How a Personal Injury Case Works: From Start to Finish.
In this article, I will explain the process that a typical personal injury case will follow from start to finish. Although not every case is the same, there is a common thread that starts from the moment the injury occurs up to settlement or a trial, if necessary.
The Injury Occurs.
At the start of every personal injury case is, of course, the injury. Injuries can result from many different occurrences such as a car accident or a slip-and-fall.
Let’s assume you are injured in a car accident. It can be any type of car accident such as a rear-end collision, crash at an intersection, or even an accident with a drunk driver.
If the accident is serious enough, the police will come to the scene and actually made a police report. An ambulance will also come to the scene and might even transport the injured person to the emergency room.
However, police and ambulances do not come to every accident scene. For instance, in Dallas, Fort Worth and other major cities in Texas, police resources have been stretched thin. Therefore, an officer will not usually come to the scene of less serious auto accidents. Unless someone is injured or the vehicles need to be towed, the drivers are simply instructed to move the vehicles safely out of traffic and exchange information.
The Initial Case Reporting.
This is a critical time period and occurs within the first week after an accident. The client has probably been to the emergency room, minor emergency clinic, or a visit to their personal doctor. Additionally, the other driver’s insurance company has likely set up a claim file and started their investigation. You should be doing the same.
During this time period, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer. Talking to a lawyer as soon as possible will avoid common mistakes and helps you understand your options.
Once you hire an attorney, your lawyer will start gathering all the preliminary evidence such as ordering the police report, talking to any potential witnesses, and collecting photographs of the vehicles, injuries and accident scene. It might also be necessary to make an open records request or even retain an accident reconstruction expert to review the accident details.
Additionally, arrangements should be made to have your vehicle inspected and evaluated so that the repairs can get started. You can take the vehicle to a body shop approved by the insurance company. Or, Texas law permits you to take your vehicle to a body shop of your choice. A rental vehicle will also be available during the time the vehicle is being repaired.
Your Medical Treatment.
After visiting an emergency room or seen a doctor for an initial evaluation, you may need further treatment. If you have health insurance, you and your lawyer will decide whether using your health insurance is best for your case. If you choose not to use your health insurance, then your lawyer should make arrangements for your medical treatment under a letter of protection.
During your medical treatment, your doctor may order:
- Physical Therapy
- Pain Management
Your medical treatment could last a week, month, or even a year or more depending on the seriousness of your injuries. During this time, your lawyer will continue to build your case file. Your attorney should also check your treatment status in order to assess your progress or even make arrangements for further treatment as needed. The goal is that you get the proper medical treatment so that you can fully recover from your injuries.
Once your doctor decides that you have reached “Maximum Medical Improvement,” then you will be released from active treatment. If and when your doctor decides to release you is a decision between you and your doctor.
Submission to the Insurance Company.
After you are released from your doctor’s care, your lawyer will collect your remaining medical records and bills and create a settlement packet to submit to the insurance claims adjuster. Once the adjuster receives the settlement packet, it is reviewed and evaluated for possible settlement.
The evaluation process takes about two or three weeks depending on the case. The adjuster and your lawyer will then have a series of discussions in an effort to settle your claim to your satisfaction.
The goal is to get a settlement figure which is sufficient to pay your doctor bills, case expenses, lawyer fees, as well as money for your pain and suffering.
Most cases settle at this point. If so, then the adjuster will send your lawyer a release form and the settlement check, and your case is closed. If the case does not settle, then a lawsuit must be filed.
Filing a Lawsuit.
Sometimes settlement negotiations are unsuccessful. If that is the case, then a lawsuit must be filed. Filing a lawsuit is the only way to enforce your rights if you cannot reach an agreement. That doesn’t mean you still cannot settle your case. On the contrary, the parties are free to settle the case at any time during the lawsuit process.
Your lawyer will draft the lawsuit, file it with the proper court, and serve the suit papers on the other driver. On a few occasions, the lawyer or claims adjuster may attempt to revive settlement discussions once the lawsuit has been filed. If not, then the insurance company will hire a lawyer to represent their driver.
Once the lawsuit is filed, the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure permits each side to conduct “discovery.” This is a process where the parties request and exchange relevant information and documents in the case. The parties can also get depositions from the drivers and other witnesses.
On average, the discovery process can take anywhere between 4 – 8 months. However, it could take longer on more complex cases. Some of the information that is exchanged during this process include:
- Medical Records and Bills
- Police Reports
- Damage Estimate
- Witness Statements
- Insurance Information
- Tax Returns
- Driving Records
Rarely do cases settle within the discovery stage. Although, it can happen since the parties are always free to settle at any time they choose to do so.
Once the parties have completed the discovery stage, the case will likely proceed to mediation. Mediation is form of “alternative dispute resolution” where the parties meet with a mediator who moderates a settlement conference. Mediation presents the best opportunity to settle your case in the lawsuit stage.
Texas law encourages mediation. In fact, it is virtual certain that a Dallas area case will go to mediation. Generally, the Court will order the case to mediation. However, the parties can also agree to attend mediation on their own.
The typical mediation consists of you and your lawyer meeting at the mediator’s office, along with the defendant’s attorney and the insurance adjuster. The other driver rarely attends the mediation since the insurance adjuster has full authority to settle the claim.
The mediator moderates the conference, and is trained and experienced in dispute resolution. The mediator is usually a licensed attorney, but it is not required that the mediator be a licensed attorney under Texas law.
If the mediator is successful in working out a settlement between the parties, then a “Memorandum of Settlement” will be signed by all the parties and their attorneys. All that is left at this point is to have the adjuster and defense lawyer prepare the formal settlement documents, issue the settlement check. The parties the simply dismiss the pending lawsuit.
Although the prospects of going to trial may be intimidating to some people, most cases do not go this far. About 80% of cases settle without even a lawsuit being filed. Even when a lawsuit is filed, about 95% of those cases actually settle without actually going to trial. Sometimes, however, a small percentage of cases cannot settle and a trial is necessary.
There is a huge back-log of cases in the Dallas courts. Sometimes, it may take a case two or more years to actually get to trial. That doesn’t mean you cannot settle before trial. Remember, a settlement can made by the parties at anytime in the lawsuit process, even during the trial.
Get Proper Legal Representation from the Start.
Getting the proper legal representation early makes all the difference in your injury case. While you are suffering from your injuries, the insurance company is coming up with a plan to defend against your claim. That is why you need to hire a lawyer who understands the process and has the experience to follow your case from start to finish.
Dallas injury attorney, Robert C. Slim, gives each and every case the personal attention it deserves. Here, you are not a file number. We understand that every case is different and must be handled accordingly. Call Now and see what a difference individual attention can make.
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