Even though we hear about frivolous lawsuits, the fact is most people don’t want to sue. A lawsuit is time consuming and can be emotionally draining. But accidents happen, people get hurt, medical bills arrive and time from work is lost. When these things happen, you may need to take legal action against the party or parties who caused your accident and injuries or you will be the one left holding the bag.
Whether it was a minor car accident that left you with back pain or a serious construction accident that left you paralyzed, it’s important to know what to expect when you choose to file a lawsuit and seek monetary compensation for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, etc. While each case is different and many settle well before trial, most personal injury lawsuits go through similar stages.
The first event that gets any personal injury case started is the injury, and it must be documented. For our purposes, we will use the most common type of personal injury claim—a car accident.
If you were in a car accident and you’re able to take photos, please do so. If you’re injured so severely that you’re rushed to the hospital, then any passengers with you who are able to should take photos. The police officer on the scene will write up a report and often takes pictures of the accident scene, but it’s always wise to have your own.
At the accident scene, you should collect as much information as you can including what happened, who was involved besides you, what the surrounding area looked like, what the weather was like, and any other information you can think may provide a clear picture of the facts. Be sure to request copies of any accident or injury reports created at the time of the accident or shortly thereafter.
Seek medical attention as soon as possible following the accident. The longer you wait, the more difficult it is to prove your injuries were a direct result of the accident. Take photos of any visible injuries and be sure to go to a reputable doctor or medical facility. Keep in mind that when it comes time to prove your case, your medical records are one of the most important pieces of evidence, so it’s crucial that you handle this step of the personal injury timeline quickly and thoroughly. Even if you are not taken to a hospital directly from the scene of the accident, you should go to a doctor as soon as possible.
Find a personal injury attorney who you feel comfortable with and trust. You may have to schedule more than one no-cost, no-obligation consultation to find the right personal injury lawyer for your case. Trust your gut when it comes to choosing a lawyer. If you don’t feel safe and comfortable with the first or second lawyer you meet with, take the time to schedule additional consultations. The only thing you will lose with each consultation is time.
The investigation into your claim will begin once a personal injury lawyer accepts your case. Using a team of medical and legal experts, all the information necessary to fight your case will be collected, and someone known as an “Intake Specialist” will usually start the investigative process by sitting down with you and asking questions about what happened and your injuries.
You may become uncomfortable with some of the questions that seem too personal or irrelevant, but you should defer to your legal team and understand that all questions are asked for a reason. Your past may be delved into, but your lawyer must gather all information that will help (or hurt) your case. If you’re not willing to share intimate details about your life in order to prepare your attorney for anything that may come up during the investigation, then pursing a claim may not be the right course of action for you.
After information is gathered, you and your legal team will have to decide the best course of action to take: to file a claim or accept a settlement. Most personal injury cases never even make it to court, so it’s important for you to realize there’s a very good chance your case will be settled between insurance companies with the guidance of your attorney. There are many different types of personal injury cases (auto accident, medical malpractice, defective product, wrongful death, and so on), and most of these cases involve insurance companies and the lawyers of those insurance companies.
A good personal injury attorney and his team will keep you up to date on your case and let you know what the options for settlement are as they arise. A good personal injury lawyer will also be brutally honest with you and let you know what is going right with your case and what is working against you to possibly negatively impact your chances of “winning.”
If a settlement cannot be reached between the parties involved, a personal injury lawsuit will be filed on your behalf. Each state has statutes of limitations for all personal injury cases, and your lawyer will let you know how much time you have to file suit at the beginning of your interaction with him. A formal complaint will be filed with the court system, and again, like with everything else associated with personal injury claims, each state’s laws vary. Lawsuits can go on for months and years, and sometimes, even decades, so your lawyer will explain this process to you once the decision to file has been made.
During the discovery stage, each party will investigate the facts and other side’s legal claims and defenses. Interrogatories and document requests will be submitted and depositions will be scheduled. Something to remember is that personal injury claims may be settled at any time, so once each side sees the evidence from the other side, one party may realize they are not going to fare well and may agree to settle.
The last stage of any personal injury lawsuit is mediation or trial. If mediation is not successful or not an option for some reason, your personal injury claim will have to go to trial, which is actually quite rare with most personal injury cases. According to most sources, 95% of personal injury cases never get to this stage and are settled before trial.