A breakdown of all the things that may take place in a regular personal injury case that goes to civil court.
In case you have a personal injury case, you may be curious to know what exactly happens in a typical case, and how long it takes. In this article, we break down the events that take place in a personal injury claim and build a timeline.
If you get injured in an accident, getting medical attention should be your top priority. Getting medical treatment from a hospital or by visiting a doctor is the best thing that you can do for your health. On top of that, seeing a doctor might also help your case as it may allow the insurance adjuster and the jury to see that you were actually hurt because of the accident.
Getting a Lawyer
The next thing on your list should be to talk to a lawyer. This is applicable for anything more than a minor claim and you should get a lawyer as soon as possible. It is possible for you to settle a minor claim by yourself, but even then a lawyer may be of great use to your case. For anything more, a lawyer is absolutely essential if you have on your hand a personal injury claim in which you sustained significant injury and/or other losses.
How do you differentiate between a small claim that you can take care of yourself and a large claim for which you need a lawyer? Typically, if the injury keeps you out of work for more than two days, if you fracture your bones, or if your medical bills amount to more than a few thousand dollars, it is better to better to get a lawyer.
Talk to a few lawyers before you settle on one. The lawyer will start working on your case as soon as you sign a fee agreement.
Investigating the claim and going through medical records
The lawyer will properly interview you regarding the accident, your medical condition, treatment, and your background. As a rule of thumb, you should never gloss over any details. Your lawyer will want to know everything there is to know about the case. They do not want to be surprised in the courts. Ensure that you answer your lawyer’s questions as thoroughly as possible.
The lawyer will then require from you all the medical bills and records that are linked to your injury. He may also get medical records for any prior treatments you may have had that relate to your injury.
Once the medical records and bills are procured and the lawyer has had a chance to review them, he will tell you if there is a case. Based on the review, the lawyer can tell early on whether there is a case to be made or not.
Negotiating and making demands
The smaller personal injury claims can be settled without filing a lawsuit. In such cases, the lawyer will negotiate and make demands to the other lawyers or the other party’s insurance company if there is a chance that the case may be settled there and then.
If there is claim that involves permanent injury, the lawyer usually will not settle for less and a lawsuit will be filed.
Usually, a demand will not be made until the injured party has reached his or her maximum medical improvement. Maximum medical improvement is a point at which the plaintiff has finished his/her medical treatment and is as much recovered as he/she can be. The lawyer cannot know how much the case is worth until the plaintiff has reached maximum medical improvement.
If the plaintiff is not fully recovered, or isn’t at his or her maximum medical improvement, the jury may end up undervaluing the case. Therefore, it is in the plaintiff’s best interest that the lawyer doesn’t file a case until he/she has reached maximum medical improvement.
Sometimes, getting fully recovered may take months or even years. But if the plaintiff can afford it, the lawyer should wait before filing a lawsuit. However, if there is a dire need of money, the lawyer should go ahead and file the lawsuit.
Filing the Lawsuit
Once the lawsuit is filed, it is only a matter of time before the case goes to trial. Usually, a personal injury case will go to trial in one or two years’ time depending on the pretrial procedures followed by the state.
According to a law called ‘statute of limitations’, every state has strict time limits within which a lawsuit must be filed. The plaintiff and the lawyer must be aware of the time limit set in their state.
Next, the discovery process takes place. Under this procedure, each party goes through the claims and defenses made by their adversary. Each party sends interrogatories (a list of questions) and document requests to the other party, take witness testimonies and depositions, usually starting with the defendant and the plaintiff. Depending on the deadlines and the complexities of the case, the discovery process may take six months to a year to complete.
Mediating and Negotiating
Once the discovery process comes to an end, the lawyers begin negotiating the settlements. In some cases, the lawyers will talk among themselves in order to come to a settlement. However, in other cases, mediation is required. Under mediation, the clients as well as the lawyers try to settle the case in the presence of a mediator.
If even mediation doesn’t work, a trial will be scheduled. This may run for a single day, a few weeks, or sometimes even longer. This is because in many states trials run for half a day. Although this doubles the time period, it allows the lawyers and the judges to take care of other things during the day.
An important thing to know about trials is that they may not go according to a schedule. If the judge’s schedule clashes with the trial, the trial may get rescheduled. Trials get delayed all the time for the most benign reasons. On the off chance that your trial gets delayed or cancelled, you should not panic or blame the lawyers for conspiring against you. These things happen all the time. Instead, you should wait to know when the trial is next scheduled to take place and be patient.