How a Personal Injury WorksFor most people, filing a personal injury claim happens only once in a lifetime. As a result, many people have no idea how a personal injury claim will proceed or how long it will take to receive the compensation they deserve for their injuries. If you have a serious injury as a result of someone else's negligence, from slip and fall accidents to auto accidents, you can expect your claim to take this route usually with the help of a personal injury attorney. When you experience serious injuries due to no fault of your own, your lawyer may advise you to file a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit is a civil action that has no bearing on any criminal charges associated with your accident. Experiencing serious injuries changes life as you knew it before the accident. No one should pay out-of-pocket for expenses that result from the negligence of another person. Learning the five steps in a personal injury lawsuit is important for knowing what to expect should you pursue civil litigation in the future.
Step One: Consult an AttorneyAs soon as possible after your injury, whether you suffer broken bones, soft tissue damage, or traumatic brain injury, consult with an attorney. An attorney can give you a better idea of what to expect throughout the claims process, including what compensation you should expect. Come prepared to your consultation. You may need to discuss:
- What caused your accident. If you made a statement about the accident soon after your injuries, you may want to bring it along. Your attorney may also want pictures taken of the accident scene or a police report, if the police came to the scene of the accident. In many cases, a variety of factors may contribute to a single accident, so all the details matter. For example, in an auto accident, you may turn to the responsible driver's insurance company to seek compensation for your injuries, but you may also turn to a bar or restaurant that over-served a drunk driver, a mechanic that failed to properly repair a vehicle, or a vehicle manufacturer that provided faulty parts.
- Your medical bills. Your personal injury claim may depend in part on the medical bills you face as a result of your injuries. Broken bones, for example, may cost around $2,500 for treatment if you do not need surgery. An amputation, on the other hand, may cost between $30,000 and $60,000 for the initial amputation alone. You should bring in any medical bills associated with the accident, including physical therapy. Your attorney will also discuss ongoing bills you will face due to your injuries, especially if your accident resulted in lifelong injuries that will require ongoing care. The attorney may also ask you about other expenses related to your accident.
- Your limitations due to your injuries. To create a better calculation of pain and suffering, many attorneys will ask about how your accident limits your life. Most insurance companies base the pain and suffering portion of a personal injury settlement on the medical expenses faced by the victim. If you have increased limitations or your injuries cause more severe problems in your life due to your personal lifestyle, your activities, or your job, however, you may receive increased funds for pain and suffering. Offer your lawyer an honest assessment of how your injuries impact your life, including your social life, your hobbies, and your job.
- How your injuries prevent you from working. Many personal injury claims include compensation for lost time at work. To take advantage of this, you will need to show how your injuries impact your work. Did you have to stay out of work long-term while recovering from your injuries? Do you have to limit your schedule or your job responsibilities? Come prepared to discuss those limitations with your attorney.
Step Two: Investigating the AccidentTo accurately assess the parties responsible for your accident, your attorney will need to fully understand the accident. While your statement provides a great starting point, you may need a great deal more evidence to fully expose what led to your accident, including other parties who may share responsibility. An experienced personal injury attorney will:
- Collect statements from witnesses: After a slip and fall accident in a store, for example, the attorney may want to talk with the store employees who witnessed the accident or assisted after your injuries. The attorney may want to contact any witnesses who stepped forward after an auto accident. Witness statements may grow increasingly dim or even change with time, since memory fades quickly after the accident. The sooner the attorney can speak with witnesses to your accident, the more accurate their memories will remain.
- Check security or traffic footage: If your accident occurred in full view of a security camera recording at the time of the accident, you will have a clear record of exactly what led to your accident. Security footage often provides one of the most important records of exactly what occurred during an accident: video footage cannot lie. If you suffered injuries in a traffic accident, your attorney may check for traffic camera footage or review exterior security footage from nearby businesses.
- Consult expert witnesses: In some cases, you may need an expert witness to provide testimony about your accident. If, for example, you have a slip and fall accident in the store, and the store attempts to claim that the ground you slipped on could not reasonably have caused the injuries you claim, an expert witness can help display exactly how the accident occurred and how your injuries happened. An expert witness can also help recreate a car accident or give testimony in a medical malpractice case about the medical care you should have expected.
Step Three: Issuing a Claim for CompensationOnce your attorney has heard your version of events and collected any evidence related to your accident, he will work with you to file a demand for compensation with the responsible insurance companies. In a straightforward accident, like an auto accident where only the other driver bears responsibility for the accident, this may involve a single claim. In a more complex accident with multiple factors, on the other hand, you may need to issue a separate claim for each responsible party. Your claims package will include all the details of your injuries and what compensation you expect for them. When you work with an attorney, you will get a solid claims package that includes everything the insurance company needs to understand how your injuries impact your life and your finances. Your claims package may include:
- Information about and photos of your injuries
- Evidence collected from the accident that proves who bears responsibility
- Copies of your medical records and bills
- Information about your lost wages due to your injuries
- Explanations of further pain and suffering caused by your injuries
Step Four: NegotiationOften, once you file your claim, the insurance company will immediately reply with a settlement offer. Sometimes, the insurance company may even issue a fast settlement offer before you have a chance to discuss your claim with an attorney or even fully understand the expenses you face as a result of your injuries. Take a careful look at this settlement offer and review it with your attorney. Consider the maximum limitations of the insurance policy and how the offer compares to those limits. You will also want to discuss how this settlement compares to the full extent of your injuries and your medical expenses following the accident. If you take this initial settlement offer, your claim will need no further negotiation: you can sign the paperwork, accept the offer, and, soon after, have the funds you need for your injuries in your hands. Many accident victims, however, choose not to accept that initial settlement offer. While having an attorney on your side may automatically increase the offer made by the insurance company, that initial offer may not reflect the full funds you need and deserve after your injury. You and your attorney should discuss how that offer compares to what you should expect for your injuries. You can then:
- Issue a new claim that reflects a lower amount than your initial claim, but that you will accept for your injuries.
- Insist on the full damages you listed in your initial claim.
- Choose to accept a lower offer.
Step Five: Taking Your Claim to CourtIf you cannot reach an agreement with the insurance company, you will need to create a court case. This includes several phases.
The Discovery PhaseDuring the discovery phase, both your attorney and the insurance company will have the opportunity to gather more information about the accident and your claim. The discovery phase will often reveal previously unknown factors about the claim. Your attorney may aggressively pursue information from witnesses, video evidence, or other evidence about the company. Previous injuries suffered by others in similar cases may also come into play during the discovery phase.
MediationBefore actively taking your claim to court, you may have the opportunity for a mediation phase: a chance to sit down with a mediator and the attorneys representing both sides of the claim to discover whether you can reach an agreement. Often, the mediation phase helps resolve the last issues between the victim and the insurance company, and you can reach a financial agreement that fills your needs. Many insurance companies will settle during the mediation phase rather than going to court. Others, however, will insist on taking the claim to court to reach a resolution. A current or former judge may lead the mediation phase, heavily encouraging resolution to avoid future battles.
The Personal Injury TrialDuring a trial, you will have the opportunity to take your claim directly before a judge, who can issue a final ruling in the claim. In severe personal injury cases, you may also try your claim before a jury. Either the judge or jury will, after hearing both sides of the claim, issue a final ruling about the resolution due to the victim.
Appeals of a Personal Injury CaseWhile you may think that the trial ends the process once and for all, you do not have to live with an unsatisfactory verdict. If you believe that the trial failed to achieve a resolution that fully reflects the funds you deserve for your injuries, you can appeal the verdict. The insurance company also has the right to appeal a claim that it feels does not reflect a full and legal resolution to the claim. Filing an appeal can help increase the compensation you receive by allowing you to try your case before a different judge and jury; however, it can also drag out the process, making it take longer for you to get the compensation you deserve in your hands and increasing the legal expenses you face throughout the process. Throughout every step in the personal injury claims process, having an attorney on your side can help you. From putting together your initial claims package to taking your claim to trial, an attorney can offer support and advice that will ultimately increase the odds of a favorable resolution. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner you can start collecting evidence and file a claim for the compensation you deserve.
Common Types of Personal Injury LawsuitsA personal injury lawsuit results when a person experiences serious harm due to no fault of their own, and pursues a claim for damages against the responsible party. Common types of accidents that often result in a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Car accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Workplace injuries
- Truck accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Bicycle accidents
- Pedestrian accidents
- Dog bites
- Driving under the influence (DUI)
- Distracted driving
- Aggressive driving
Common Forms of Personal InjuryA serious car accident can also leave you with catastrophic injuries Examples of life-changing injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Spinal cord injury
- Broken bones
- Organ damage
Seek Immediate Medical Care and Follow Your Doctor's OrdersAny accident caused by the negligent actions of another person is a traumatic event. The first step following an accident is to seek medical attention immediately. If you don't see any visible signs of trauma, accept medical transport to a hospital anyway. Silent injuries like that of internal bleeding may place your life at risk without you knowing it. While it is often difficult to focus after an accident, remain calm. Take photos of the scene or ask witnesses to help you. Do not speak with the other driver and wait for first responders to arrive. Cooperate with law enforcement. Refrain from acknowledging responsibility for the accident, even if you are just trying to “be polite.” Any statements you provide may serve as valuable evidence for future litigation. Next, contact a personal injury lawyer without delay.
Why You Need a Personal Injury LawyerSecuring the compensation you deserve not only requires litigation, but it also requires determination. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to offer a settlement soon after your accident. While the amount of money they offer may seem like a large sum, chances are it will not cover your future medical needs. Should you sign documents accepting a settlement offer, you may forfeit your chance of pursuing civil action later if your condition worsens. Never give in to pressure from insurance company representatives. By staying focused and determined on pursuing the compensation you deserve, you can feel better about your future. A personal injury lawyer can help you not only with insurance companies but also with the statute of limitations for filing your claim. Florida law allows four years for personal injury claims. This seems like a long time, however, it can pass quickly as you deal with your injuries. Continuous doctor appointments, treatments, surgeries, and therapies can overwhelm you. Before you know it, a year can pass. The statute of limitations for filing your personal injury claim begins the moment you become injured. Navigating Florida law and trying to negotiate with insurance companies, all without legal representation, is a recipe for disaster. Your lack of legal knowledge and the tactics used by insurance representatives can set you up for disappointment and no compensation. You have enough to deal with when it comes to your injuries. While you may want to fight for justice, doing so alone isn't a good idea. Securing legal representation is your best option for protecting your best interests.
Communication With Your Personal Injury Lawyer Is KeyA personal injury lawsuit requires strong communication between you and your lawyer. Sharing as much information about your accident and injuries with your lawyer is imperative for the preparation of your case. Your lawyer must also keep you informed throughout the litigation process. You should never have to wonder about the status of your case. A traumatic accident may cause you to forget important details. This is why collecting the contact information for witnesses at the scene is a very smart idea. While some witnesses may express reluctance to become involved, others are generally willing to help. Most witnesses know that your injuries might have happened to them a moment sooner or later. Keeping the doors of communication open is essential for maintaining a good lawyer-client relationship. By working together, you can focus on securing the best possible outcome of your case.
Consider Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit for Your InjuriesMention the word lawsuit and people often cringe. The reality is that most people never need to file one until they become the victim of another person's negligence. Florida law allows you to pursue civil litigation for your injuries. With personal injury lawyers offering free case evaluations, you have nothing to lose by discussing your case with a lawyer. Determining your best options for moving forward can help alleviate some of your anxiety about your financial future. Sadly, some people are unable to survive their injuries. If you lost a close loved one due to the reckless actions of another person, you may be entitled to a wrongful death claim. The law is quite complex when it comes to who may file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the decedent's estate. If you qualify, you may be eligible for damages involving:
- The decedent's final medical expenses.
- Funeral and burial costs.
- Loss of income and future earnings.
- Loss of companionship.
Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit is About More Than MoneyThe decision to file a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit is an important one. Understanding that the process takes time and that there is no quick fix to your claim is necessary for remaining calm and patient. While your personal injury lawyer will work hard to settle your case for the best amount possible, they also shouldn't settle for less than you deserve. We all take a chance any time we visit a restaurant, commute home from work, or enjoy a motorcycle ride. When others fail to share the road or to maintain their property, they must be held accountable for their negligence. No one should suffer physical, financial, and emotional stress due to the reckless actions of another person. The experience of a personal injury lawyer is invaluable when it comes to taking on large insurance companies. Personal injury lawyers are well-aware of the tactics insurance companies use to pay as little as possible. Don't settle for less than you deserve by signing an initial insurance settlement offer. Trust that your journey to justice through a personal injury lawsuit will produce a better outcome. While each case is different, you may be entitled to compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you lost a loved one, your wrongful death claim may help with the average cost of a $9,000 funeral. Unexpected expenses like a funeral should not come from your personal funds but rather from the person, or persons, liable for your loved one's death. Time is of the essence for both personal injury and wrongful death claims. If you were seriously injured or lost a close loved one due to the negligence of another person, give careful thought to pursuing a civil claim. The process, while not always quick, may just lead you to a brighter future.
Contact a Personal Injury LawyerDiscussing your case with a personal injury lawyer can help you determine your options for litigation. A personal injury lawyer has the license and experience to navigate you through the lawsuit process. Most Florida personal injury lawyers offer free case evaluations. Some work on a contingency fee basis, meaning you owe them nothing unless they collect damages for you. You have nothing to lose by sharing your case with a lawyer as soon as possible. When you discuss your case with a lawyer, you should include details about any possible evidence. This may include police reports, the contact information for witnesses, along with photos and video of the accident scene. The sooner a lawyer reviews your evidence, the sooner they can get to work for you. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 (727) 451-6900.