You’ve been involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault, and you’ve suffered injuries. Friends and family are telling you that you should hire an attorney, but what exactly happens after you’ve taken that step?
Here is a brief overview of the process that takes place after you’ve hired an experienced personal injury attorney.
After you’ve chosen a personal injury attorney, you should have an appointment with them where they interview you in detail. They will extensively question you regarding your medical, employment, and driving history. They will question you regarding the accident that occurred that resulted in your injuries. They ask these questions in order to get a crystal clear picture of who you are, what happened to you, and your current situation. The more questions they ask, the better, because the more your attorney “knows” you, the better they will be able to represent your case.
Once the interview has occurred, your attorney will contact the insurance companies involved to make them aware that you are being represented by a lawyer. This serves two purposes:
- Opens the dialogue between your attorney and the insurance companies and their representatives; and
- Prevents the insurance company adjusters from communicating with you directly to obtain information that they may attempt to use against you.
Remember that the insurance company does not have your best interest in mind. They are most interested in a quick settlement for less than your claim is worth. And you only have one chance to obtain this settlement, so it pays to wait this out to get the most money for your claim as you’re entitled to.
Your attorney should let all of your medical treatments conclude before attempting to negotiate a settlement, and should never pressure you to settle before this happens.
Once the insurance companies involved have been notified that there is a claim, your attorney will set to work obtaining all of the information and documentation of the accident such as the police report, witness statements, accident photographs, etc. All of this will be used as evidence in an attempt to prove that the accident was not your fault and that the accident caused injuries severe enough to warrant compensation.
If you’ve contacted your attorney shortly after the accident occurred, and you are still in the process of obtaining medical treatments for your injuries, your attorney should contact you periodically to check on how you are healing. They’ll inquire whether anything new injuries have cropped up (not all accident injuries are immediately apparent), and what medical treatments you are receiving from which doctors. This information will be documented in your file, and doing so regularly means that no information falls through the cracks that might be vital to your claim.
When your injuries have been treated, and you have healed as completely as you are medically able to, your attorney will collect your medical records and all medical bills. At this point, he or she will also work with you to document the time you’ve missed from work so that you can also claim lost wages as part of your settlement.
After all documentation has been secured, your attorney will send a demand package to the insurance company requesting a certain amount of compensation and detailing the accident and subsequent injuries and treatments necessary. All relevant evidence such as photographs, police reports, medical records, medical billing, and proof of lost wages will be included to support the settlement amount requested.When the insurance company reviews the demand package, they will generally come back with an offer of settlement to your attorney.
At this point, you have three options:
- Accept the amount the insurance company offers as settlement;
- Ask your attorney to continue negotiations in the hope that the insurance company will offer a greater amount that you feel is fair; or
- Decline the offer in its entirety.
Your attorney will advise you of the benefits and drawbacks of each option and will give you their opinion on what to do, but ultimately, the decision is up to you.
Most claims will settle at this point because a fair offer will be made by the insurance company based on the evidence presented by your attorney in the demand package. If this is the case, you will receive a check for compensation out of which you’ll pay your attorney his or her fees, and you forego the right to any further negotiations or litigation.
If you decline the offer and you feel that the insurance company isn’t being reasonable, you can file a lawsuit. Most cases don’t get as far as litigation because it is extremely costly and time-consuming. Your attorney can give you advice on whether or not this is the right choice for you. If you and your attorney decide that it is the only way to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve, your attorney will begin the litigation process.
The Litigation Process
A Summons and Complaint will be filed by your attorney at the onset of the litigation process. Usually the complaint will be filed in the county where your accident occurred. Different counties have different requirements and rules, but most are pretty similar.
First will come a specified amount of time reserved for discovery. This is the process between your attorney and the negligent party’s attorney where they exchange all the pertinent information for your case. The defense attorney will serve you with various forms that will answer questions for them regarding your case, and your attorney will assist you in filling out these forms. You will likely be required to appear in front of the defense counsel to answer questions under oath regarding your claim.
An arbitration (or mediation) will be scheduled where you will meet with a court ordered arbitrator to try to settle the case and avoid a full-blown trial. If the case still does not settle, a trial date will be set.
Going to Trial
At the trial, your attorney will go before the judge and jury and present your entire case and all the evidence. You’ll be called to testify, as will your medical team and any witnesses. The defendant will also be called to testify as well as any opposing experts.
After the testimony is complete and all evidence has been submitted by both sides, the jury will render a verdict which will become a judgment. At this point, your case is complete.
If you’ve suffered injuries in an accident due to the negligence of another, you can reach us by phone at (916) 788-7100 or via our online contact page.