Think you have a personal injury claim on your hands? You are probably wondering what goes on in a standard case, how long it takes, and what to do. This blog will walk you through the typical sequence of events in a personal injury claim and lawsuit.
First things first, if you are injured in an accident you should seek medical attention immediately. See a doctor or go to a hospital, not only could this save your life, but if you wait too long to seek treatment after an accident the insurance adjuster and the jury could assume you weren’t “all that hurt.”
So, where do you draw the line between a small claim and a larger claim where you will need a lawyer? If you are off work for more than a few days, if you have broken bones, or if your medical bills total over a couple of thousand dollars, you should hire. This should occur soon after injury, however allow yourself time to talk to more than one lawyer, and meet them in person if possible. After you choose a lawyer, he/she will begin by reviewing your Claims and Medical Records and thoroughly interviewing you about how the accident occurred, your background, and your medical condition and treatment. Your lawyer wants (and needs) to know everything, so answer all questions as completely and accurately as possible. The lawyer will request all of your medical records and bills relating to the injury and for any treatment that you have had relating to the condition at issue in the case. This can take months. After the medical records come, the lawyer will review them to see if, in their opinion, there is a possible case opportunity. Often times lawyers can determine that there is no case and deliver the bad news to the client very early on.
If your lawyer accepts your case, the negotiations among parties begin. Many smaller personal injury claims are settled before a lawsuit is ever filed. If the lawyer thinks that the case can be settled, they will make a demand to the other involved parties attorney or their insurance company. If this is not the case, your lawyer will file the lawsuit. In general, if your claim involves a permanent injury or impairment, a good lawyer will not settle before filing suit.
Once the lawsuit is filed the clock begins running on when the case could get to trial. Each state’s pretrial procedures are varied, but it will typically take 1 to 2 years for a personal injury case to go to trial. Despite the lapse of time between events, the lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.
Discovery process is the procedure in which each party investigates the legal defenses and claims at hand. They send “interrogatories” (questions) and document requests to one another, and conduct depositions of all of the applicable eyewitnesses in the case. This process can last 6 months to a year, depending on the court deadlines and the particulars of the case.
Mediation is a process in which both clients and lawyers go in front of a mediator to attempt to settle the case. Before this occurs, the lawyers will discuss the potential of a settlement near the end of the Discovery period, and in certain situations, can settle a case by talking amongst themselves. In other cases, however, they will go to mediation.
Mediation is often times successful, but, if it isn’t, the case is then scheduled for a trial. A personal injury trial can last a day, a week, or longer. In many states, trials are held for half a day at a time instead of a full day. This doubles the length of the trial, but it also gives lawyers and judges the opportunity to review/work on the case in the meantime. One important thing to know is that just because a lawsuit is scheduled for trial does not mean that the trial will take place on that date. Trials can get pushed back because of the judge’s schedule. If your trial gets cancelled, you should not assume that the attorneys are colluding against you or that this has a negative effect on your case. Trials are often delayed and for the most harmless of reasons.
Please do not attempt to determine if you have a compensable case. You must consult a relevant liability attorney who has the expertise and extensive knowledge necessary to determine who ultimately caused the harm and injuries you or a loved one suffered. Contact us for a free case evaluation here.