Stages Of A Personal Injury Case
If you have been in a car accident where you were injured, you may find yourself in a personal injury lawsuit. Because you may not know what to expect, we’ve outlined some of the common elements of a personal injury case.
Always seek appropriate medical care right away. It's not only good for your health; it's necessary for your claim. If you don’t get treatment immediately, your claims adjustor or the company’s attorney may argue that your injuries either weren’t serious or were not directly related to your accident.
Make sure to document all parts of your medical care, including:
Also record your expenses and keep copies of your bills and payments.
If the injury caused you to miss work, document lost wages (the money you would have earned if you had been able to work as usual). See our page on lost wages to learn how to document lost income and opportunities.
Involvement of a Personal Injury Attorney
You may be able to settle a personal injury claim with your car insurance company; however, you likely may find you need a lawyer to help settle your claim. A personal injury attorney can be integral to cases involving larger claims and serious injuries. You might need a lawyer if:
- Your medical bills cost thousands of dollars.
- You’ve broken one or more bones.
- You missed a significant amount of work due to your injuries.
Talk to several lawyers to choose one whom you feel can represent you well. The initial consultation is usually free, and the lawyer should let you know whether you have a case. If it is determined that you have a viable case, the attorney will discuss their fees with you.
Once you’ve chosen a personal injury lawyer, he or she will ask you about facts related to the case, including:
- Accident details.
- Your injuries and medical treatment.
- Your medical expenses and records.
After reviewing this information, the lawyer will decide whether to either:
- Make a demand and attempt to settle the case out of court.
- File a lawsuit.
Making a demand is more common; many personal injury cases can be settled without a lawsuit.
Making a Demand
If your lawyer has decided to try and settle out of court, he will make a demand after determining how much your case is worth. The final determination is usually made after you reach maximum medical improvement (MMI), which means that you have completed your medical treatment and your recovery is complete.
Making the demand after you reach MMI allows your attorney to set the demand as high as possible, since you have received all of the medical bills related to the injury.
NOTE: If you need the money sooner, your lawyer may choose to proceed before you reach MMI.
After the defendant, or responsible party, receives the demand, they may also hire a lawyer.
Both parties’ lawyers will then have an opportunity to negotiate the amount of money that will be accepted to settle the case. If they cannot agree, your attorney may proceed with a lawsuit.
Lawsuit Filing and Discovery
When you’ve chosen to file a personal injury lawsuit, the involved lawyers will begin a process called “Discovery.”
In this stage, lawyers question each other and third parties about the other party’s claims and defenses. They can also collect depositions, or under-oath statements, from witnesses and the involved parties.
Settlement or Mediation
If the attorneys can't settle a case by themselves, they may try mediation (in which they present their cases in front a mediator in an attempt to settle).
The mediator is a neutral lawyer who helps arbitrate between your lawyer and the other party’s lawyer. If a settlement during mediation is not possible, they will agree to move to trial.
A trial can occur within weeks or over a year from the end of mediation. The trial can take days or weeks, and the results are binding.