Process of Personal Injury Cases
You've been in a car accident you don't believe was your fault, and now you want a settlement to help cover the costs of medical bills, lost work time and wages, and other expenses associated with your accident.
This is where a personal injury case comes into play.
Collect All Accident Evidence
After being involved in a car accident, the first thing you should do is seek medical attention.
Of course, the severity of injuries vary by accident, but the most important thing to remember is to make sure you're healthy before moving forward with any other crash-related procedures.
Once you've been given a clean enough bill of health to move forward, it's time to collect all accident-related evidence. Your accident lawyer will need this evidence as part of your personal injury case.
Such evidence includes, but isn't necessarily limited to:
- A copy of the official police report.
- The other party's identifying information, such as:
- Telephone number.
- Car insurance policy information.
- Statements from any accident witnesses, as well as the witnesses:
- Telephone numbers.
- Accident scene photographs, including pictures of:
- All vehicles involved in the accident.
- Any factors that could have contributed to the accident, such as weather.
- Visible injuries you sustained.
- All medical records, including those from the EMTs and every doctor you see.
- Any records showing missed work and wages.
As you can see, you'll have to collect some of this evidence—such as that proving missed work and wages—during the course of the personal injury case and not immediately at the accident scene.
For more information about gathering evidence for your personal injury case, visit our page on Filing a Personal Injury Claim.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer
Next, you should consider contacting a personal injury attorney.
Sure, you can attempt to handle the case yourself, but an accident lawyer specializes in handling personal injury claims, and is skilled in going up against the other experienced attorneys that the big insurance companies will have on their sides.
Your personal injury attorney can review the accident- and medical-related evidence you've presented (as well as suggest additional evidence you can collect to help your claim) and determine whether you have a personal injury case on your hands.
If you do, your attorney then can begin the next steps.
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Once you have a qualified personal injury lawyer on your side, his or her first step in the actual claims process probably will be to start a negotiation process.
Basically, some claims don't need to go to trial; the lawyers (yours and the insurance companies') oftentimes can get together and work out a settlement that satisfies both parties.
NOTE: Depending on factors such as the statute of limitations, many lawyers wait until you've reached the end of your medical treatment -- or can provide proof of the cost of necessary future treatments—before making demands during negotiations.
When a satisfactory negotiation can't be reached, though, your lawyer will likely officially file your personal injury lawsuit.
File a Personal Injury Case
When negotiations don't work, it's time to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Your personal injury lawyer will handle this step in its entirety for you; the important thing for you to remember, though, is that in most cases, patience is a virtue. Depending on the statute of limitations, it could take anywhere from months to years before your case actually reaches a courtroom.
Begin Pre-Trial Litigation
Generally, the discovery process is the first step in pre-trial litigation.
The discovery process allows the attorneys to:
- Investigate legal claims and defenses.
- Request documents and ask questions of each other.
- Collect depositions (basically, statements) from witnesses relevant to the case.
- This includes you (the plaintiff) and the other party and/or insurance company (the defendant).
Sometimes during pre-trial litigation, the attorneys might begin mediation and negotiation processes again.
At this point, if they can come to an agreement, you could receive your settlement; if not, it's likely your lawyer will move forward with scheduling the personal injury trial.
Schedule a Personal Injury Trial
Once mediations and negotiations don't work, your attorney and the court will schedule your personal injury trial.
As mentioned above, you must practice patience at this point. Depending on a number of factors (such as the severity of your case, and the court's and judge's schedules), it could take months or years before your trial takes place and your claim is finally settled.
However, once the trial comes to an end, you will receive your verdict. Keep in mind; if you receive a lesser amount—or nothing at all—when your verdict is reached, your attorney can advise you on the possibility of filing an appeal.