical records, and what amount you are demanding in compensation. If an offer is made in response to your demand, your attorney will advise you on the situation and discuss the pros and cons of accepting the offer.
8. File Suit or Settle
If you are able to reach a settlement with the insurance company, which is most commonly the case, your attorney will complete negotiations with lien and subrogation interests and review release documents. However, if a settlement cannot be reached, your attorney will file a lawsuit.
The discovery process begins, and each party investigates what the other party’s claims and defenses are. Next a defense attorney, or multiple defense attorneys depending on the case, will be asking you questions at your deposition. Experts will be allowed to provide their opinions on your injuries during this part of the process. Once all or most of the information from discovery has been collected, both sides’ lawyers will generally start trying to reach a settlement again. Sometimes the lawyers can settle a case just by talking among themselves, sometimes they can’t. At this point, a process called mediation will most likely be attempted.
Mediation is a process in which the clients and the lawyers meet with a mediator to help them reach an agreeable settlement. This second type of alternative dispute resolution is called arbitration. In arbitration, a hearing will take place between the plaintiff and defendant, judged by a neutral third-party. The difference between the two is simple: mediation is not binding, arbitration is.
9. Personal Injury Trial
Finally, if a settlement cannot be reached using all the above options, the case will go to trial. Personal injury trials can vary in length from hours to months. At the trial, all the information that has been gathered through discovery (physical evidence, interrogatories, depositions, photos, witnesses, etc.) will all be presented to a jury for them to decide on the settlement amount.
Brad says, “Your attorney should sit down with you prior to trial and thoroughly explain the process, as well as the risks and rewards of trying your personal injury case.”
If you have been injured as the result of someone’s negligence, it is not fair for one family to bear the financial burden caused by another person. Call Parker Law Firm today at 817-440-3888 for your free consultation.