Personal injury claims are not easy. If you’ve been badly hurt, the last thing on your mind is the complexity of tort law and the nuances of a personal injury lawsuit. You may just wish to heal, or you may be angry, and want justice. Or perhaps you see no other way to finance your healthcare after a serious incident.
In any case, personal injury claims tend to be fought with emotion rather than a cool head; yet these cases can be infinitely fragile, and a cool head is needed most of all. Understanding the basic process for a personal injury claim can help you reorient yourself, understand your priorities, and have the best shot at compensation.
Seek Medical Attention
When it comes to personal injury claims, you need to work fast – but not that fast. Your priority should be to seek medical attention for your injuries, both acute and chronic. This means if you got hurt, and the pain hasn’t quite gone away days later, you should still prioritize getting treatment and figuring out the cause of your discomfort before speaking to a legal professional, to establish what kind of damage the incident caused.
It’s not just about your health. While injuries are generally best treated as soon as they occur, getting immediate medical attention is also important to help establish the gravity of the incident and the injury at hand. If you wait too long to get help after getting into an accident or any other similar situation, you may forfeit your chance to claim compensation from the other party, or from your insurance.
Insurance adjusters will usually investigate every detail of the event, and any sign that your injuries aren’t that severe (such as going to the hospital days later) may be used to minimize your claim.
Talk To a Lawyer
Once your injuries are mostly taken care of, get in touch with a personal injury lawyer. Tort law is heavily represented in the legal field, so you will likely have no problem finding willing legal professionals – sorting through them, however, may prove more difficult. Experience and reputation are always important, and personal recommendations from close friends give you an even more in-depth look at how your prospective legal representative might operate.
During consultations, most lawyers will ask numerous questions, mostly to gauge the value of a case. It is important to be fully recovered before officially making a claim of this source – this will contribute to the value of the case, as your total medical expenses must be factored into the equation, and not just the medical expenses of the first few days. This often includes ongoing medication and chronic pains that might have developed in the aftermath.
In addition to discussing the value of the case, your potential lawyer will also need to discuss the viability of the case with you. What evidence is there to prove that the other party was at fault?
Go In-Depth About the Case
Present everything you can to your lawyer. Find all applicable evidence. Gather every medical bill and receipt. Establish your treatment timeline. Establish the events of that day. Find witnesses who can testify for you.
Listen To Your Attorney
Once your attorney has reviewed all the medical evidence, determined the value of the case, and spoken with applicable witnesses, it is time to discuss the viability of the case and whether or not you should continue. Your chosen representative’s legal advice is pertinent here.
At this point in the case, your lawyer will have advised you to pursue the case and go after the other party. That means making demands and negotiating with the other party. This is the part of the case where many people settle.
Settlements are the fastest way to get compensated for your personal injury claim, but you may be leaving money on the table. That being said, taking things to trial can be expensive – so you need to figure that into the equation before making your decision.
Filing a Lawsuit
If the attempt at a settlement failed, it’s off to trial. This begins in court, where your lawyer may file a personal injury lawsuit. While timelines can drastically differ here, most personal injury claims make it to the trial phase within about one or two years.
The discovery phase is for accumulating evidence and information, particularly what the other party knows or has access to. Document requests and questions are sent back and forth, other parties and witnesses are questioned and deposed, and details are carefully investigated. The more complex the claim and case, the longer this process takes.
This is the second opportunity for a settlement. At this stage in the process, both parties are privy to most of the information the other party has. The cards have largely been shown. During this stage, both legal representatives may speak to each other alone, or may be present while their respective clients discuss and negotiate the situation, alongside a professional and neutral third party. If mediation fails, it’s off to court.
The last and final stage for any personal injury claim is the courtroom when it all goes to trial. This is an entire topic of discussion in and of itself, but we can summarize the process of tackling a personal injury lawsuit in court:
- Jury selection – In a personal injury case, verdicts are decided by a jury of peers. Lawyers and the case judge select the respective jurors of the case, asking questions to determine eligibility and impartiality. Jurors should be objective when reviewing the evidence of the case.
- Opening statements – This portion of the trial gives the plaintiff and the defendant’s representatives the opportunity to present the case to the jury. The plaintiff goes first.
- Plaintiff’s evidence – The plaintiff presents their evidence first, including specific pieces of evidence or witness statements. Witnesses may be cross-examined.
- Defendant’s evidence – The defendant’s evidence is presented next.
- Closing arguments – Each party can make their own closing remarks. This portion of the trial gives each attorney the chance to convince the jury of their viewpoint.
- Jury deliberation – The jury deliberates on the evidence provided by both parties, which can take several hours.
- Verdict – Once a verdict is reached, it is first presented to the judge, who will deliver the news to the courtroom. From there, the trial ends – and it’s time to collect.
At the end of the day, most of the work in a personal injury claim case is done long before it ever goes to trial, if it does go to trial. Ideally, you never have to see the inside of a courtroom and settle the case on the best possible terms for you.
Some of that depends on the circumstances of the case, and much of it depends on your level of preparation and planning. Be sure to contact an attorney as soon you can to discuss the details of your case, deliberate the value of the claim, and determine whether it is something you should pursue to begin with.