1. Seek Medical Treatment
After an accident, immediately ask the other party if anyone is injured and seek medical attention if their injuries are severe. If you are injured, it is essential for your health and for the records presented to the court that you seek medical treatment immediately after your injury. Putting off receiving medical care may minimize or even invalidate the seriousness of your injury in the eyes of the insurance adjuster and the jury. Suppose you are receiving ongoing medical attention relating to the incident. In that case, it is important to keep in mind that your attorney will likely delay settling or filing a lawsuit until you have reached a point of maximum medical improvement (MMI) to ensure that your case is not undervalued.
2. Exchange Information & Document the Scene
Before leaving the scene of the accident, exchange contact information with the other party (e.g., name, address, license plate number, insurance information), and contact your insurance company and the police. Document the scene of the accident, take pictures of any damaged property and injuries. If any injuries resulted from a driving accident and one of the drivers was uninsured, you must report the accident to the Driver License Bureau.
3. Get a Lawyer
You should consult with a lawyer as soon as possible after the injury, especially where you suffered a significant injury or loss. The earlier you talk to a lawyer, the better your case will likely be. The lawyer will ask you about the general details of your situation, will look further into the specifics (e.g., initial interview, investigation), and might even be able to offer you some general advice in the meantime. After gathering all of the necessary information, the lawyer will decide whether you have a feasible personal injury case. If the attorney determines that they are willing to take on your case, they will guide you through the process and make sure you get the best possible return. At Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry we even offer a free consultation to help you find out what legal options are available to you.
4. Complete an Initial Interview
The first thing the lawyer will do is thoroughly interview you about what happened. This questioning process may seem very tedious and can sometimes even be traumatic, but it is vital that you answer all of these questions as detailed as you can. The more your attorney knows about the circumstances, the more capable they will be to represent you – including details that are not favorable to you. Your attorney needs to know everything, so they are not surprised and forced to “think fast” if an opposing attorney decides to bring up a bad fact your attorney does not know.
5. Facilitate Investigation
The next thing the lawyer will do is try to gather all of the documents and other information relevant to your case. This investigation usually takes a while to process because your attorney must request many of the documents from outside entities. You should provide your attorney with any relevant documents in your possession, but make sure also to keep a copy for your own records. Some relevant documents your attorney will be likely be looking for are:
a. Police Reports
c. Medical Records
d. Medical Bills
e. Employment History / Earnings
f. Witness Testimony
g. Expert Reports
i. Accident Reconstruction Experts
ii. Medical Experts
6. Determine Suitable Action: Informal Settlement or Formal Lawsuit
Ultimately it is up to you, the plaintiff, whether to settle outside of court or move forward with a formal lawsuit against the defendant. However, many lawyers will advise you to settle if that option is available. The fees and costs associated with bringing a formal lawsuit add up quickly, especially when your opponent is a big insurance company with endless resources (i.e., salaried in-house attorneys at their disposal).
Your case’s facts primarily determine whether to move forward with an informal settlement or a formal lawsuit. An informal settlement may be appropriate for a smaller personal injury claim, but if your case involves permanent injury or impairment, a formal lawsuit is likely warranted. However, this decision is rarely “one or the other.” Personal injury claims frequently begin with settlement negotiations and only end in a lawsuit if the parties cannot reach an agreement.
7. Informal Settlements: Demands
The lawyer will create a “demand package” comprising all of the relevant documents acquired through the investigation process (e.g., medical records, medical bills, photographs, police reports). It will also contain a letter demanding the opponent pays you a certain amount, or else (or else they will file a formal lawsuit). The first demand sent to the opponent is rarely the final agreement. Both sides start with a number considerably favorable to their party and eventually – hopefully – meet in the middle. There is a lot of back and forth involved, but the opponent can generally respond by either
a. rejecting the demand;
b. making a counteroffer; or
c. accepting the offer.
8. Formal Lawsuit: Statute of Limitations, Discovery, Mediation, Trial
Statute of Limitations. First and foremost, keep in mind the applicable statute of limitations for your claim. These essentially function as expiration dates – if your injury happened long ago and you have waited to bring it forward, it might be too late. If no statute of limitation bars your claim, your attorney will formally file your lawsuit. The clock will then begin running on when the case might get to trial (usually a couple of years).
Discovery. After the case is formally filed, the discovery process begins. Each party will investigate what the other side’s legal claims and defenses will likely be in trial. Each party will send the other party interrogatories (questions), complete document requests, and take all of the relevant witnesses’ depositions in the case.
Negotiation/Mediation. Generally, settlement negotiations will ensue after the discovery period ends, and each side now has an even better idea of their party’s strengths and weaknesses in the case. Sometimes each side can settle a case just by talking among themselves, but involving a mediator often resolves cases more efficiently. A mediator acts as a neutral middle-man to communicate each side’s offers. Their goal is to facilitate an agreement between the conflicting parties in the least combatant way possible.
Trial. If mediation does not work and the parties cannot reach an agreement, the case is scheduled for trial. You will need an experienced trial lawyer to be fully prepared to advocate for you in a court of law if it reaches this point. It is critical the lawyer you hire has what it takes to win over a judge and jury to ensure you get the best possible outcome available to you.
Appeal. If the case does not turn out in your favor, your attorney should consider trying the case again. By taking another look at the decision and the facts of your case, your attorney may determine there is something worth challenging. It is important to note that your attorney cannot retry your case purely from displeasure with the outcome; there must be evidence of something that legitimately went wrong during the trial. However, upon a second look at your case decision, the experienced attorneys at Rosenblum Schwartz & Fry may find something worth challenging that a previous attorney overlooked.
“Timeline for a Personal Injury Lawsuit.” Www.Nolo.Com, https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/timeline-personal-injury-lawsuit.html. Accessed 24 June 2019.“
What Is a Personal Injury Lawsuit?” Findlaw, https://injury.findlaw.com/accident-injury-law/personal-injury-law-the-basics.html. Accessed 24 June 2019.