How Does a Personal Injury Claim Work?
When you are injured in an accident because of someone else's negligence, a whole process begins that can be a little confusing. One good thing that can be said about the personal injury claim process is that it almost always follows a logical and predictable path—step by step. This process involves finding and hiring an attorney, understanding the basic laws governing personal injury, filing a complaint, gathering evidence, attempting to settle, and then if necessary, going to trial. For the most part, these steps will be followed in order.
Knowing these basics about the development of your claim will greatly benefit you by giving you familiarity with what is coming next and allowing you to plan ahead. Let's break down each area of the process of a personal injury claim.
Hiring and Retaining a Personal Injury Attorney
The first thing you need to do after being injured in an accident is to research and retain a personal injury lawyer. Of course, you do not have to hire an attorney in order to file an injury claim; however, doing so will provide benefits that will greatly outweigh any negatives in the end. That's because injury victims who hire an attorney receive larger settlements on average, have less stress to deal with, and have an edge over the process since they have a knowledgeable professional working on their behalf.
Start by researching a personal injury attorney in your area. This most commonly starts with a Google search for personal injury attorneys in your area. Once you have a few names of attorneys you are considering, further research them on trustable lawyer ranking websites like avvo.com and The Florida Bar's website.
What to Look For in Your Personal Injury LawyerWhen looking for a personal injury lawyer it is important to keep in mind that most lawyers will make similar claims about receiving a number of accolades, successfully getting their clients settlements, and their ability to get you a great deal of money. Instead of listening to cherry-picked testimonials and the usual sales pitch they will throw you, look into their case results. It is a good idea to look for an attorney that has years of experience handling cases as close to yours as possible. Also, you will want to take a close look at the outcomes of their cases. Remember that attaining a settlement is not always a win. Lawyers that tend to only settle and never go to court are usually not capable of handling a trial or they simply are not willing to go to the trouble of representing you in one and will take a sub-par settlement.
Next, meet with your first choice. Almost all personal injury attorneys offer free initial consultations where they will evaluate your case, answer any questions you have, and let you know about your options moving forward. This is a great way to find out if your client-attorney relationship will work out.
[9 Things You Should Know About a Personal Injury Consultation]
Once you have decided to hire the attorney and they have decided to take on your case, you can move on to a discussion about fees. Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they don't get paid unless they get you a settlement. You can also take some solace in knowing that nearly all personal injury attorneys charge the same percentage; so that's one less thing to worry about.
Personal Injury Statute of Limitations
Florida's statute of limitations places restrictions on how long a person has to file a lawsuit after they're injured. This is to prevent people from trying to make a claim for an injury they received ten years ago. Once the statute of limitations has expired, a person can no longer file a claim or attempt a lawsuit.
Florida has different limitations on different types of cases. They are:
- Personal injury case – Four (4) years from the date of the incident.
- Claim against a government agency – Three (3) years from injury date.
- Wrongful death suits – Two (2) years from the date of death.
Understanding a Personal Injury Claim
It will be helpful to understand exactly what a personal injury claim is before we go any further. A personal injury claim is a formal process in which the injured party (plaintiff) seeks financial compensation from another party that they feel is liable (defendant). The plaintiff may consider the opposing party to be responsible for their damages because they caused the injury or because the incident is covered by an insurance policy; or both.
This process begins with a demand letter, in which the plaintiff formally requests payment for their damages from the defendant. If the insurance company refuses to pay or a compromise cannot be reached, the case will proceed to the lawsuit stage. These two parts of the process are called pre-litigation and litigation.
Sending a Demand Letter
Once you have completed and understand the steps above, it's time to get the actual process started. This almost always starts with something known as a demand letter. The demand letter is the central focus of any personal injury claim. In it, the injured person lays out their argument to the insurance company for why they should pay for the damages. This includes:
- Why the defendant is legally responsible or liable.
- A summary of the injuries sustained.
- What medical treatments were required and how much they cost.
- How much income the plaintiff lost because of time off work.
- Any other damages suffered, like pain and suffering.
- The insurance company may review the claim and decide to pay or they may decide that they will not pay out at all (called a denied claim). Insurance companies may deny a claim because:
- they feel the accident was the injured's fault,
- because of a lack of evidence,
- because they think the injuries weren't caused by the accident,
- or any other reasons they see fit.
If the insurance company won't pay—or won't pay nearly enough—then the injured party and their attorney may move on to the next step in the process: filing a complaint.
Filing a Complaint About a Personal Injury
Filing a complaint gives official notice to the court and the defendant that a lawsuit is being filed in which the plaintiff is seeking compensation for their damages. Most commonly, a formal complaint is filed against an insurance company; however, a lawsuit can be filed against a business, government agency, or a private citizen. The formal complaint will list:
- All parties involved
- Court's jurisdiction over the case
- The defendant's legal claims
- Facts and evidence that support those claims
- Demand for judgment stating how much the defendant is seeking.
Once the complaint is filed, you and your attorney will then have about 30 days to serve the complaint to the defendant. This delivery must be done in person so that there is proof of receipt. This is most commonly done through a process server.
Once the defendant has received the notice that a lawsuit has been filed, they have 30 days to respond to the complaint. If they fail to answer, the court will award a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. If they do respond (which they most likely will), then the case will proceed as usual.
Understanding the Discovery Process of a Personal Injury Case
Discovery is exactly what it sounds like: the discovering of information about the case. This is an integral part of any legal process. During discovery, both the defendant's and the plaintiff's attorneys will gather evidence, investigate the claim, speak to witnesses, and question the parties involved. This questioning of the parties involved is known as a deposition. It may also take the form of something called an Examination Under Oath, depending on the circumstances.
Attorneys on both sides will also begin to gather medical bills and records, police reports, wage information, and insurance reports.
All this information helps to form a clear picture of what really happened and to help quantify the amount the plaintiff is owed.
Additionally, it's during the discovery process that either side can file motions with the court. These may be filed in an attempt to have the case dismissed, delayed, or for a judgment to be reached.
Personal Injury Claim Settlements
Most personal injury cases don't make it all the way to this point. In fact, 95% of cases are settled before trial. This is usually done through a planned negotiation called mediation.
A settlement is an agreement between the two parties to end the case based on certain arrangements. Most commonly, the plaintiff agrees to drop the lawsuit in exchange for some kind of compensation. Once an amount is agreed upon, it's put into writing and the settlement is finalized. This information is then reviewed by the court and becomes a legally binding contract.
In addition to the agreed dollar amount, these contracts may have other stipulations, like an agreement to not seek more money in the future or an agreement to not disclose the amount of the settlement.
The Other 5% – Going to Trial for a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If a settlement cannot be reached by the two parties, the case will go to trial as planned. The court will hear from both sides before a judge or jury makes a decision. Either they will decide that the defendant is liable for the plaintiff's injuries and how much they owe, or they'll decide that the defendant is not liable and dismiss the case.
Trials can be expensive and time-consuming, which is why a majority of cases settle beforehand. It usually benefits both sides—saving time, money, and getting the plaintiff a check sooner.
Once the judgment is made, either side has a limited amount of time to decide if they will accept the decision or if they will file an appeal. Once this period has expired, the personal injury process is over.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
If you need an experienced attorney to help you navigate the personal injury claim process, contact Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA. We are an experienced law firm that simply seeks to help our clients in any way necessary. We do this through personable interactions, attorney zeal, and persistence. We have a reputation for getting clients the full amount they are owed; we do not settle easily.Insurance companies know who they can bully into taking a small settlement and who will fight to get their client what they deserve. We are the latter. Contact us today so we can begin work on your case. Of course, we offer a free attorney consultation to answer your questions and help alleviate some of your worries. Send us an email or call us at 727-451-6900.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765