What Are the Steps to Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
If you are injured in an accident or other incident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and damages. While most personal injury claims in Florida settle without filing a personal injury lawsuit, you may need to file a lawsuit to protect your rights.
Typically, most accident and injury cases begin with personal injury claims. Accident victims file insurance claims with the applicable insurance provider.
Insurance companies settle most claims, but they fight when they think they can win. Sometimes, an insurance company bullies the accident victim into accepting a lower settlement amount than they deserve. Your attorney may advise you that it’s time to file a personal injury lawsuit to fight the battle in court.
What is the Personal Injury Claim Process After an Accident or Injury?
Before filing a lawsuit, there are several steps you generally take. The initial stages of a personal injury case include:
Receiving Medical Care
It is crucial that you see a doctor as soon as possible after an accident or injury. You need to document your injuries. You have the burden of proving that the other party caused your injuries, which requires medical records.
Furthermore, delays in medical care could hurt your case. For example, the insurance company may question whether the accident caused your injuries because you waited so long to seek treatment. The insurer could also allege that you failed to mitigate damages, which could reduce the value of your injury claim.
Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer
A case is rarely so straightforward that an accident victim doesn’t need to hire an attorney. However, even if you believe you might not need to hire a lawyer, talking to an attorney is worth your time. Most personal injury attorneys offer free consultations so you can get the legal advice you need to protect your best interests.
The Accident Investigation
Your lawyer will investigate the cause of your injury. For example, in a car accident case, your attorney may gather evidence such as the accident report, traffic camera video of the crash, eyewitness statements, and physical evidence. Most personal injury claims are based on negligence.
Therefore, you must have sufficient evidence to prove:
The amount of time it takes to complete the investigation depends on the case.
Your lawyer will identify each party who could be liable for your damages. They will also gather evidence to prove the elements of negligence or fault. You must have sufficient evidence to prove fault and causation to establish liability for damages.
Documenting Damages and Calculating the Value of Your Injury Claim
How much is your personal injury case worth? The answer depends on numerous factors. The extent of your injuries, the parties involved, available insurance coverage, evidence of fault, and your damages are just a few factors that impact the value of your claim.
Careful documentation of damages is essential to maximize the value of a claim. Your attorney will work with you and your physicians to document your injuries. Your lawyer might hire medical experts, financial professionals, and other expert witnesses to assist in calculating damages if you sustained a catastrophic injury, brain injury, or permanent impairment.
You should be entitled to receive compensation for economic damages, including lost wages and medical bills. In addition, for serious injuries, Florida tort laws permit you to recover compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages.
In a few cases, the judge or jury may award punitive damages. Punitive damages in a civil trial “punish” the defendant for grossly negligent or intentional conduct that harmed the plaintiff. Very few personal injury cases result in punitive damages.
Settlement negotiations typically begin with a settlement demand letter.
Your injury attorney will prepare a letter that includes:
- A discussion of how you were injured
- The relevant law that holds the other party liable for your injuries and damages
- A description of your injuries and damages
- An amount you demand for settlement
The insurance company may agree to your settlement demand to end the claim. However, the insurance company counter-offers a lower amount in most cases. Your attorney and the company may engage in back-and-forth negotiations for several weeks.
If a settlement is reached, your lawyer will prepare a settlement agreement. After signing the settlement agreement and release, the insurance company will issue a check, and your lawyer can begin disbursing the settlement proceeds.
However, if you have not reached a settlement within a reasonable period or the statute of limitations is nearing, your lawyer may proceed with filing a personal injury lawsuit.
What Are the Phases of a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
Your lawyer will file the complaint and serve it on the at-fault party (defendant). The defendant has a specific time to respond to the complaint. The insurance company will hire a lawyer to defend the lawsuit in most cases.
The Discovery Phase
After the parties file the initial pleadings, they begin discovery. Discovery is the process of obtaining evidence and information from the other party.
Examples of discovery in a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Requests to Produce Documents
- Requests for Admission
The discovery phase allows your attorney to gather additional evidence and weigh the strengths and weaknesses of the case.
Your lawyer and the insurance company might engage in settlement negotiations again. After discovery, both parties better understand the other side’s case. Therefore, the insurance company might be more willing to agree to a reasonable settlement amount to avoid trial.
Pre-Trial Motions and Trial
The attorneys will file pre-trial motions if you cannot reach a settlement. Pre-trial motions deal with matters of law, such as the admissibility of evidence. After pre-trial motions conclude, the trial begins.
At trial, you and the defendant present your case to the jurors. The jurors are the triers of fact. They decide which party to believe.
Either party can appeal the jury’s decision if there are grounds for appeal. However, being angry because the jury did not rule in your favor is not grounds for an appeal.
If the jury ruled in your favor and awarded damages, the insurance company should issue payment if it does not appeal the decision. However, the insurance company is only liable up to the policy limits. Therefore, any amount over the policy limits would be a personal judgment against the defendant.
Schedule a Free Consultation With a Gainesville Personal Injury Lawyer
Choosing whether to file a lawsuit or settle a claim can be confusing. A personal injury lawyer will walk you through each step in the claims process. They’ll keep you advised of the progress and discuss the pros and cons of settlement versus a personal injury lawsuit to help you get the money you deserve after a personal injury or accident.