The Personal Injury Claim Process
If you are injured in an accident and decide to file a claim, a rather arduous process is set into motion. This process can be complicated, long, and confusing; there is really nothing that can be done about that. However, understanding the basics of the procedure will help to alleviate some of the stress since understanding the unknowns can remove a lot of the worry.
This article will cover eight general ideas that almost always present themselves in the personal injury claim process. These concepts are: hiring an attorney, statute of limitations, sending a demand letter, filing a complaint, the discovery process, a settlement, and the trial.
Understanding these fundamentals of the personal injury claim process will shed light on exactly what you are getting into when you start a claim. Once you understand these concepts, you will know what to expect next and generally how things will go.
Hiring an Attorney
One of the first steps you should take after deciding to start a personal injury claim is hiring a personal injury lawyer. Injury victims who go this route generally receive larger settlements, less stress, and an edge over the insurance companies.
Hiring an attorney is a much simpler process in 2017 thanks to new technologies that allow us to know exactly whom we are hiring, their qualifications, and how their past clients feel about them—all in an instant. Start this search by looking for a personal injury attorney in your area who has expertise in your specific type of case or injury. Once you’ve done this: research, research, research.
When you have an idea who you want to go with, call and make an appointment for a case consultation. Most attorneys offer these in the form of a free 30-minute meeting with one of their attorneys. During the consultation, you and the attorney will discuss your accident, injuries, and possible options. After you’ve complete this step, things will start to get easier.
Statute of Limitations
All states place a statute of limitations on civil cases. This basically means that after a certain period of time, a case can no longer be brought in front of a court. Florida has different limitations depending on the type of personal injury case. For a common injury case, the limitation is four years. A claim against a government agency, like a city or county, is limited to three years. Any case involving a wrongful death is limited to two years.
This information serves a certain purpose, but it’s perhaps more helpful to understand that one should file an injury claim as soon as possible. This prevents evidence from being lost and ensures the insurance company will take the incident seriously.
What exactly is a claim?
The legal definition for a claim is “a demand for money, property, or the enforcement of a right provided by law.” When you are involved in an accident, you file a personal injury claim because you feel that you have a right to monetary compensation at someone else’s expense. This may be because the accident was another driver’s fault or because your insurance company is liable.
In a personal injury claim, the plaintiff (injured party)) seeks financial compensation from the defendant (the party they feel is liable). There is almost always an attempt to settle a claim outside of court to avoid the fees and hassle. If both parties cannot agree on liability or a fair amount, the case is then presented to a court to decide. This is called litigation.
The whole process officially begins when the plaintiff sends what is known as a demand letter to the defendant. As you may have guessed, this letter demands a certain amount of money as compensation for the plaintiff’s damages.
The Demand Letter
A demand letter lays out the significant points to the claim in an effort either to resolve the case immediately or to present to the other side the claim against them. Demand letters often include:
- The defendant’s claimed liability
- Injuries the plaintiff suffered
- Treatments costs for those injuries
- Lost income from time off work
- Any other damages, like pain and suffering
The insurance company will then review the claim and decide whether or not they are willing to meet the demand. Most likely, they will reply with a counteroffer. They may also decide that they will not pay any of the damages. This is called a denied claim and they generally happen for the following reasons.
- They don’t think they are liable, either because the accident wasn’t their insured’s fault or because their policy doesn’t cover the incident.
- They feel there is a lack of evidence to support the claims made in the demand.
- They have reason to believe that the injuries reported were not caused by the incident and instead occurred either before or after the accident.
If the insurance company won’t pay—or won’t pay what the plaintiff thinks is fair—then the injured party and their attorney may move on to the next step in the process: filing a complaint.
Filing a Complaint
Filing a complaint is formal process in which the plaintiff files a lawsuit through the court system in order to recoup their damages. This documents will then be served to the defendant in order to put them on notice that they are now involved in a case. These documents often list the parties involved, the defendant’s legal claim to compensation, the evidence for this claim, and the amount of money being sought.
The Discovery Process
Discovery is the official evidence-gathering portion of the case. During this phase, the defendant’s and the plaintiff’s attorneys will seek as much information as possible to support or refute the claim. This is often done through speaking to witnesses, requesting medical records and bills, requesting wage documents, and investigating the incident itself
The parties involved in the incident are also asked to give their official version of events at this time. This is known as a deposition—a recorded statement delivered with both sides present.
Reaching a Settlement
A settlement is an official compromise between the two parties. Most often in the personal injury claim process, this is in the form of the defendant agreeing to pay some amount of compensation to the plaintiff.
This commonly happens long before the case ever reaches trial. In fact, 95 percent of all personal injury claims are settled before they reach a courtroom. This may be done through back-and forth negotiations over the phone, in a formal mediation, or during arbitration. Once both sides agree, the arrangement is put into writing and presented to the courts, becoming a legally binding contract.
Going to Trial
For the other 5 percent of cases in which a settlement is not reached, the case goes to trial. At this point, a jury will hear from both sides before making a decision about the amount of compensation deserved—if any.
Often, trials are avoided by both sides because of their time and resources consuming nature. It is often easier for both sides to see the case from the others perspective and reach a compromise. This saves both the plaintiff and the defendant money.
Understanding these concepts may not make the personal injury claim process easy, but it can make it easier. Now, if that unfortunate day ever comes when you need to file a personal injury claim, you will know what to expect.
This blog post was submitted by Florida personal injury lawyer Matthew Dolman who is the President and Managing Partner of Dolman Law Group. Here is his profile.