Step by Step through a Sample Personal Injury Case
Following is a description of how a "typical" personal injury case might progress. Please note that no two cases are identical, and the road to resolving them may take many unexpected turns. In this example, the word "you" is used generically to describe an injured party and their attempt to achieve just compensation.
You are injured, suffering a loss because of someone else's negligence.
You immediately notify the negligent party, to let them know you've been injured
and to ask them to take responsibility for any losses you incur as a result.
the negligent party contacts their insurance company to find out if their policy covers
this type of incident and, if it does, what the policy's dollar limits are.
The negligent party, their insurance company, or an insurance adjuster contacts you to learn the extent of your losses. If they believe your claim is reasonable for your type of injury, they may offer you a cash settlement.
You may accept their offer. If you do, congratulations; you've solved your problem on your own. (But a word of caution.)
If their offer is unsatisfactory, you can make a counter-offer and try to negotiate a settlement without using an attorney.
They may not cooperate at all, refusing to communicate with you or to accept responsibility for your losses. If that's the case, and if you feel you are entitled to compensation from them, it may be time to see an attorney.
An attorney will look at your case and probably tell you one of three things:
1. Your claim has merit, and he will represent you.
2. Your claim has merit, but you should be able to resolve it without an attorney (he may give you some pointers).
3. Your claim lacks merit, because there were no substantial damages or the other party was not responsible for your losses.
If you and your attorney decide he should represent you, he should prepare a fee agreement and discuss your responsibilities as a plaintiff, one of which is to have no more direct contact with the other side.
He will probably issue a demand letter to the negligent party and their insurance company after your medical condition is stable and all anticipated losses have been identified. You should review and approve the contents of the demand letter. The amount demanded should be reasonable, or your claim will not be taken seriously.
Your demand will be accepted, rejected or, most likely, countered. About a month after sending the demand letter, your attorney should get a letter from the negligent party's insurance company. It will probably contain a counter-offer that you can accept, reject or counter back. Your negotiations will produce one of two results: a settlement or an impasse.
If you cannot reach a settlement, you can file a lawsuit. However, you should know that lawsuits are time-consuming, emotionally draining, and offer no quick results. You may be disappointed in the outcome.
If you can agree, you receive your settlement, pay your attorney, and get on with your life.
Before you go to trial, there may be a settlement conference or private mediation in which the judge or another professional takes an active role in the negotiations in an effort to achieve a settlement.
If no settlement can be reached, you go to trial. Your attorney will introduce evidence supporting your claim. The defense will introduce evidence disputing your claim. Your testimony will be heard and challenged, and a jury will try to reach a verdict.
You may reach a settlement.
The jury may side with the other party, and you will receive nothing.
The jury may decide in your favor and award you as much or little as they see fit.
The jury's decision may not be the last word. If the judge disagrees with the jury, he can overrule them and find for the other party; he also has the power to reduce the amount awarded to you. Also, the other side may appeal or use the threat of appeal to influence you to accept a settlement that is smaller than the amount the jury awarded you. Your attorney should also assist you in identifying and resolving any outstanding medical liens arising from your injuries.
Caution: If you accept their offer, you should not sign any medical release forms until an attorney has reviewed them. Some injuries aren't detected immediately, and you don't want to give up your future rights. If their offer requires you to sign a release, you may not want to accept it. Return to Step 5a.
Information about your claim may include:
medical records, to determine the extent of your injuries
medical and other bills, to establish your financial loss
employment information, to substantiate claims for lost earnings
police reports, to establish responsibility for your loss
photographs, to illustrate the circumstances and results of the incident
depositions (sworn testimony given by you and other witnesses)
witness statements and