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Going through any legal process can be daunting, especially for those who are not familiar with a courtroom beyond a few episodes of Law and Order. This can be especially true for injury claims, as the plaintiff may be going through a trial while also managing signs and symptoms of their initial injury.
Getting a better understanding of the injury claims process can help you prepare for what comes next on your journey to recovery both physically and financially.
You may think that your injuries are not severe enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room, but you should still seek medical attention. Some injuries do not appear severe but can worsen the longer they go without treatment, such as brain injuries. These injuries may not show signs and symptoms until it is already too late for a full or partial recovery.
Beyond simply caring for your health, going to the doctor or emergency room immediately also helps you with your personal injury case. If you postpone seeking medical help, an insurance adjuster or jury may think that your injuries were not severe enough for medical treatment, and therefore not severe enough for the compensation you may rightfully be owed.
While some people shy away from emergency rooms due to fears about medical bills, you need to put your physical health first. Especially in cases where the injury is severe, your medical bills may be repaid to you by those who caused you to suffer the injury in addition to other forms of compensation.
Once you have started receiving medical attention and your condition is stable, you should consult a personal injury lawyer. Even if you think your case is small and easily winnable, it is always smart to at least consult with an experienced legal professional, even if you don’t hire them for your claim. Ultimately, you want to make an informed decision, so talking with an expert and gathering information from a seasoned personal injury attorney can provide you with the information you need to make the right decision for your situation.
If your case involves significant injuries like broken bones, multiple missed days from work, or medical bills over $1,000, then you should speak with seasoned a personal injury attorney. Because there is more at stake, the other side will be more willing to fight your claim. You need someone in your corner that knows the tricks the defense will try to pull to avoid paying you your rightfully owed compensation.
Once you have hired a dedicated injury attorney, they will begin reviewing the facts of your case. They typically start with interviewing you about the accident, your injuries, and your medical treatment. Please answer their questions honestly and completely, as you don’t want to “surprise” your lawyer with information later. They will be able to build a stronger case with the more information you can give them.
After interviewing you, your proactive injury lawyer will gather any medical records or bills related to the treatment of your injury. Obtaining these files requires a lot of paperwork and patience. This part of the process alone can take several months in some cases but is also relatively hands-off from the client’s perspective. This allows you time to heal from your injuries and rest knowing that your attorney has your case handled.
Once your lawyer has collected all available and applicable information, they will decide whether or not they think you have a viable case. If they feel you could reasonably get a settlement, then your attorney will make a demand to the offending party to get the compensation you deserve.
A good lawyer will not begin negotiations until you have reached a point of maximum medical improvement or MMI. At this point, you have received all medical treatment needed and have recovered as much as possible. Well-practiced legal professionals will typically wait until this point to make a demand because if they negotiate too early, it is uncertain if your condition will worsen.
If the other side’s attorney or insurance company agrees to your lawyer’s demands, then this is where your process ends. However, there will likely be negotiations involved during this step. If the settlement stalls and both sides cannot agree, then the case moves to litigation.
Litigation is a fancy term for when your lawyer files a lawsuit in court. This starts the countdown to your trial date as you go through pretrial procedures. These procedures vary state-to-state but typically take 1-2 years to complete before you will walk into the courtroom for your trial.
One thing to keep in mind is that your state may have a statute of limitations for certain case types. A statute of limitations is a time limit between the time of the accident and the last day you can file any potential lawsuit. This policy was created to motivate injured parties to file quickly and early so that law enforcement and legal teams have access to the information about the case while it is still fresh, making court proceedings easier for everyone involved.
Once your legal counsel has filed your personal injury lawsuit, you are not going to be simply sitting around waiting for your time in court. This is when your lawyer will take your evidence and begin the discovery phase.
The discovery phase of a personal injury case is when all the evidence that had previously been gathered is gathered into your lawyer’s case. Attorneys from both sides will investigate the other’s legal claims and defenses. This may include sending interrogatories to each other, which is basically a fancy term for a list of questions. They will also request documents from each other and seek out applicable external sources such as experts in certain topics. Finally, both sides will take depositions from all witnesses and relevant parties starting with the plaintiff and defendant.
This phase can last between six months and one year depending on the complexity of the case and the deadlines set by the court. Once all evidence has been “discovered”, both sides’ legal teams will meet together once again for a chance to come to a settlement agreement.
Negotiation is much like when your attorney made their initial demand, except now both sides have all of the facts and have an equal understanding of the case. This is when lawyers will start taking settlement offers in lieu of a court trial, as it can lead to both parties walking away pleased without the need for external intervention.
Mediation is a bit more specific, as it involves a third-party mediator to help resolve the case. This can also be an effective way to avoid the courtroom as a mediator can be instrumental in getting both sides to agree. If both parties are still unable to agree on a settlement, then the case moves to trial.
A trial typically lasts between a day and a week, but complex cases may take longer. The length depends on if the court holds half- or full-day trials, which both come with their respective pros and cons. For example, half-day trials double the length of the trial, but it also allows the lawyers and judges to handle other tasks in the afternoon.
It is important to show up to trial on time and well dressed. While in the courtroom, it is best to only speak when your lawyer tells you to, such as when you are on the stand. Your attorney will likely go over what you plan to say while you are testifying before the court, and it is important to follow their outlines.
Another thing to note is that trials are commonly delayed for innocuous reasons that are unrelated to your case. Just because your lawsuit is scheduled for trial does not mean that your case will take place on that date. Your court date may be postponed for a wide variety of reasons, such as a conflict with the judge’s schedule. Being rescheduled does not mean that anything unfavorable is happening with your court case, and could even be helpful as it gives both you and your lawyer more time to review the facts of the case and prepare for the courtroom.
Those are the eight steps you will take during the personal injury process. Not all steps apply to all cases, as your claim may be settled before there is even talk of going to court. However, it is smart to understand where your personal injury case may lead so that you are fully prepared to handle the legal proceedings and your healing process. If you were injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, reach out to one of the skilled personal injury attorneys at our firm today to get started on your legal claim.
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