If you have been injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, your life may have recently changed drastically. Often, when an unexpected accident happens out of the blue, it can be shocking and overwhelming, to say the least. You may suddenly find yourself unable to enjoy your life and your activities as you normally do, and perhaps you may even be unable to go to work. Medical bills may be mounting up, and you may be wondering how you will pay them.
It is possible that you have considered filing a personal injury claim to seek compensation for your injuries but aren’t certain exactly what the process involved might be. This is understandable, as the legal process can often seem complex and confusing. With the right attorney to help guide you through the process, however, it can be manageable and well worth it. Essentially, filing a personal injury claim involves the following steps:
- Finding an Attorney: Without question, step one in pursuing a personal injury claim should be finding and retaining an attorney who knows and understands the law and has the experience you need to fight for the compensation you deserve. While people are always entitled to represent themselves in court, the law is complex. And having an attorney who understands it and how to apply it to the circumstances of your case will likely make a significant difference in the outcome. Take some time to research personal injury attorneys in your area. There are a number of sites that are helpful for finding attorneys including martindale.com, avvo.com, nolo.com, and google.com, to name only a few. Also, never underestimate the value of personal recommendations. Also be certain to meet with the attorneys you are considering. Most attorneys will offer free consultations, during which they can evaluate your case, answer your questions, advise you as to potential fees, and let you know your options as you go forward.
- Understanding the Basic Laws That Apply to Your Claim: Every state has slightly different laws that apply to personal injury claims. Your attorney will be able to advise you as to the laws in your state and how they apply to your particular circumstances. Most states have a statute of limitations that places restrictions on the amount of time a person has to file a claim after they are injured. It is very important to be certain to file your claim prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations or you may lose the right to file it altogether. Your attorney will often also explain to you that a personal injury claim typically involves a demand letter being sent to the person who caused the injury or to their insurance company. If the insurance company for the potential defendant refuses to pay damages, the case typically moves to the lawsuit stage, during which a complaint is formally filed.
- Filing a Complaint: A complaint is a legal document that officially gives notice of a lawsuit and sets forth the cause of action or reasons as to why the defendant is being sued. It also sets forth important information regarding the parties to the claim and the type of compensation being sought, as well as the facts and evidence you expect to present to support your claim. After the complaint is filed, the defendant will then have a specified amount of time in which to file a response, also called an answer, setting forth any defenses they believe they have to your claim. The claim then moves on to the “discovery” phase, during which the parties gather evidence to support their position.
- Gathering Evidence: The discovery process is the portion of a case in which parties gather important information. It is a key part of any legal process. During discovery, attorneys for the defendant and the plaintiff will gather evidence, speak to potential witnesses, and question the parties involved in the claim. This is often also referred to as a deposition. Other important documents such as medical bills, police reports, information as to income, and insurance reports may also be gathered. Both parties also often file various motions with the court during the discovery process, depending on the particular circumstances of the case.
- Attempting Settlement: Ideally, as the discovery process portion of the lawsuit proceeds, the parties will attempt to negotiate a settlement that is satisfactory to both sides. Being able to do this successfully will avoid the cost and expense of litigating the matter to a decision, and will often save both parties a good deal of stress and time. Typically, when a settlement is reached, the plaintiff will agree to end the lawsuit in exchange for a specified amount of compensation. Once the amount and terms of the settlement are agreed upon by the parties, the terms are put into writing and submitted to the court for approval, at which time it becomes a legally binding contract.
- Going to Trial: Fortunately, in many personal injury cases, the parties are able to reach a settlement that is satisfactory to all, though this is certainly not always the case. If a settlement cannot be reached, then the case will proceed to trial. During the trial, the court will hear from both sides and review all of the evidence presented. The judge or a jury (depending upon what type of trial it is) will then make a decision on whether or not the defendant is responsible for the injury and, if so, how much compensation is owed. After a judgement is issued, both sides will have a limited amount of time to file an appeal if they desire to do so. If the case does not proceed on appeal and the time limit expires, the case is then officially over.
While filing a personal injury claim can seem overwhelming at first, it is certainly a manageable process and one that can be well worth pursuing with the help and guidance of an attorney who understands the law and the best strategies to fight for justice and compensation on your behalf. At 303 Legal, we are that legal team. We understand the law, and pursuing justice for our personal injury clients is our passion. Call us today and let us know how we can help you.