Seeking Compensation for Accident Injuries
Individuals frequently suffer serious injuries in vehicle collisions, slip and falls, or construction site accidents. If you have been injured in an accident, you deserve compensation for any resulting expenses. Many people, however, are unaware of how to begin the process of filing a personal injury claim. Speak with a personal injury attorney and they will answer questions like: do injured victims need to file a claim for compensation for their injuries separately from a claim for compensation for their vehicle? What if you suffer a slip and fall accident in a store: how do you file for compensation? Follow these important steps to seek compensation for medical bills and other losses after enduring injuries in an accident.
Step One: Report the Accident
When you suffer injuries in an accident, you should report it as soon as possible. For example, after an auto accident, you may file a claim with your insurance company or the other driver’s insurance company, and you’ll want to call the police. If you are injured on someone else’s property, you may have a premises liability claim. In that case, you should report an accident to the owner or operator of the property as soon as possible. Officially reporting the accident can serve to strengthen a claim for compensation because it will create documentation of the circumstances surrounding the accident.
Step Two: Document Your Injuries
Immediately after your accident, thoroughly document your injuries. If possible, collect evidence at the scene of the accident that may help you build your claim later. For example, you may take pictures of your injuries and the damage to your vehicle. However, if you are unable to collect evidence at the scene, an attorney may be able to help you collect that evidence later.
Most importantly, visit a doctor for a medical assessment of your injuries.
When tracking your injuries, be sure to note the following:
How the injuries occurred. As soon as possible after your accident, write down your statement of how the accident occurred. After slipping and falling in a store, you should note the environment and circumstances and that led to your injury. For instance, you may indicate unstable stairs or a spill on the floor that led to your injury. Include all details related to your accident, even if they may initially seem insignificant. The more detailed your statement, the better.
Information in short-term memory fades within 15 to 30 seconds of the event itself. In addition, going through a traumatic experience may make long-term memories of the event quick to fade or change. The sooner you write down your statement of events, the more accurate your description will be.
The extent of your injuries. Keep track of all medical records related to your injury, including:
- Doctor’s reports and evaluations of your injuries, including the anticipated treatment plan to maximize your recovery and any expected long-term impacts.
- Photos of your injuries. As mentioned, take photos of your injuries at the scene if you are able. In addition, you should document the injury as you progress through treatment and recovery.
- X-rays and scan results, including MRI results or CT scans.
- Statements from physical or occupational therapists who work with you throughout your recovery.
Create a file to store all the relevant medical information related to your accident. In addition, you should document any changes in your condition, including complications and setbacks. Documenting the full extent of your injuries can make it easier to prove the damage. Ideally, you should seek a medical evaluation immediately after the accident to show that your injuries were sustained in the incident.
Your medical costs. Injured victims may file a personal injury claim to seek compensation for their medical costs and expenses. To be compensated for your medical bills, you must show documentation of all expenses associated with the accident. The costs of medical treatment can quickly become burdensome. You may also continue to receive bills later from unexpected sources. For example, if you require surgery, you may need to pay the hospital, the specific doctor who performs the surgery, and the anesthesiologist, separately. Keep track of any bill for any type of medical expense, so you can fully reflect the extent of the cost of your injuries.
For instance, you should keep records of:
- Emergency transportation
- Surgical costs
- The cost of hospitalization
- Any scans or procedures to check on your injuries or the progression of healing
- Required medical equipment, including wheelchairs, crutches, and prosthetic devices
- Modifications to your home to aid in your independence, which are particularly common needs for those who sustain permanent injuries
- The cost of therapies to assist in your recovery, including physical therapy, psychological therapy, and occupational therapy to help you relearn how to perform tasks made more difficult by your injuries
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Step Three: Contact an Attorney
You do not have to have a lawyer to file a personal injury claim. However, working with an attorney may provide several advantages to injured victims when filing a personal injury claim.
- An attorney may help identify all potentially liable parties. In many personal injury claims, multiple parties may share liability for the losses related to the accident. Consider, for example, a slip and fall accident. You slip and fall down the stairs in a store with inadequate, wobbly railings. If the store operators knew about the wobbly railings and failed to provide adequate signs to warn customers of the danger, they may be responsible. If the owner of the building knew about the wobbly railing, but failed to perform repairs, they may also be responsible. Both the owner and operators may share liability for the injuries resulting from the slip and fall. Experienced personal injury attorneys regularly work to identify the parties who may share liability for victims’ injuries. Identifying all parties that may be responsible is critical to maximizing an injured victim’s recovery.
- An attorney can help you put together evidence concerning your accident. Sometimes, you may fail to collect evidence at the scene that could help prove how your accident occurred. Other times, you may not realize the severity of your injuries until later after leaving the scene. Some accidents may cause injuries so severe that you cannot safely move around the scene. When you work with an attorney, however, your lawyer can more easily access vital evidence from the scene of the accident, likely collected by others involved. An attorney can also access past claims against specific individuals or entities. Past claims might help show the entities were aware of the factors that contributed to your accident.
- An attorney can provide experienced expert witnesses. Often, expert witnesses can help piece together exactly how an accident occurred. An expert witness can provide vital testimony that may help shape the results of your personal injury claim. Most personal injury attorneys have access to a range of experts in multiple fields.
- An attorney can help you better understand exactly how much compensation you deserve. An experienced personal injury attorney may help injured victims determine how much compensation they deserve. An attorney can also help manage their clients’ expectations, so they can predict how much they will actually receive. When appropriate, an attorney can advise injured victims when to continue negotiations or when it is in their best interests to accept a settlement offer.
- An attorney can provide vital peace of mind throughout the claims process. Oftentimes, the responsible parties’ insurance companies will try to contact injured victims after an accident. Insurance representatives aim to pay the least amount possible to injured victims. An attorney with experience negotiating with insurance companies can create a buffer and help you navigate every step of the claim.
Often, an attorney may advise injured victims to wait until they have had a chance to heal to file their personal injury claim. As individuals progress through recovery, they will have a better idea of the full extent of their injuries, including any long term limitations. To be fully compensated for your losses, you must be able to accurately predict any future medical needs. That does not mean, however, that you should wait until you begin to recover to contact an attorney.
Statute of Limitations in a Personal Injury Claim
The statute of limitations acts to limit the amount of time within which injured parties may bring a personal injury claim. When the time period defined by the statute of limitations expires, you will no longer be legally entitled to seek compensation from responsible parties. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner that attorney can begin working on building your case. An attorney may work to collect vital evidence that could otherwise disappear with time.
Step Four: Work with Your Attorney to File a Demand Package
After contacting an attorney, they will likely ask key questions regarding the claim to determine the amount of compensation injured parties may realistically expect to receive. Throughout this process, an attorney may compile an injured parties’ demand package. The demand package will likely include:
A description of your accident. An attorney will gather evidence of how the accident occurred and any contributing factors to help prove the entity’s liability in the accident.
An account of your injuries and medical expenses. An attorney may work with clients to accurately document and describe the injuries they suffered in the accident, including how they impact their lives.
The funds you request in compensation. The compensation injured victims actually receive for their injuries will vary. If an insurance policy covers the entity that caused the accident, victims may need to seek compensation through that insurance company. The policy’s maximums may determine the full compensation injured parties are entitled to receive. However, a demand letter typically does not only reflect the costs that amount to the policy’s maximum coverage.
Damages Part of a Personal Injury Settlement
When filing a personal injury claim and calculating expenses, most injured victims include:
- Medical expenses related to the accident. Injured victims frequently sustain serious injuries with high medical costs. Depending on the severity of the injury, individuals may suffer life long impacts. For example, if the injuries require an amputation, victims may have to replace their prosthetic limbs every three to five years. An experienced personal injury attorney regularly works with injured victims to calculate the full extent of their medical expenses.
- Lost wages because of the accident. Many types of accidents prevent victims from returning to work immediately after the accident. More severe injuries may prevent victims from returning to work in their former capacity or from returning to work at all. A demand package may include all wages lost as a result of the accident, including time away from work for doctor appointments and therapy sessions.
- Lost earning potential. Some injuries may permanently prevent victims from returning to work after their accident, particularly in their former profession. Filing for lost earning potential can help provide injured victims with much-needed funds to return to school or to acquire certifications in a new field.
- Pain and suffering. An experienced attorney may work with clients to quantify any pain and suffering they have endured as a result of the accident. Costs associated with pain and suffering may be included in the demand package to maximize victims’ recovery for their injuries.
When appropriate, your personal injury attorney may work to put together a demand package and file a claim against each entity that contributed to your accident.
Once the entity, often an insurance company, receives a demand package, they typically respond in one of two ways. The entity may accept your demand, sign the contract created by your attorney, and send you a check for the damages claimed. On the other hand, the entity may deny the demand and begin negotiating towards an amount they are willing to offer. Often, the company will respond with a much lower settlement offer than demanded, especially if the demand claimed a high level of compensation.
Once you receive a settlement offer, the choice becomes yours to accept the offer or respond with a counteroffer of your own. In most circumstances, when you accept an offer and sign a settlement agreement, you forego your right to seek further compensation for your injuries.
If you suffer serious injuries in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you may need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side. After your accident, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as you can begin the process of filing a claim.