Personal Injury Claims and How to File ThemIf you have never been injured in an accident, the concept of filing a personal injury claim may seem pretty foreign. You likely have a lot of questions: should I make an injury claim, how do I file the claim, and how long do I have to file? These are all perfectly normal questions. The good news is that making a personal injury claim is easier than you may think. An experienced personal injury attorney can guide you through the process and help you secure a fair settlement.
When to File a ClaimAs lawyers, we've heard the jokes about ambulance chasers and money-hungry attorneys. There will always be those people who think that a personal injury claim is all about the money. However, don't let these people influence your decision about whether to file. Accidents are serious. Nobody can truly appreciate the physical, emotional, and mental toll that an accident can have on a person without being a part of it. Even then, each person responds to accidents in different ways. Any time someone's negligence injures another person, the injured party can file a personal injury claim. As the injured party, you should not have to carry the expense of your injuries alone. Medical care is expensive, and insurance only covers so much. A personal injury claim can help you recover the cost of your treatment as well as compensate you for any undue stress. The choice to file a personal injury claim is yours and yours alone. Before you decide whether you should make a claim, consider the long-term effects of your injury. Does your injury affect your ability to perform everyday tasks? Are you in pain? Are you unable to return to work? If your injury interferes with your quality of life, a personal injury attorney can help you understand your rights. When it comes to your timeframe to file a claim, Florida law requires that you make any injury claim within two years of your accident.
How Does a Personal Injury Claim Work?One reason for the misconception about personal injury claims is that most people don't understand the process. While the term “sue” gets tossed around a lot, in almost all cases, you will not sue an actual person. Most personal injury claims are filed against insurance companies. In the case of a car accident, you would file a claim against the other driver's auto insurance. For slip and fall accidents and dog bites, the property owner's insurance comes into play. Companies and individuals carry insurance to cover them in case of an accident. A personal injury claim can help you recover costs associated with your injury. Common damages include:
- Medical bills: Medical bills will likely be your primary cost in a personal injury claim. Serious injuries can easily reach six figures. Typically, all necessary costs are included in a personal injury claim, such as doctor visits, hospital stays, surgeries, medication, medical devices, physical therapy, and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages: When an injury keeps you out of work, it can be a struggle to figure out how you are going to pay your bills. A personal injury claim can protect you and help you recover lost wages. If you cannot return to work, you may have a claim for future wages.
- Pain and suffering: Accidents can be traumatic. In these cases, you can not simply heal from your injuries and move on. Pain and suffering damages are meant to compensate you for the physical and mental pain that you suffer following an accident. This may include chronic pain, anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other mental distress.
- Loss of companionship: A traumatic brain injury can affect a person's ability to communicate; a spinal cord injury can leave a person unable to walk or provide physical intimacy; and emotional trauma can cause someone to withdraw. When this happens, the family can file a claim for loss of companionship or loss of consortium as it is also known.
- Wrongful death: Serious injuries can result in death. The death of a loved one is a traumatic experience for family and friends. Financial compensation will not help ease the pain of the loss, but it can help pay for the funeral, the burial, and any outstanding medical costs.
When to Seek Medical TreatmentIt goes without saying that if you suffer a serious injury, you should seek emergency medical treatment right away. However, sometimes determining whether you should see a doctor can feel like a bit of a grey area. How do you know what's normal and what's not? Let's take a closer look at some of the most common injuries after an accident:
- Strains, sprains, and other aches and pains: It's not uncommon for your muscles to feel sore after an injury. But how do you know when to see a doctor? The answer depends on the degree of your pain and how long it lasts. If you are in excruciating pain or if your pain interferes with your ability to move, you should see a doctor. You should also seek medical treatment if your pain does not improve within a couple of days.
- Traumatic brain injuries: The term traumatic brain injury sounds scary, but this type of injury is very common after an accident. A TBI occurs as the result of a blow to the head or a penetrating wound to the brain. TBIs can happen during a car accident, after a fall, or as the result of a sports injury. A TBI can range from a minor concussion to a permanent vegetative state. You should also see a doctor any time that you hit your head in an accident, as symptoms may take a few days to present. If you experience dizziness, headaches, nausea, changes in mood or sleep, or any other unusual symptoms, go to the doctor right away.
- Broken bones: Broken bones are painful. A broken bone is an emergency medical condition, and delaying treatment can result in loss of mobility and further complications. Go to the doctor if you have extreme pain, you are unable to bear weight, you can't move part of your body, or there is bone protruding from the skin.
- Spinal cord injuries: Spinal cord injuries are serious injuries. These injuries often result in paralysis. While some injuries may be immediately apparent, sometimes symptoms may not present until several days after an accident. Things to watch out for include numbness, tingling, extreme pain, or loss of bowel or bladder control. If you experience any symptoms of a spinal cord injury, seek medical attention right away.
How to File a ClaimEvery claim will have a different set of circumstances, but there are a few steps that happen in every case. These include:
Notify Relevant PartiesAfter an accident, there are certain parties whom you should inform of your injury. For example, if you are injured in a place of business, you should notify management, so they can remove the hazard and notify the business's insurance company. In the event of a car accident, you will need to file a police report if there are any injuries, deaths, or property damage of $1,000 or more. For dog bites, letting the owner know can help keep others safe. If you are injured at work, failing to report the injury to the appropriate parties may prevent you from making a claim. If you are unsure whether you have notified the appropriate parties, contact a personal injury attorney.
Seek Medical CareObviously, if you are making an injury claim, you will need to provide proof of your injury. There are a few things to keep in mind when you visit the doctor. First and foremost, always be honest. Your medical records will become a part of your personal injury claim. If you exaggerate your claims or lie, the insurance company may attempt to discredit your entire claim. Along the same lines, take care in what you say. Don't lie, but don't overshare. The next thing you need to understand is the time limit regarding when to seek medical treatment, which comes into play with motor vehicle accident cases. Florida law requires anyone hoping to use PIP benefits to visit a qualified medical professional within 14 days of the accident. To be eligible to receive your full amount of benefits, you must be diagnosed with a qualifying emergency medical condition. If you exhaust your PIP benefits or are involved in a different type of accident, a personal injury attorney can draft a letter of protection to defer payment of your medical expenses until the end of the case.
Send a Demand for PaymentIn most cases, this is where a personal injury attorney comes in. While you can submit a claim on your own, in almost all cases, an insurance company will offer a higher settlement if you have an attorney. This may seem unfair, but insurance companies are focused on their bottom lines and will do what it takes to maximize their profits. In either case, a demand for payment is a starting point for negotiations. You (or your attorney) will go back and forth until you can agree on a reasonable settlement. If the parties cannot agree, the case will proceed to court and a judge or jury will make the final decision.
How a Personal Injury Attorney Can HelpAs mentioned above, you are not required to have an attorney to make a personal injury claim; however, there are many benefits to bringing on an attorney. The number one benefit is experience. Insurance companies hire expensive, aggressive attorneys whose sole job is to tear apart your case. But beyond that, personal injury claims require a great deal of work. Things you can expect your attorney to do include:
- Coordinate medical care: Personal injury attorneys build connections with local healthcare providers. In the event of an injury, they can help direct you to qualified care professionals. You will also need a personal injury attorney if you hope to get your healthcare provider to accept a letter of protection.
- File necessary paperwork: Missing a deadline can end your case. Filing in the wrong county can be just as bad. An attorney can help keep track of deadlines and make sure everything is in order.
- Gather evidence: Insurance companies do not like to give out money. Before they pay anything, they want proof that their client is at fault. A personal injury attorney can gather pertinent evidence, including medical records, cell phone records, witness testimonies, and surveillance video.
- Interview expert witnesses: An expert witness can make or break your case. As a civilian, you may not have access to these professionals without the assistance of a personal injury attorney.
- Schedule and conduct depositions, mediation, and other meetings: Depositions will be important evidence in your case. A personal injury attorney can make sure that all the right questions are asked.
- Negotiate with the insurance company: Negotiation is one of the most important parts of your case. Insurance companies deal with injury claims every day. They know what an injury is worth and can make a good guess as to what a claimant will accept for his or her injuries. As a personal injury attorney, it's our job to know the value of an injury and know how the insurance company will respond. We do all the number crunching and negotiating, but ultimately, the final decision is up to you.
- File a lawsuit and represent you in court: The goal is to settle a personal injury claim out of court. However, there are some cases where the parties cannot agree. When this is the case, a personal injury attorney can file an official lawsuit and present your case in court.