Timeline of a Personal Injury Case According to a Personal Injury Lawyer
Since every personal injury claim is different, there is no ironclad timeline for how long they can take. Certain guidelines do apply, however, and certain patterns are common.
Consequently, a “typical timeline” such as the one below can be meaningful and helpful.
Step 1: Gather Evidence Immediately After the Accident
Assuming that your injuries are not debilitating (or assuming that you have a friend or relative to help you), the process of evidence gathering should begin as soon as possible after the accident.
Take as many of the following steps as you can:
- Get contact details for the at-fault party and any eyewitnesses;
- Get insurance details for the at-fault party, if possible;
- Speak with the police if they arrive at the scene (as in an auto accident), but be careful what you say;
- Photograph the scene of the accident, your injuries, and any property damage;
- Seek immediate medical treatment (this is important for evidentiary as well as health reasons);
- Write down the details of your accident while they are still fresh in your mind (don’t try this if you are still woozy from a head injury);
- Get a copy of any accident report;
- Open a personal file where you collect all documentation concerning your claim., including medical records;
- Suspend your social media accounts until you receive compensation for your injuries; and
- Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer in Gainesville.
The last step is the most important because your lawyer can help you avoid mistakes that might damage your claim.
Step 2: Seek Medical Treatment
It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of seeking medical treatment immediately. If you don’t, you open the door to a defendant or an insurance company claiming that your injuries did not occur until after the accident. They might also question the severity of your injuries if you failed to seek immediate treatment.
Your medical records might be the most credible documentary evidence you get your hands on during the entire case.
Step 3: Perform a Preliminary Investigation
Your lawyer should perform a preliminary investigation. A preliminary investigation can include many issues, depending on the facts of your case.
It might include the following matters among others:
- Interviewing witnesses and reconstructing the accident from available evidence;
- Obtaining any CCTV footage that might be available (for a slip and fall accident in a department store, for example); and
- Examining your medical records, including your past medical history (for your lawyer’s eyes, not the opposing party’s).
This is just a small sample of the scope of a typical preliminary claim investigation.
Step 4: File a Claim
After your lawyer gets a picture of your claim, the next step is to send a demand letter to the at-fault party’s insurance company. A demand letter should outline the grounds for your claim without going into too much detail, and it should include a demand for compensation. Unless you have reached Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI) as certified by your doctor, it might be too early to specify a specific dollar amount.
Special Case: Car Accidents
Florida is a no-fault auto insurance state. Normally, you must look to your own PIP insurance to pay your claim, no matter who was at fault. However, if you meet Florida’s “serious” injury threshold, you will have the right to file a claim or lawsuit against the at-fault driver or their insurance company.
Even if you meet this threshold, Florida does not require its drivers to purchase auto accident liability insurance. This could leave you with a claim that you will never collect.
Special Case: Workers’ Compensation
Workers’ compensation can pay your medical bills and lost earnings in the event of a workplace accident. You cannot sue your employer, but neither do you need to prove that your employer was at fault. Most of the time, you can collect even if the accident was your fault.
Your compensation will be limited unless you can find a third party who is at fault for your injuries. If you can do this, you can sue this defendant for full damages (including pain and suffering, etc.) in an ordinary personal injury lawsuit.
Step 5: Negotiate Your Claim
Have your lawyer do the negotiating for you. Since your lawyer gets paid if you win, they have no incentive to lengthen the negotiation process except to make sure you get paid what your claim is worth.
The defendant, on the other hand, has an incentive to delay resolving your claim in the hopes that you will forget about the statute of limitations deadline until it is too late. A good personal injury lawyer can expedite the processing of your claim while at the same time preventing the other side from taking advantage of you.
Step 6: File a Lawsuit
You won’t necessarily file a lawsuit, but you might need to for tactical reasons, even if you plan to settle out of court. Filing a lawsuit, for example, gives you access to the pre-trial discovery process. This could in turn give you access to enough evidence from the defendant to win your claim.
To file a lawsuit, you must submit a formal complaint to the court. This is nothing like small claims court. Have your lawyer draft your complaint for you because the rules are strict, and mistakes can be costly.
Step 7: Gather Evidence During the Discovery Process
The discovery process allows you to demand evidence from the defendant on pain of contempt of court for refusing to cooperate. In discovery, you have access to the following four legal tools:
- Depositions: Questioning witnesses under oath but outside of court.
- Interrogatories: Written questions that the defendant must answer under oath.
- Requests for Production: Requests for the production of evidence—copies of documents, an inspection of premises, etc.; and
- Requests for Admissions: Request for the defendant to admit certain facts so that you don’t have to go to the trouble of proving them.
Remember that the defendant can use the same legal tools to demand evidence from you. This could harm your claim if you have been concealing a pre-existing injury that resembles your injuries in the accident.
Step 8: Continue Negotiating
The discovery process might have enhanced your bargaining power. Now is the time to use it to press for settlement. In many cases, the discovery process uncovers powerful evidence that leads to immediate settlement.
Step 9: Participate in Mediation
Courts have busy dockets, and judges actively encourage parties to resolve their disputes through settlement. You can be almost certain that the judge will ask you to submit to mediation. A mediator is a skilled third party who can suggest compromises but cannot impose a resolution on you.
Step 10: Go to Trial or Settle Your Claim
Your claim will end in one of three ways:
- You receive a trial verdict, for better or for worse;
- You sign a settlement agreement; or
- Settlement negotiations break down, and you decide not to pursue a lawsuit because you lack sufficient evidence.
Fortunately, our firm wins the vast majority of its personal injury cases.
Hire an Attorney To Move Your Case Along
Hiring an attorney can help you move your case along the quickest timeline. It can also help you maximize the value of your claim.
At Allen Law Firm, we leverage our decades of combined experience to care for our clients the same way we would treat an injured family member. You are an individual person, not a faceless case number. Contact us today for help with your claim. We offer free consultations and no legal fees unless we win your claim.