Step-by-Step Guide for Filing a Personal Injury Claim in Florida
Bill Allen | March 20, 2023 | Personal Injury
When should you file a personal injury claim? Although it is possible to start with the filing of a lawsuit, this is not the typical case. Every case is unique, and strategies differ. Remember that there is a difference between a claim and a lawsuit, and filing a personal injury claim does not always result in the filing of a lawsuit.
Step 1: Gather Evidence at the Scene of the Accident
Gather as much evidence as you can at the scene of the accident. This might be impossible, of course, if you are seriously injured. To the extent you can, however, be sure to take photos of the accident and any injuries. Collect contact details of witnesses and participants.
If it is a traffic accident, exchange insurance details with the other driver and remain at the scene of the accident until the police arrive. Cooperate with the police while they create an accident report.
Step 2: Get Medical Care
Seek medical care ASAP, even if you don’t think you are injured. Remember, some injuries, such as whiplash and traumatic brain injury, don’t produce immediate symptoms. The opposing party will certainly use any failure to seek prompt medical care against you. Besides, medical records represent some of the most authoritative evidence you can collect.
Step 3: Hire a Lawyer
The earlier you get a lawyer involved, the better. Most personal injury lawyers offer free initial case consultations. Since they work under a contingency fee basis, this means it’s free unless they win, they won’t take cases they don’t believe in. This means that if they do take your case, your chances of winning are probably at least fairly good.
Step 4: Investigate Your Claim
Get a copy of the accident report or police report if one exists. Interview any witnesses, and gather your medical records. Gather whatever other evidence might present itself under the facts of your case. Perhaps your accident was recorded on CCTV, for example. You will probably lack access to at least some of the evidence you’d like to have.
Step 5: Prepare Appropriate Documentation
Prepare any documentation you might need. You might need to prepare an affidavit, for instance. You might need to keep a “pain diary” detailing the effects of your injuries on a day-to-day basis. Talk to your lawyer about this.
Step 6: Send a Demand Letter to the Party Responsible for Paying
A demand letter states your claim, justifies it with facts, and demands compensation. Your best bet is to have your lawyer draft this document and send it in their own name. You can also demand that the paying party direct all further communication on your case with your lawyer. This will protect you against slips of the tongue that insurance companies love to exploit.
If the paying party is an insurance company (which is likely), make sure you send your letter to the right insurance company. They will probably respond with a reservation of rights letter. In this letter they state that they will investigate, and that they reserve the right to deny your claim if their investigation proves that it lacks merit.
Step 7: Start Talking
It is at this point that you are likely to begin the process of offer and counteroffer. This game of ping-pong could go on for quite some time. On the other hand, you might get stuck if the opposing party is stubborn enough.
Step 8: File a Formal Complaint and Initiate Service of Process
Just because you file a lawsuit doesn’t mean you have to go to trial. In fact, filing a lawsuit is often one of the best ways to break a negotiation stalemate. Nevertheless, unless you are a lawyer, you probably don’t know how to file a personal injury lawsuit.
Florida courts require you to submit a formal complaint along with the appropriate filing fee. They also require you to initiate the process of serving your complaint and a court summons on the defendant. Although you must initiate the process of serving documents, only the court can complete it. The victim must not deliver documents to the defendant, due to the inherent risk of violence.
Step 9: Initiate the Pretrial Discovery Process
Pretrial discovery is a process of gathering evidence, including sworn testimony, from the other side. You gain access to the discovery process by filing a complaint to initiate a lawsuit. Pretrial discovery allows you to gather new evidence of the following types:
- Depositions: cross-examination of witnesses, under oath but out of court.
- Interrogatories: Written questions to the other side.
- Demand for production: A demand to examine physical evidence.
- Request for admission. A request that the other party admit certain minor facts to simplify the case.
Both sides can demand evidence from the other, and the court can sanction an uncooperative party.
Step 10: Try Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
The court will probably pressure the parties to settle their dispute, because it lightens the court’s busy docket. You can bring in a mediator to help the parties reach a non-coerced solution. Alternatively, you both can agree to bring in an arbitrator with the power to impose a solution.
Step 11: Draft and Sign a Settlement Agreement
You must draft the settlement agreement carefully, because an error could be disastrous. Once both parties sign the settlement agreement, it becomes a binding contract and you can sue the other party if they fail to pay the settlement. The alternative to a settlement, of course, is a trial.
Step 12: Disbursement of the Settlement Funds
The paying party will send the money to your lawyer’s client escrow account. Your lawyer will then deduct any appropriate amounts, such as legal fees, case expenses, or a medical lien. Only then will they send the remainder of the money to you. Unless you receive punitive damages, your federal tax burden should be light or nonexistent.
Do You Need a Gainesville Personal Injury Lawyer?
You probably do. If you are asking for a lot of money or if your case is complex, you definitely do. Most Gainesville personal injury attorneys charge on a contingency fee basis – you don’t pay unless you recover compensation.
Contact Our Gainesville Personal Injury Law Firm in North Central Florida
If you need legal assistance, contact the Gainesville personal injury lawyers at Allen Law Firm at your nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.
We have three convenient locations in North Central Florida: