After you have been injured as a result of another’s negligence—car accident, slip-and-fall, medical malpractice, defective medication, etc.—you may decide to seek compensation for your losses. After all, being stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills and lost wages is never a desirable circumstance. If the accident was caused by someone else’s action or inaction, then why should you have to suffer both physically and financially?
Understandably, the process can seem daunting. No person in the industry of helping injury victims pretends that it’s not. However, the more educated you are in the process, the less stressful and daunting the process can be. This article seeks to explain the steps of a personal injury case—from accident to trial—in the format of a timeline. Although not all of these steps will apply to all cases, it will be helpful to understand the general order of a personal injury case.
1. Accident or Injury Occurs
Nobody ever expects an accident or injury to occur. It’s just not something that people keep in mind during their daily routine. Even if they are conscious of the dangers around them, when the moment strikes, it is still unexpected. At least, it can be frustrating and stressful. At worst, it can be permanently debilitating or .
However inconveniencing or frustrating an accident or injury can be. It is important to stop, collect your thoughts, and think about the future for you and your family. This mostly takes the form of documenting evidence and following the proper procedures so that you can collect financial compensation for your losses in the future. It is your right; it is necessary.
All of the things you should do after an accident are really quite simple, but for the sake of thoroughness, it may help to . If you are injured in a . Additionally, if you are injured in any other type of accident or incident, make sure you collect evidence as well, using the same general concept.
To paraphrase, you should call the police, take lots of pictures, get copies of everything (IDs, insurance cards, license plates, etc.), gather witness contact information, and take notes of any relevant information, like traffic cameras, weather conditions, , store conditions, conditions on property, who you spoke to, etc. Anything and everything that could help you to prove your case later is relevant. And of course, seek medical attention.
2. Seek Medical Attention
After you are involved in an automobile accident or injury, seek medical attention as soon as possible. Injuries do not always appear right away, especially after a traumatic incident. This is especially true if someone is involved in a particularly severe auto accident. Immediately afterward, it is natural to experience a rush of adrenaline and shock. This is your body’s natural ways of eliminating pain so that you can get out of a dangerous situation. This bodily response is why people with serious injuries can do in the heat of battle or some other traumatic event.
Even if you do not think you are injured, you should still be seen by a medical professional right away. This is for two reasons. First, you may have an injury that you cannot see or feel at first. For example, an EMT may notice that you have signs of a or . Second, in the event you start to feel pain later—which is quite likely—you will have proof that you saw a doctor right away. Insurance companies can often use a situation in which someone denies treatment at first against them as a supposed sign “they weren’t really injured.”
Even if you don’t go to the hospital in the ambulance that arrives, you should still head straight there after all the other necessities are handled.
3. Consult an Attorney
Some may think that this step seems to come a little early in the time line. That, perhaps you should wait to see what the insurance will offer or wait for a diagnosis before you seek the advice of a legal professional? This is not the case; and for a simple reason: attorneys will not take cases that do not need an attorney. So, you have nothing to worry about just seeking their advice. At best, they help you get a settlement that is much greater than what an insurance company would give you on your own. At worst, you use the free consultation to get some much needed advice.
According to a study done by the Insurance Research Council, those who hire an attorney in a personal injury case receive a 3.5 times larger settlements than those who settle with the insurance adjuster on their own.
When you meet with an attorney, they can assess if you have a workable case and determine the best course of action for you, with them or without them. Once it is decided if the attorney will take the case, fees will be negotiated.
4. Investigates Claim and Medical Records
The first thing that your attorney will do is thoroughly interview you. They will want to know how the accident happened, information about your background, and any medical conditions you had before and after the incident. They will also need to know any and all places you received medical treatment for your injury. All the information gathered will be quite thorough
This process is often done by someone called an Intake Specialist. Some of the information may be personal and some may seem irrelevant, but there is a reason for every question. Most importantly, an attorney needs to be ready for anything and do their best to avoid any surprises later. If you were injured in the past, tell your attorney. If you have large debts, tell your attorney. Clients and attorneys should be as honest with each other as possible.
Next, the lawyer will begin to collect all of your medical records and bills relating to the injury. This will include any doctors you saw, what they said, their treatment recommendations, medicines, etc. This too will be thorough. Sometimes this can take a long time, depending on your treatment. The process will take time. Good attorneys will help you through the process and ensure you are getting the medical treatment you need despite your ability to pay.
5. File an Insurance Claim or Demand a Settlement
Many personal injury cases are settled before they ever reach a court. This is a good thing in some circumstances, and not so in others. Some firms take on mass amounts of clients with the intent of settling early for a low amount. If they do this enough times, they can make a lot of money. However, a good attorney will analyze the unique situation, using the threat of court to their advantage. This is the difference between hiring a small, experienced firm and a big-budget settlement mill.
In auto accidents, first, a claim will be filed with the at-fault driver’s insurance company before an actual lawsuit is filed. A minimal amount of car insurance coverage is required in most states. In Florida, this is known as . If the injury was not caused by an auto accident, your attorney will look into who was at-fault and begin a claim with their insurance. In , this may be the store’s liability insurance carrier. In cases of , it may be with the hospital’s liability insurance carrier.
After filing a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company, they will assign a claims adjuster to investigate the case and negotiate a settlement. If an insurance company is not involved, a demand letter can be sent to the other party mandating a settlement for the injuries sustained. A demand letter lays out what the damages are, what compensation is expected, and why.
If your claim involves a claim of permanent disability or impairment, a good lawyer will not settle it before filing suit. They will also not make a demand until the plaintiff has reached what is called a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is when the plaintiff has ended their medical treatment and is as recovered as they are going to get. This is to ensure that you will get the maximum value of your case. You wouldn’t want to settle your case, then find you need surgery a month later, which was not covered in the original amount. Once settled, a plaintiff cannot ask for more money.
Similarly, a lawyer should not file a lawsuit until a client reaches MMI for the same reasons as above.
6. Filing a Lawsuit
If a settlement with the insurance company cannot be reached—mostly likely because they will not pay what the case is worth—it is time to file a lawsuit. Under Florida Statute, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within four (4) years of the injury or accident. However, the sooner the better.
Lawsuits are not always the best course of action, but sometimes it is the only thing that insurance companies respond to. They may feel greater pressure to reach a more fair settlement once the lawsuit has been filed against them. It is not cheap to go to trial for either side, especially for large insurance companies. For them, going to court often means hiring high-paid lawyers and proceeding with expenses discovery. In lots of cases, it is cheaper for the insurance carrier to just increase their offer.
When a lawsuit is filed, a formal complaint on your behalf is submitted to the county circuit court where your injury occurred. The court will then have the other party served with the paperwork. The other party will then have a limited amount of time to formally file an answer to the complaint, and also file any counterclaims they may have. If a counterclaim is filed, then your attorney will respond to the counterclaim on your behalf.
Discovery is the process in which each party investigates what the other party’s legal claims and defenses are. Each side submits requests for and any document they may need that the other has. At this point, each side will take of all of the relevant witnesses in the case, including yourself (the plaintiff) and the at-fault party (the defendant).
At the deposition, the opposing attorney will ask a series of questions, recorded under oath, to the person being deposed. The interrogation is recorded by an official court reporter, either by audio or by video. Testimony given at depositions is important for counsels to ensure that there will be no surprises in court. It also gives them the opportunity to get an official account of the other party’s side of the story.
This is also the point that each side will begin to hire expert witnesses to testify on their behalf. These witnesses could be experts in brain trauma, spinal injuries, accident reconstruction, etc. The defense will also request an (IME) at this point. An IME, sometimes called a compulsory medical exam, is a medical evaluation in which a doctor hired by the defense assesses your injuries. A patient is required by the state to comply.
8. Mediation and/or Arbitration
Once all or most of the information from discovery has been collected, both sides’ lawyers will generally start trying to reach a settlement again. This process is known as an . It is kind of a “well now you know what you are up against” situation. Sometimes the lawyers can settle a case just by talking among themselves, sometimes they can’t.
This second type of alternative dispute resolution is called arbitration. In arbitration, a hearing will take place between the plaintiff and defendant, judged by a neutral third-party. The difference between the two is simple: mediation is not binding, arbitration is. When the arbitrator makes a decision about the settlement, it is final. This process is often thought of as a mini-court case.
Sometimes, a court may require that a case go to arbitration instead of to actual court. This may happen if the judge thinks a reasonable settlement is within reach. Other times, it may be voluntary to save both sides the expense of court costs.
Finally, if a settlement cannot be reached using all the above options, the case will go to trial. Personal injury trials can vary in length from hours to months. At the trial, all the information that has been gathered through discovery (physical evidence, interrogatories, depositions, photos, witnesses, etc.) will all be presented to a jury for them to decide on the settlement amount. Trial are unpredictable, but if all the steps before were followed properly, they are capable of getting clients the compensation they deserve for someone else’s negligence.
If you have been injured as the result of someone’s negligence, you should seek financial compensation for the damages they have caused. It is not fair for one family to bear the financial burden caused by another person. In fact, it is your right to recover.
At Dolman Law Group, you will experience the “Dolman Law Difference” — our commitment to personal service and accessibility. All of the injury claims we represent are handled by one of our lawyers. Each and every client will get the personal cell phone number and email of the attorney handling their case.
We have been working for your years to build a reputation of trust and hard work. We do not settle with insurance companies easily.
You take the time to recover from your injuries. We will take the time to fight for your rights. Call us today at (727) 451-6900. We look forward to hearing from you.
Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765