What to Expect If You File a Personal Injury Claim
The uncertainty of knowing what to expect can sometimes prevent people from filing personal injury claims when they have a valid reason to seek damages.
Along with not filing a claim at all, another common mistake people make is thinking they can handle a personal injury claim on their own.
Not hiring a lawyer will be a big advantage to the insurance company working against you and a disadvantage to you.
You may be more likely to file an accident claim and pursue damages if you understand more about what you can anticipate. You can expect the following steps to happen, specifically if you work with an attorney. These steps may not be the same if you try to represent yourself. Representing yourself can mean you don't recover damages, and it can extend the timeline of the process.
Signing a Legal Agreement
If you are going to work with a personal injury attorney, one of the first steps you'll take once you decide on someone is that you'll sign a legal retainer.
A legal retainer indicates that you are going to work with an attorney who will handle negotiations and will serve on your behalf.
Read your retainer agreement carefully. It will outline the attorney's fees, and it will let you know how they're to be paid.
Most accident attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, meaning they're paid a portion of what you recover.
The retainer agreement will include anticipated filing fees also.
Reading this is critical, so you're not surprised by anything.
Once you sign a retainer with your attorney, all communication with the insurance company needs to go through them.
Your attorney should go over this, but an insurance company is always going to work to pay the least amount possible for losses and injuries. That's one of the big reasons working with an experienced attorney is so important.
Evidence Collection and Discovery
Your attorney will work to gather evidence in your case during the discovery phase.
There are many different types of evidence that may be collected and used, including accident and medical reports, cell phone logs, and if you're in an accident with a truck, things like driver logs and driver training records.
Your legal team will go over the evidence carefully to determine fault and other specific elements of the case.
If it's a truck that you're in an accident with, your attorney will also review information to determine if there's anyone aside from the driver who should be held responsible. For example, if a truck wasn't properly maintained, then there may be other parties who share in the fault for the accident.
Your medical records will be an important part of this step in the process. Your medical records will serve as the basis for the amount of demand that will be issued on your behalf.
The extent of your injuries will directly impact the amount of compensation you may be entitled to.
If you have a traumatic brain injury, for example, your damages will be significantly more than if you have a broken arm.
Issuing Letters of Demand
Your attorney will go over all of the evidence available and make a determination of fault for your accident from their opinion. Then, as was mentioned, based on the extent of your injuries, they'll calculate what they think is a fair settlement amount that you would be entitled to.
Your attorney will consider multiple factors, including not just your medical expenses because of your injuries but also things like lost wages.
Your attorney should go over the demand with you before submitting it.
They'll let you know how they reached the particular dollar amount and why they're asking for what they are.
The majority of personal injury cases will include economic and non-economic losses.
After a demand letter is issued, your attorney will then get a response. You will usually receive a settlement offer, or at least your attorney will. If there are multiple parties involved, this process may take longer.
Your attorney will let you know what the settlement offer is. They'll tell you if they think this is the best offer you're likely to receive, and they'll go over your options in terms of rejecting or accepting it.
A good attorney will know right away if an offer is fair, and they'll relay this information accordingly.
However, if you do accept an early settlement, then you may run into an issue with future losses. For example, if there are future wage losses or medical bills that come up later, that won't be part of your claim.
Once you sign a final settlement document, you are prohibited from seeking any additional compensation.
Before you sign anything, there will likely be a period of back-and-forth between your attorney and the insurance company.
This is a negotiation.
Going to Trial
If negotiations don't work out, which is pretty uncommon in personal injury cases, your attorney will file a lawsuit. Your attorney may have already done this by this point as well.
The responsible parties in your accident are defendants.
The reason your lawyer will potentially file a lawsuit even before negotiating with the insurance company is to make sure that your statute of limitations doesn't run out.
Your attorney will have already discussed a minimum settlement with you that you would be willing to accept from the insurance company. If there's no budging from the insurance company to get close to this, then you would go to court.
Your attorney will make sure you get on a court calendar.
This process can take some time. The other side's legal team will also likely need time to prepare.
If you do go to court, you'll likely get more than the insurance company offered, but there's never a guarantee.
A good, experienced attorney will explain each of the steps with you throughout the process and make sure you understand everything that's going on. That's what they're there for.