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Imagine that you are driving to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon when another car suddenly strikes the left side of your vehicle. Unfortunately, the accident results in damages to your car, and the doctor at the hospital tells you that you have two broken ribs, whiplash, and a potential concussion.
You had been passing through an intersection when the accident occurred, and you’re sure that the light had been green at the time. Therefore, you suspect that the other driver must have run a red light. You later learn that the other driver had been on his way home from the bar and was under the influence of alcohol.
Meanwhile, the medical bills begin to pile up, and you realize that the accident has dealt a serious blow to your quality of life. In addition to the physical injuries and property damage you sustained, you find yourself lacking energy, struggling to sleep, and experiencing mood swings. You wonder what you need to do to recover your health and well-being.
If something similar has happened to you, it is likely that you have a personal injury claim on your hands. Regrettably, the path to receiving that compensation is complicated and tends to raise more questions than answers. To make the process a little easier, we have created a step-by-step guide to filing a successful personal injury claim.
Before diving into the steps, it is important to note that all personal injury cases are unique. Similar to the circumstances surrounding an accident or injury, the timeline of a personal injury case can vary a great deal depending on the severity of a victim’s injuries, the defendant’s level of cooperation, and the case’s complexity. Use these nine steps as a general guide to the personal injury claim process, but keep in mind that most claims settle before they reach the last stage on the list.
1. Obtain medical care. After someone has been involved in an accident or has sustained an injury, he or she should seek immediate medical treatment. This may involve a visit to the emergency room or your primary care clinic. Even though many conditions do not appear instantly after an accident has occurred, the worst symptoms may be relieved or prevented with an early examination. Additionally, early medical records serve as evidence with an insurance adjuster and jury, if a lawsuit becomes necessary later down the line.
2. Prepare documentation. Once proper medical treatment has been received, potential claimants should consider documenting all injuries, damages, and medical treatments related to the accident. In particular, it is helpful to collect evidence surrounding the accident’s cause, as well as how the accident or injury has affected a victim’s life. If there have been any hospital visits, lost work, or medical bills, these are crucial to note.
3. Consider a legal consultation. While many small personal injury claims can be settled without legal representation, personal injury lawyers tend to produce larger awards for claimants who would otherwise try to settle on their own. Personal injury lawyers often offer free initial consultations, so it is advantageous for claimants to discuss their case with a personal injury attorney prior to filing.
4. Investigate the accident and injuries. When a lawyer is hired, he or she will start by interviewing the claimant to learn more about the accident, injuries, and medical treatment. Attorneys will then request records from any medical treatment that may have been received. An attorney may also decide to work with accident reconstruction specialists or other experts to help build a client’s case.
5. Establish negligence. The majority of personal injury cases center on negligence, or a failure to use reasonable care in a situation where another person could be harmed. For example, a driver may be considered negligent if he was driving while under the influence. If not for being impaired by alcohol, the driver likely would not have neglected the rules of the road and hit the claimant. While proving negligence can be difficult for plaintiffs working on their own, an experienced personal injury attorney can help their clients successfully navigate this step.
6. Serve notice of claim. If someone decides to pursue a personal injury case, he or she needs to inform all involved parties of their intent to file suit. This is also known as “service of process.” Most of the time, the notice is delivered personally by a professional process server, court official, or law enforcement officer.
7. Begin settlement talks. A claimant’s lawyer may make a demand to the defendant’s attorney or insurance company before the case even goes to court. When this happens, the attorneys will try to negotiate a settlement that will be acceptable to both parties. The majority of personal injury claims settle at this point, though sometimes a settlement cannot be reached.
8. File a lawsuit. Litigation begins when the plaintiff and his or her lawyer file a personal injury lawsuit in court. This will initiate the discovery phase, where each party will complete an investigation into the other parties’ claims and defenses. It is crucial that both parties respond to all requests for information as truthfully and thoroughly as possible. Because the discovery phase involves a lot of documentation, it can last up to a year.
9. Attempt mediation. The lawyers will have another opportunity to settle the case after the discovery phase ends. Known as mediation, this step involves a meeting between the parties and a neutral, third party. The mediator will try to help the plaintiff and defendant resolve the case in a manner that satisfies both parties. However, if mediation proves unsuccessful, the case will advance to trial.
When someone sustains an injury or has been in an accident, they should be able to focus on their health and well-being. Personal injury claims help victims receive the compensation they deserve, but they also add stress to a person’s recovery. Fortunately, there are skilled personal injury attorneys who are available to guide accident victims through unforeseen circumstances. If you or a loved one has been injured or has experienced an accident, consider speaking with a local personal injury attorney today.