In the United States, there are between 300,000 and 500,000 personal injury lawsuits every year. On average, car accidents make up more than half of those lawsuits. The financial repercussions of an auto injury are often overwhelming. If you have been injured in an accident through another party’s negligent or intentional actions, you may be wondering what you can expect from a personal injury claim. This article will guide you through the seven stages of a typical personal injury case and offer tips to help you recover the compensation that you deserve for your pain and suffering.
What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
In simplest terms, a personal injury lawsuit is a civil dispute that arises when someone is legally responsible for an accident that causes harm to another person. The insurance company of the person at fault then has to compensate the injured party for economic and non-economic damages. Monetary damages primarily include medical expenses and lost wages. Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are less quantifiable but are valued based on precedent and specific circumstances.
In a personal injury case, there are two possible outcomes:
- A formal lawsuit entails a plaintiff filing a civil complaint alleging formally that the defendant acted carelessly or negligently in an accident, causing harm to the plaintiff. This differs from a criminal case, which the government files.
- An informal settlement happens when all the parties involved in the case, including the insurance company and the personal injury lawyers, agree upon a negotiated amount of money without taking the case to trial.
A personal injury lawsuit is most often settled outside of court. Roughly 95 to 96 percent of auto injury cases end in settlements. Individual injury cases are unique in that the laws that govern them primarily developed through precedented decisions rather than statutes. Some states are beginning to establish written rules, but court decisions continue to serve as the primary source of the law.
What Are the Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Not every case will pass through all seven of the stages listed below. Your case could potentially settle at any stage. It is more likely with a formal lawsuit and typically only happens in very complicated cases involving large sums of money.
The likelihood of that happening is significantly better if you retain legal representation, specifically an injury lawyer, who is well-versed in the nuances of personal injury cases and knows how to handle complex insurance companies.
Stage One: Get Medical Treatment
Seeing a doctor immediately following your accident is critical for both your health and your case. Even minor accidents can result in injury. The shock of an auto accident creates a rush of adrenaline, blocking pain receptors. As a result, it can take hours or even days to feel the pain of an injury – and waiting for treatment could cause further damage.
Insurance companies notoriously search for ways to deny your claim or lessen the payout. Waiting too long to go to the doctor allows the adjuster to say that your injuries were insignificant or that you might have sustained them elsewhere. Going to the emergency room immediately eliminates that issue.
Additionally, doctors, including chiropractors, specialize in auto injuries. They can often bill the auto insurance directly and understand what is needed on your medical record to corroborate your account of the accident.
Stage Two: Seek Legal Representation
Personal injury lawsuits generally require knowledge of the legal process, among other skills. Personal injury lawyers are excellent negotiators and deal with insurance agencies regularly. They understand how to value your damages and ensure that you are compensated fairly. The duties of a personal injury lawyer include:
- Explaining the legal process to the client,
- Providing the client with professional advice,
- Thoroughly investigating the case,
- Negotiating a fair settlement,
- Acting as a representative in court.
Your injury attorney is responsible for taking on the burden of recovering financial compensation for you so that you can focus on healing. They specialize in car accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and more injuries.
Stage Three: Investigation
Once you have hired an attorney, the investigation process will begin. Your lawyer will interview you to learn everything you know about the accident, your injuries, and your medical treatment. The more information you provide, the better. Medical records, information about your insurance provider, and any photos or videos you may have taken at the time of the accident are all part of the investigation process. Your attorney may also enlist the help of other specialists to analyze specific elements of the case to ensure that nothing goes unnoticed. This process can be lengthy, mainly if your issue is more complex.
Stage Four: Demands and Negotiations
Once the investigation is completed, your attorney will compile what is termed your “demand package” or “settlement package.” The typical package includes medical bills and records, proof of lost wages, and other expenses relevant to your claim. If you are projected to need continued medical treatments for any period, particularly medical records and documentation reflecting that will also be included. This process can be lengthy as well, depending on how quickly your medical care providers respond to records requests.
This is also the stage of the personal injury lawsuit where negotiations begin. Most minor claims are settled during the demands and negotiations stage. Your attorney represents you in the negotiating process, which usually goes something like this:
- Your lawyer presents a letter with your demands.
- The insurance adjuster follows up with questions and arguments.
- Your lawyer responds.
- The insurance adjuster makes a counteroffer, which will be lower than your initial demand.
- Your lawyer responds with a slightly lower counter offer than your initial demand.
- The adjuster increases their offer.
- You and your lawyer decide whether to accept or continue negotiations.
The subject of negotiation, including questions and disputes, typically concerns policy coverage, liability, the extent of your injuries, and the nature of your medical treatment.
Sometimes this process is completed within a matter of a few phone calls. This is particularly true in cases where the defendant is afraid the case could damage their reputation. Other factors that affect this process include how well you were prepared, whether or not your initial demand was higher than you are willing to accept, and how quickly you want to settle.
Stage Five: File Lawsuit
Litigation begins when your lawyer formally files a personal injury lawsuit in court. If you have not reached a settlement agreement quickly, you will want to ensure that you file before the statute of limitations, which runs out of the strict time limit set by the state. Negotiations can continue throughout this process as well. Personal injury lawyers want to get you the settlement that you deserve as quickly as possible without the lengthy and expensive trial process. Many people suffer financially following an accident and need compensation as fast as possible.
Stage Six: Discovery
Once the lawsuit is filed, both parties should have collected a great deal of evidence during their investigations. The next phase involves finding out exactly what evidence the opposing side has collected. Each party requests the other party’s information about the case during the discovery phase. There are five main ways to request information in a personal injury case:
- Requests for admission. One party may present a material fact and ask the other party to admit or deny it.
- Physical or mental examination. Requesting a physical or psychological review of the other party is common when their condition is presented as an issue in the case.
- Interrogatories are specific questions submitted to the other party that must be answered in writing and under oath.
- Depositions. At a deposition, one party is deposed and required to answer questions presented by the opposing party’s attorney. The questions are responded to orally and under oath, and a court reporter records the entire interaction.
- Requests for production. One party asks another party to present documents about the case in their possession.
Your attorney will understand the admissibility of all evidence requested during the discovery stage and will avoid improper questioning that can be objected to by the opposing party.
Stage Seven: Trial
The attorneys will typically begin discussing settlement again as the discovery period ends. As previously stated, the goal is usually to settle before going to trial. Sometimes they can do so by simply talking amongst themselves. Sometimes they may go to mediation, which allows both parties and their attorneys to enlist the help of a third-party mediator to help resolve the case.
When all else fails, your case is scheduled for trial. The actual trial can take a day, a week, or even longer, and having a date for trial does not guarantee that the trial will actually occur on that date. Your trial is at the mercy of the judge’s schedule and can be pushed back multiple times with minimal warning. If you and your attorney feel it is necessary to continue on to court proceedings, you should prepare yourself for potential setbacks.
However, if you have not been offered fair compensation, a trial will typically work in your favor. Juries tend to sympathize with the plaintiff over the insurance company. Of course, most insurance companies know this and will do what it takes to avoid trial.
Why Should You Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer?
Perhaps you think you do not need an attorney, or maybe you feel you cannot afford one. This is common in the case of a personal injury lawsuit that involves a minor accident. However, there are some substantial advantages to hiring a personal injury lawyer. Here are just a few reasons that you should consider retaining legal representation:
You can expect to receive higher compensation. Insurance companies are much more likely to negotiate with an attorney, and victims with representation typically recover more.
You can avoid the “bad faith tactics” commonly practiced by insurance agents to save money for the company. These tactics include such lousy behavior as lying to you, denying your claim without reason, delaying payment intentionally, refusing to pay for necessary medical treatments, and more.
Personal Injury Attorney on LONG ISLAND
In most cases, personal injury lawyers work on a contingency. This means that accident victims do not need to pay them a retainer upfront. Their fees come out of your settlement, and since they often get you significantly more compensation, you will likely still come out with more than you would have without representation. Personal injury lawyers have exceptional negotiation skills, which is highly significant considering the extensive negotiation involved in individual injury cases.
You also have peace of mind with an attorney handling your case. The aftermath of an accident can be overwhelming, and if you sustained extensive injuries, you need to relax and heal. Having an attorney handle your case relieves you of the burden of investigation and discovery. Also, simply knowing that someone well-versed in the legal process provides you with more faith that you will be carefully guided to proper compensation.
Legal Expertise from New York Personal Injury Lawyers
They know how much your claim is worth. Economic damages, such as medical bills and lost wages, are easily calculated. However, the non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, are harder to quantify. Your attorney is familiar with similar case decisions and understands how to place a monetary value on such things.
Taking advantage of a personal injury attorney’s legal expertise and objective perspective at an established law firm is valuable to your case. Monetary compensation cannot restore your health, but it can ease the financial burden caused by no fault of your own.
Schedule a Free Case Evaluation Today with an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
Accident Helpline New York handles all types of personal injury cases, including car accidents, slip-and-falls, assault cases, wrongful death, and many more. They offer personal support in addition to legal counsel and advice. A personal injury lawsuit can be vital to your financial instability. Call (631) 424-6850 today for a free consultation.