The Phases of a Personal Injury Case
A personal injury case can be resolved in a few months, or it might take several years, depending on the nature of one's injuries, treatment, and the negotiation process with the other side. This is an outline of the typical parts of a personal injury case. Each case is different, and there might be additional issues not mentioned here. And everything might not occur in the exact order listed below. Likewise, not every case goes all the way to a trial. Because many personal injury cases involve an automobile collision, we will use that scenario.
1. Collision or accident occurs.
2. Police arrive on scene, interview the witnesses, look at the evidence, and make an initial determination of fault. Police are NOT the final decider on who is at fault, but that officer's initial decision is important. The officer cites or arrests someone for a traffic violation, or something more serious, such as DUI.
3. Evidence is gathered, including witness statements, pictures, and videos. It is important to do this on scene if you are physically able to do so.
4. Attorney is hired. While this does not have to happen right away, it is best to have an attorney involved as soon as possible to guide you through the process, advocate for you, and protect your interests.
5. File a claim with the at-fault driver's insurance company. This can include a claim for property damage for damage to your vehicle. You do NOT have to give a recorded interview to the other driver's insurance company regarding the incident and your injuries. You likely have a contractual duty, however, to cooperate with your own insurance company. And to resolve your vehicle damage, it might be easier and quicker to use your own insurance company if you have collision coverage and have them seek subrogation from the other driver's insurance company. Depending on the amount of treatment and the policy limits of the other driver's insurance policy, you might also file a claim with your own insurance company's uninsured/underinsured motorist policy if you have that coverage.
6. Treatment for injuries begins. This might start as soon as an ambulance arrives on scene, or a few days after the collision. But it is important to start needed treatment as soon as possible after an accident so there is no significant gap in your treatment.
7. Addressing how medical or chiropractic treatment is billed. If you have Med-Pay or health insurance, it should be used. You can also attempt to treat on a lien, meaning whoever provides the treatment has a right to reimbursement of their fees from any settlement or judgment obtained in your case. This is a risk for medical providers, so the rates will be higher, and is not something that everyone is willing to do. They almost certainly will not treat on a lien if you do not have an attorney.
8. Demand for settlement. Once treatment is complete, your attorney will send a demand to the other driver's insurance company, including the medical bills and records, evidence of the accident and your injuries, evidence of lost wages/income, and how the incident impacted your life, i.e. pain and suffering. Negotiations will begin, and a settlement will be reached, or it will not.
9. Medical Bill Negotiations. Once your bills are finalized, your attorney can negotiate any bills owed and determine if treatment received through health insurance has a legal right to reimbursement for their costs. This depends on what type of health insurance you have, including if you received treatment through Medicare or Medicaid.
10. If a settlement is reached, you will sign a release form agreeing to release the other driver and his/her insurance company of all legal claims related to the accident. The at-fault driver's insurance company will send your attorney a check, which will be deposited in his/her escrow account, and the funds will be distributed accordingly.
11. Funds distribution. Your attorney will distribute any money to lien holders, such as chiropractors, once that amount has been resolved. Your attorney will retain their own fee from the settlement proceeds and certain costs of working the case, and distribute the rest of the proceeds to you as their client.
12. If a settlement is NOT reached, a lawsuit is filed. That is filed against the other driver and/or their company if they were driving for their employer. The lawsuit has to be filed in their county of residence.
13. Discovery Process. This involves answering interrogatories, providing requested documents, and depositions. A deposition involves answering questions under oath from the other side's attorney about the incident, your treatment, and any other health conditions you might have had at the time of the incident.
14. Litigation. This can involve pre-trial motions hearing, and ultimately a jury trial if a settlement is not reached. If a jury reaches a verdict, the insurance company might pay the amount determined by the jury, or they might file an appeal, depending on the amount and any legal rulings made during the trial. An appeal might also be filed by you and your lawyer as well.
A settlement can be reached at any point during discovery or litigation, even during the actual trial itself, or during the appeal process.
If you have been injured in an accident due to the negligence of someone else, feel free to call Kyle Jarzmik at 678-967-0197.