What Happens From The Time Someone Sustains An Injury To The Time They File A Personal Injury Claim?
Immediately after sustaining an injury, a person should seek medical attention, even if they don’t feel pain right away. I’ve had cases where clients go about their day after an accident thinking they’re okay, only to later discover that they have a hairline neck fracture or internal, life-threatening damage.
If possible, the individual should obtain photographs of the scene of the crash. Photographs which capture the vehicles and property damage at multiple angles, as well as the surrounding area (such as skid marks on the pavement) can assist an expert accident reconstructionist in determining how the crash happened. Photographs are also important in a slip-and-fall case, because we will need to know what caused the plaintiff to slip and fall (e.g., slippery substance on floor, object in walkway).
After leaving the scene of the incident and getting medical attention, it is crucial to hire a lawyer—or at the very least, speak to one (studies have shown that just speaking with a lawyer will increase the value of a personal injury case). Once a lawyer has been hired, they will manage the case, allowing the plaintiff to focus on healing and following the doctor’s treatment plan.
At this point, the plaintiff can let their lawyer focus on dealing with the insurance companies. After all, that is what the lawyer is paid to do. Almost immediately after taking on a case, the attorney will put the at-fault party on notice (this is usually the insurance company) and begin collecting evidence (e.g., photographs, medical records, video footage, witness statements, etc.).
A good personal injury lawyer will work with the plaintiff in making sure that they are being evaluated by the best doctors available. Not many people have access to medical specialists whom they are comfortable calling up or walking in to see without having to worry about paying for care out of pocket, which not many people can afford. We can help clients get access to the doctors who are not only going to give them the best treatment, but bill their insurance company instead of them personally. This means that the client will have no upfront out-of-pocket expenses.
During this period of time, which I refer to as the “treatment stage,” the client is treating and following the doctor’s orders while we’re collecting the medical records and billing documents, updating the file, and providing information to the insurance company so they can properly set insurance reserves as the case proceeds. To ensure that the insurance company can set the reserves for the case, they will need to know early on whether they are dealing with a small case (worth about $10,000) or a six or seven-figure case.
Next, the client will finish their treatment and reach maximum medical improvement, which is when the client will no longer continue to improve despite continued therapies. To be clear, this does not mean that the client has been “cured,” or even that they no longer deal with pain or limitation.
Once the client has reached maximum medical improvement, we’re going to put every record, treatment note, document, and piece of evidence into the demand package. This demand package outlines the case, liability, past damages, and future damages. In essence, it is like a snapshot of the client before, during, and after the incident and injury. This snapshot will include aspects of what the client can expect moving into the future, and will contain a specific dollar amount demand.
The dollar amount demand has a lot to do with the limits of the insurance policy. If a case has a $100,000 policy limit, then we’ll often demand the full policy limit. If we provide the other insurance company with all of the relevant information about the case and give them a fair and full opportunity to settle the case within the policy limits, and if they continue to hand us lowball offers, then we will have a secondary bad faith case against the insurance company. This bad faith case would be made on the basis of the insurance company failing to fulfill their duty of acting fairly or reasonably toward the insured. By losing a bad faith claim, the insurance company could be held responsible for any excess judgment above and beyond the policy limits. This is a complex issue on which an entire book could be written.
Once the demand letter has been sent, we will be in the negotiation stage. During this time, we will learn the position of the other insurance company and create a “danger zone list.” This list will contain all of the potential pitfalls in the case, as well as all of the strong points. We want to understand the other side’s perspective in terms of why they believe their offer is fair.
If we don’t agree that their offer is fair, and if the other side will not compromise, then we may find ourselves at an impasse, and eventually in litigation. This decision would be made by the client after an additional, detailed consultation regarding the issues in the case and the client’s goals. Should it be decided that the case will move forward to litigation, we will first file the complaints during the pleadings stage and a notice of trial in order to get a specific trial date, then engage in discovery and mediation, and ultimately move toward a jury trial.
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