Although each personal injury case is unique, most go through similar stages, from the injury to the final settlement. Plaintiffs can get more comfortable with the process when they familiarize themselves with the basic stages of a personal injury lawsuit.
Once you’ve decided to commence a personal injury lawsuit to pursue compensation for your damages, you’ll need to set up a meeting with an attorney. The lawyer will have a number of questions for you, including:
- The circumstances surrounding the accident
- The extent of your injuries
- Others involved in the accident, including any potential witnesses
- Specifics about your insurance coverage
- The medical treatment you’ve received and contact information for all your treating physicians
- Your current prognosis, including whether you have any lingering physical problems
- Whether or not you’ve been able to work since the accident
- The amount of lost wages, if any
You will also likely be asked for a copy of the accident report, if you have one, and whether or not you’ve talked to any insurance adjusters or given any recorded or written statements. If you decide to retain the attorney, you’ll be asked to sign a retainer agreement and the fee arrangement will be explained to you.
After you receive an initial medical evaluation after your accident, you will need to follow your primary physician’s advice regarding your treatment plan by keeping your appointments, taking all prescribed medications, following your doctor’s recommendations regarding going back to work, resuming normal activities, and referrals to specialists, including:
- Physical therapists
- Pain management professionals
Post-accident treatment can take weeks, months, or even years, depending upon the severity of your injuries. Eventually, your condition will stabilize and your doctor will place you at maximum medical improvement, or MMI, meaning that he expects no more significant improvement, not necessarily that you have returned to pre-accident condition. Sometimes doctors will also include an ongoing treatment plan, if necessary, and any expected treatment that may be required at a later date.
Settlement Demand and Negotiations
When your injury-related medical treatment is complete and you have been discharged from medical care, your attorney will prepare a settlement demand that will explain your damages, why the other party is at fault, and demand a certain figure or range that will be acceptable to settle the claim.
After the insurance adjuster assigned to your case receives the settlement demand, it usually takes them a minimum of a month or two to review it, complete any necessary investigations, and obtain authority to negotiate with your attorney. The negotiation phase can take a few days, several months, or longer. If the insurance company does not make an acceptable offer because they do not value the claim as highly as you and your attorney do, you have two options – accept their offer, or take your case to trial.
The vast majority of personal injury lawsuits settle before they reach a civil court trial. Typically, they resolve earlier in the litigation process through a negotiated settlement between the parties, and sometimes a settlement is reached before the lawsuit is even filed.
When the case settles, the plaintiff agrees to give up the right to pursue any further legal action in connection with the accident or injury by signing a document called a release of all claims. After the release is signed, the defendant or his insurance company will pay an agreed-upon sum of money to the plaintiff, the case will conclude, enabling the parties to be able to move forward.
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