If you suffered an injury, you are probably racking up bills and expenses faster than you would like. From medical bills to time away from work, dealing with an injury can be incredibly expensive, stressful, and taxing on a household. You must understand the timeline of a personal injury lawsuit so that you can plan your finances appropriately while you wait to receive compensation.
Read on to understand the different stages of a personal injury lawsuit and how the timeline could influence your strategy around settlement.
When a Personal Injury Lawsuit Is Appropriate
You should consider filing a personal injury lawsuit if you were injured by the negligence or intentional act of another party. This type of lawsuit will allow you to seek compensation for your damages in civil court.
This area of recovery is very broad and can encompass injuries resulting from car accidents, dog bites, medical malpractice, slip and fall accidents, product liability, and even defamation. The types of injuries are just as wide-ranging as the types of accidents, and could include:
- Head injuries, such as lacerations or a concussion
- Neck and back injuries, including herniated discs
- Spinal injuries, which could result in injuries as severe as paralysis
- Traumatic brain injuries, which can result in long-term complications
- Broken bones and fractures, which, if severe, may require surgery
- Internal organ damage, which can be difficult and expensive to diagnose
- Burns, which can lead to permanent disfigurement
- Cuts, bruises, sprains, and other superficial injuries
The extent of the medical costs and the related impact on the injured individual’s life will depend on the seriousness of the injury. Any injury, however, that costs individuals money or limits their ability to continue their normal existence may be suitable for a personal injury lawsuit.
Once you have determined that a personal injury lawsuit is the best path for pursuing damages, you will need to complete many steps before you can expect recovery.
Seek Medical Attention and Document the Accident
Immediately seek medical attention, even if you don’t feel any immediate or urgent pain. Some injuries may be masked by adrenaline or may be harder to notice or diagnose. A thorough medical examination will ensure any issues are addressed quickly. This will also be important for future recovery, ensuring that the other party can’t claim you aggravated your injuries by delaying treatment.
Also, be sure to document the accident. One excellent form of documentation is a police report. The police report will capture photos, document witness accounts, and make note of any citations that are issued, which can help prove negligence. If you cannot secure a police report, make sure to take your own photos and collect witness contact information.
Because these steps should happen immediately, they should not impact the timeline for recovery.
Seek a Qualified Attorney
Once you have taken care of your medical needs, you should research and find a skilled attorney in your area. While you may be in a hurry, you should not rush to choose the first attorney whose website you run across. Focus on lawyers who have proven successes in cases similar to yours and who have resolved cases through settlement and trial. This shows that they can develop the right strategy for each client.
A good personal injury attorney should offer a free consultation. Take advantage of this option to ensure you trust and have a good connection with the attorney. Use the consultation as an opportunity to ask questions about the process, chances of success, and payment structures.
Finding a good attorney could take days or up to a few weeks. Don’t let indecision drag your decision out much longer than that. Get your case moving while the information is fresh.
Investigate and Gather Evidence
Once you have hired an attorney, they will want to understand all of the details of your case, your medical history, and your current medical condition. The lawyer will request your medical records so that he or she can review and determine the strength of your case. Fulfillment of medical records requests can take days to months. Once received, the attorney will thoroughly review your medical records, bills, and any treatment history. If the lawyer determines there is no case based on the records, he or she will deliver this news after reviewing the records.
If your account of the accident and the medical records indicate a strong case, you will continue on the personal injury lawsuit trajectory, which generally involves additional evidence gathering and investigation.
One important part of building a case is establishing evidence that the other party was at fault, meaning that party acted negligently or intentionally to cause your accident and resulting injuries. The types of evidence that help establish fault include:
- Car accident: Fault doesn’t always come into play in Florida car accident cases, however, due to the state’s no-fault insurance laws. When it does, evidence that another driver was negligent—speeding, running a red light, driving under the influence of alcohol, or any other traffic violation—could help your case.
- Medical malpractice: Healthcare professionals are required to adhere to a recognized standard of care when treating a patient. Any deviation could be considered negligence, such as prescribing the wrong medication or failing to perform a C-section on a laboring woman at the appropriate time.
- Slip and fall: If a business owner doesn’t maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition, this could qualify as negligence. Examples include leaving unmarked obstacles in walkways or failing to fix a leak that causes slippery floors.
- Work conditions: Fault isn’t generally an issue when workers’ comp is concerned, but it is when third parties contribute to an unsafe work environment.
- Dog bites: Florida has enacted strict liability for many dog bites, meaning no additional showing of negligence is required. The owner can avoid strict liability if the injured individual’s negligent actions caused the action or if he or she was trespassing.
Your attorney will spend some time working with you to ensure that you have all of the information necessary to build a strong case against the at-fault party.
Simultaneously with shoring up evidence of fault, your attorney will work with you to calculate your damages demand. This is the amount of money you will demand in your lawsuit as appropriate compensation from the defendant.
You and your attorney will need to consider the following types of damages when putting together your demand:
- Medical expenses: There are obvious medical expenses, like doctors’ bills and prescription medicine. They also include less common items, such as emergency transportation and plastic surgery for burns, bites, or lacerations. Don’t forget to account for ongoing and future medical expenses, such as rehabilitation or assistive devices.
- Loss of income: Your injuries may necessitate that you take time off work or miss shifts for doctor’s appointments. Your long term earning potential might also be reduced if you can’t work at the same level or complete necessary physical tasks.
- Pain and suffering: If you have constant or ongoing pain after the accident, you may recover compensation for pain and suffering. This could be aches, constant back pain, or other discomforts.
- Emotional distress: The accident may have long-term potential implications, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD. These conditions will require the attention of a professional and may change how you live your life.
- Loss of enjoyment: Some injuries may limit your ability to participate in activities that you previously enjoyed, such as sports, art, or music.
While some damages are simple calculations, such as adding up doctors’ bills, others require a much more complicated analysis. Analyzing loss of future earning potential may require the input of an economist, and evaluation of future medical costs could require input from medical professionals.
You and your attorney will investigate and gather evidence throughout the lawsuit, but some initial time must be spent on this stage before filing a lawsuit to ensure a compelling filing. Depending on the complexity of your case, this could take weeks or months.
Filing the Lawsuit
Once you and your attorney have completed the hard work of evidence gathering, drafting and filing the lawsuit shouldn’t take a significant amount of time. The main concern is to file within the statute of limitations. In Florida, most personal injury claims must be brought within four years of the injury; although, medical malpractice claims must be brought within two years.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the clock starts ticking on pre-trial obligations and trial dates. The process from filing to verdict takes, on average, one to two years.
One reason the trial process takes so long is because of a process called discovery. This is where each party is allowed to seek information from the other. The time frame for discovery is set by the court but can be extended at the parties’ requests. It can last from six months to a year. During this time, the parties request documents, demand answers to questions, and interview relevant witnesses.
Discovery can drag out because both parties will likely object to some or all of the requests. The judge may need to get involved to help resolve these disputes. Witnesses might not be available for interviews or may refuse to come and thus must be subpoenaed. Once information is produced, the requesting party will need to review it to ensure that it satisfies the initial request.
Wading through this much information can be time-consuming, but you must make all of the facts of the case available.
Unless the case is particularly straightforward, the case is not likely to settle before a lawsuit is filed. Settlement negotiations can happen any time throughout the process, but one common time for discussing settlement is during discovery. This is because all of the relevant information about the case is generally exposed during discovery, more clearly highlighting the strength of your claims.
Settlement conversations don’t have a significant effect on the trial timeline, though if you decide to settle, it will bring the case to halt and conclude the matter. You will need to find an appropriate balance between wanting the matter concluding quickly and settling for less than your claim is worth. Your lawyer can help you evaluate the strength of any settlement offer.
Conducting the Trial
A personal injury trial is likely to last anywhere from one day to several weeks. The length of the trial will depend on the number of witnesses that each party calls, the length of those witnesses’ testimonies, and the complexity of the evidence. If expert witnesses are involved, the trial is likely to last longer. Trial can create tremendous stress, especially if you must testify, but hard work with your personal injury lawyer will prepare you for the big day.
Generally, a personal injury case is closed after the trial concludes and the jury issues its verdict, including any award of damages. If, however, either side believes that there was an error in how the trial was handled, either party can appeal the decision. Appeals can drag on for a very long amount of time.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
One of the best ways to ease your concerns about the long road to financial recovery is to hire a skilled and competent attorney. A lawyer who is well-versed in personal injury cases can help you understand the timing of your particular case. Factors that will affect timing include the complexity of the case, the severity of injuries, the volume of the caseload in your jurisdiction, and the attractiveness of any settlement offers. While many of these factors are out of the attorney’s hands, he or she can work to ensure that each step of the journey is handled efficiently and effectively.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765