While every personal injury claim is unique, there are some common steps that most (if not all) cases involve. Before you file a personal injury lawsuit, it’s important to understand the litigation process.
Meeting With a Personal Injury Lawyer
For many people, meeting with a lawyer is the first step in a personal injury claim. There are several advantages to working with a skilled personal injury lawyer. Once you hire a lawyer, the insurance company cannot contact you directly. Instead, your lawyer will handle your insurance claim, ensuring that:
- Your claim is properly filed,
- All the relevant information is included in your claim, and
- You receive full compensation for your injuries.
Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the insurance adjuster’s demands and phone calls, you will have peace of mind and time to focus on your recovery.
At your first meeting with a lawyer, you should expect a detailed interview. This confidential interview will focus on how you injured yourself, your medical history, and other personal information. If you have medical records, accident reports, or letters from the insurance company, bring them with you to your appointment. This information will help the lawyer understand your claim and formulate an initial plan of action.
The lawyer should also explain the law firm’s policies on fees, legal costs, and client communications. Don’t hesitate to ask questions —and never sign a fee agreement if you’re uncomfortable with the lawyer.
Filing a Personal Injury Claim or Lawsuit
If you have not already filed an insurance claim, your lawyer can assist with this initial filing. However, many people contact a lawyer once an insurance company claim was filed — and the adjuster either gives them the runaround or denies the claim. At that point, you may need to formally file a lawsuit.
A lawsuit is filed once you submit a written complaint and other forms to the court. The complaint sets out the key issues of your dispute and makes a demand for compensation. It’s important that you file this complaint within the statute of limitations. (Otherwise, the court will automatically dismiss your personal injury claim.) You also must provide the defendant with notice of your lawsuit.
Once properly notified, the defendant must respond to your personal injury claim by filing a written answer. An answer typically addresses each of your allegations and offers defenses. In more complicated litigation, the defendant may also file counterclaims, cross-claims, and third-party complaints. (If these issues arise, it is in your best interest to hire a personal injury lawyer immediately.)
Building your Case: Discovery
Next, your personal injury claim will enter a formal “discovery” process. During discovery, you and the defendant will exchange information about the case. This information may include medical records, documentation of your damages (such as lost wages, and medical bills,), and other accident-related information. Typically, the parties will participate in:
- Depositions: sworn testimony from you, the defendant, and other witnesses,
- Interrogatories: the exchange of written questions and responses,
- Requests to Produce: the exchange of documentary evidence (such as medical records, and
- Independent medical examinations: a medical examination performed by an expert witness.
Discovery is a detailed and intensive process and your claim may require multiple expert witnesses. Your lawyer will guide you through discovery and ensure that your personal injury claim is well-developed.
Negotiating a Settlement and Alternative Dispute Resolution
Most personal injury claims involve settlement negotiations. During negotiations, your lawyer and the insurance company will issue offers and counteroffers. Sometimes, you will participate in alternative dispute resolution or mediation — a process where a neutral, trained mediator helps with your negotiations. If you and the insurance company agree on a settlement, you will sign paperwork ending your dispute. If you cannot come to an agreement, your case will subsequently go to trial.
It is important to understand that negotiating a settlement is an art. If the insurance company offers to settle your claim, do not assume that this offer is in your best interest. A lawyer can help you fully understand the value of your personal injury claim and negotiate a fair settlement.
Taking a Personal Injury Claim to Trial
A trial is a formal process, involving a judge and sometimes a jury. You must follow strict rules of procedure and evidence at a trial. (The court will not consider information that is improperly presented.) Typically, a trial involves:
- Jury selection,
- Opening statements,
- The presentation of testimony and other evidence,
- Closing statements,
- Jury instruction, and
- Deliberation (when the judge or jury make a decision).
Again, this is a complicated process that requires extensive legal and technical knowledge. Before your personal injury claim goes to trial, seriously consider hiring an experienced lawyer.
Recovering Compensation After a Trial
Once a judge or jury awards compensation, you must collect it from the insurance company or defendant. Sometimes, this process is relatively simple, especially when the defendant is fully insured and financially stable. Other times, you must file a collections lawsuit against the defendant.
Appealing the Court’s Decision
If the court denies your claim, you have the right to appeal. Your lawyer can help you understand the strength of your appeal as well as guide you through the complicated appellate process.
Speak With a Vancouver Injury Lawyer About Your Personal Injury Claim
If you have a personal injury claim, you may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of litigation. The Law Offices of Loren Scott Etengoff specialize in personal injury cases. We are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation today.