Having to file a personal injury claim is not something that anyone wants to do, but it is sometimes necessary if you suffer injuries caused by a negligent party’s actions. Understanding how a personal injury claim works is important since it will give you a realistic sense of how long and hard you may have to fight to obtain the compensation that you deserve from a negligent business or property owner.
What Are the Steps in a Personal Injury Claim?
Many types of accidents, such as car accidents and slip and fall accidents, can lead to a personal injury claim. The amount of time it takes to litigate a personal injury claim can vary. Your claim may take longer to resolve if the fault of the negligent party or the extent of your injuries is in dispute. Here is a timeline of what occurs in these cases:
- Retaining an attorney. The first step in your case is to retain an experienced personal injury attorney to file your claim and begin to communicate with the insurance companies for you. When hiring a lawyer, you want to research and interview a few top choices. You are looking for an attorney who handles similar personal injury cases, has a track record of success both in settlement and at trial, and is someone that you can trust and communicate well with.
- Investigating your claim. Your attorney should conduct a thorough investigation of your accident. This could include inspecting the accident scene, obtaining the accident or police report, collecting photographs and videos of the accident, and interviewing witnesses. Depending on the disputes of your claim, your attorney may want to hire experts to help prove your case, such as hiring an accident reconstruction expert to reenact the moments leading to your accident. He will also want to obtain copies of your medical records and review them.
- Determining your medical recovery. You may be surprised to learn that your medical recovery affects the timeline of your case. However, settlement negotiations should not begin until you reach your maximum medical recovery or have a final prognosis from your doctor. This will ensure that you receive any future medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for future pain and suffering.
- Sending a demand package. Once your attorney has completed his investigation and he has a clear picture of your prognosis, he will prepare a demand package to send to the insurance company for the negligent party. He will collect all of your medical bills and records and other helpful documents to send with a demand letter to the insurance company notifying the company of what amount you are willing to settle your claim for.
- Engaging in negotiations. You may be impatient with the slow pace of negotiations. However, the insurance adjuster will review your demand letter and decide on a response. There may be weeks or longer of back and forth communications between the insurance adjuster and your attorney in an effort to resolve your claim. Some, but not all claims, will be settled during this phase of pre-litigation negotiations.
- Filing a lawsuit. If your attorney is unable to settle your claim or believes that negotiations are not productive, he will file a complaint in civil court and begin litigating your case. The opposing party will be served with the complaint and is required to provide your attorney an answer. The defendant will generally have approximately three weeks to file a written answer to your complaint. This whole process can take more than a month to accomplish.
- Engaging in discovery. During the beginning phases of a lawsuit, your attorney and the defendant’s attorney will engage in discovery. This is when written questions are sent to each other to answer, documents are requested and exchanged, and depositions of the negligent party, witnesses, and expert witnesses are taken. This discovery phase can be lengthy, but thorough discovery is important to proving your case and learning the defendant’s defenses.
- Filing pre-trial motions and hearings. There could be a wide-range of pre-trial motions filed in your case. For example, the defendant could file a motion for summary judgment, which asks the judge to dismiss your case. If the defendant is not cooperating with discovery, your attorney could file a motion asking the judge to order him to provide the information requested.
- Going through mediation and negotiations. While your attorney is litigating your case, he will also engage in settlement negotiations at various points when he believes that this could be productive. Like most personal injury cases, your case may be settled before it goes to trial. In addition, many courts require parties to a lawsuit to participate in mediation with one or more mediators or a settlement conference in an effort to reach an agreement or settlement before scheduling a trial date.
- Taking your case to trial. If you are unable to settle your claim, it will be decided at a trial—often by a jury. Depending on how many witnesses are being called and the court’s schedule, your trial could take days or weeks to complete.
At Greenspun Shapiro PC, our experienced personal injury attorneys are committed to conducting a thorough investigation of your claim and are not afraid to take your case to trial if it is in your best interests. To find out more about your legal options and how we can help, call our office or start an online chat to schedule your free consultation.