Must Know 7 Step Process of a Personal Injury Claim
Step 1: Treatment
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident or other event, the first step in the process should be to seek and receive medical treatment for your injuries. This is primarily important for your health and to ensure the prompt evaluation and, if necessary, treatment for your injuries. In the event of a whiplash injury, the sooner you begin treatment, the more likely you are to experience a full recovery. From a claim standpoint, the insurance company will also use any delay in treatment as an excuse to deny or contest a claim and will argue to the jury that the delay is evidence your injuries were minimal or non-existent.
Claim Tip: The Francis Firm recommends you do not give a recorded statement or discuss the facts of your injuries and claim with an insurance company, defendant or corporation until after you have consulted with an attorney.
Step 2: Hire an Attorney
After undergoing a medical examination and beginning treatment, the next step is to hire an experienced and qualified personal injury attorney to provide representation for your claim. As soon as you have hired a lawyer and signed a representation agreement, your attorney can now begin the process of handling the details of your case so that you can concentrate on your recovery. In many cases, important evidence or information can be lost if the attorney does not have the opportunity to promptly investigate your claims, so it is important to retain an attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights.
Step 3: Investigation and Treatment
After you hire your attorney, the law firm can begin the process of collecting evidence, investigating your claims and accumulating necessary medical records and bills. Meanwhile, during this time period, you can continue receiving the medical treatment necessary to address your injuries from the accident or event. The length of this process is primarily dependent upon the duration of treatment. It is far more important, however, that you receive all necessary care before proceeding to the next stage of your case. Any lingering injuries or treatment not reflected by your medical records and available for submission with your claim will not be considered by an insurance company or a jury. Therefore, these unaddressed injuries and costs become your responsibility, rather than the responsibility of the insurance company or the at fault party.
Step 4: The Demand
After your treatment has completed and your attorney has accumulated all medical, employment and investigation records needed to support your claim, in most situations a settlement package and demand will be submitted to the insurance company or defendant. Thereafter, a time period for negotiations often follows. In certain types of cases, it may not be advisable to discuss settlement without filing suit and obtaining at least preliminary discovery materials and information from the defendant.
Step 5: The Lawsuit
Either in cases where the insurance company or defendant’s settlement offer is insufficient to satisfactorily resolve the claim or when there is a strategic reason to proceed to litigation prior to discussing settlement, a lawsuit can be filed for your claim. The filing of a lawsuit does not mean your case will proceed to trial, but it changes important issues in your case. For starters, the insurance company or defendant must hire an attorney to answer the lawsuit. In some cases, that lawyer might help the defendant re-evaluate a case that was not valued properly prior to suit. Additionally, insurance companies often transfer your case to a more experienced adjuster, again giving you a fresh set of eyes to review the initial evaluation. Finally, the filing of suit enables your attorney to request documentation and information regarding the accident and the defendant which may positively impact the value of your claim.
During the litigation process, both parties typically send written discovery requesting documentation and information. Your attorney will need your assistance to answer and respond to these discovery requests. Thereafter, the lawyers will likely schedule the depositions of the parties. A deposition involves an opposing attorney having the opportunity to ask a witness questions under oath, with all testimony recorded by a court reporter. These depositions typically take place in the conference room at your attorney’s office and with your attorney present and by your side. An experienced attorney will spend time preparing you in advance for your deposition. Additionally, other depositions may be taken of witnesses, police officers, medical providers or anyone else the lawyers believe might have testimony that needs to be clarified in advance of trial.
Step 6: Mediation
Usually after most of the discovery has been concluded, but sometimes sooner, the parties will mediate all disputes that cannot be settled by informal discussions and negotiations. In most courts, mediations are court ordered. A mediation is an informal settlement conference moderated by a third party, whose role is to help push each side towards a compromised settlement. If the parties agree to settlement during this process, a settlement agreement is drafted at the mediation and signed by all parties. The Court is then notified the case has settled and the parties begin the remaining steps necessary to conclude and dismiss the case.
Step 7: Trial
In the event all settlement efforts fail, a case will ultimately be called to trial. The duration of a trial typically depends upon its complexity and the number of witnesses that might be called. Most trials resulting from motor vehicle accidents take two to three days for completion. You will need to be present during the entirety of trial and offer testimony.
Side Note: Often times a case may need to be set for trial multiple times before being “called to trial” by the court. Every court typically has many cases set on its trial docket and will call only one case to trial per week. As such, the younger cases are often reset for trial at a later date and sometimes on multiple occasions.