Timeline of a Personal Injury Case According to a Personal Injury Lawyer
There is no strict timeline that applies to every personal injury case.
There are, however, patterns and steps that appear again and again.
Following is a general rundown of a typical personal injury case that incorporates all the elements parties use to enforce claims.
Table of Contents
The Accident or Injury: What to Do At the Scene of the Accident (If You Can)
A personal injury claim can arise from the following incidents, among others:
- A car accident
- A truck accident
- A motorcycle accident
- A pedestrian accident
- Medical malpractice
- A slip and fall accident
- A dog bite
- A workplace accident
- A defective product
If you are seriously injured, don’t try to gather information or evidence at the accident scene. Instead, call 911 and wait for the ambulance to arrive. Even if you don’t think you are seriously injured, err on the side of caution.
If you are certain that you are capable of action, take as many of the following steps as you can:
- Check yourself for injuries. You might have some that you haven’t noticed yet.
- Get to a place of safety. In a traffic accident, for example, you don’t want your car stuck in the middle of the road with people inside.
- Obtain contact details for anyone else involved in the accident. That includes witnesses. In a traffic accident, exchange insurance details with the driver(s).
- Photograph the scene of the accident with your cell phone.
- Photograph your injuries and any property damage. In a traffic accident, take photos of the vehicles and the license plate number(s).
If the police or an ambulance arrives, cooperate with them. The police might create a report that could help you settle your claim.
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
If you have any reason to believe you are injured, go directly from the scene of the accident to the hospital by ambulance if one is available. Certain injuries, such as head injuries and soft tissue injuries, can take time to manifest symptoms. Delaying medical treatment, even for a little while, can devastate your chances of winning your claim. Medical records are persuasive evidence.
Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer
Almost any personal injury lawyer will consult you about your claim without charging you anything. If your injuries are serious enough, they might even visit you in the hospital to speak with you. You are under no obligation to hire the lawyer. However, if they agree to represent you on a contingency fee basis, you can be certain that they believe they can win your claim.
The Initial Investigation
The initial investigation of your personal injury can take many forms.
It might include:
- Interviewing witnesses
- Obtaining and examining your medical records, including your past medical history
- Obtaining a copy of any police report or incident report
- Seeking the assistance of an accident reconstruction specialist to reconstruct the accident
An experienced personal injury law firm will possess the resources to carry out a sufficient initial investigation.
File a Claim With the Appropriate Insurance Company
What kind of personal injury did you suffer? If you suffered a car accident injury, be aware that Pennsylvania has a choice no-fault system for auto insurance claims. You must first file a claim with your own insurance company, no matter whose fault the accident was.
Other forms of insurance that might be available for various types of personal injuries include:
- Homeowners insurance or renters insurance for dog bite claims
- Malpractice insurance for medical negligence claims
- Workers’ compensation insurance for workplace accidents
- Business liability insurance for slip and fall accidents as a customer in a commercial establishment
Other forms of insurance might be available, depending on the type of accident you suffered and where the accident occurred.
Initiate Settlement Negotiations
Typically, the first step in initiating settlement negotiations is to identify the appropriate defendant. Once you do that, you need to know whether the defendant or their insurance company will pay your claim. If they are insured against their liability to you, you can file a third-party claim against them. In a Pennsylvania car accident, however, you might be negotiating with your own insurer due to Pennsylvania’s auto insurance rules.
Once you identify the opposing party, you or your lawyer will need to send them a demand letter. The letter will state your claim and justify it with facts and evidence to support it.
This evidence might include:
- A police report
- Copies of your relevant medical records and bills
- Documentation proving your lost wages
- Photographs of your injuries and property damage
- Receipts for any expenses you incurred
If the opposing party is an insurance company, they will probably respond with a reservation of rights letter. This is routine. If the insurance company refuses to settle your claim, it might be time to file a lawsuit. If, on the other hand, they express a willingness to negotiate, or issue an offer, consider entering into settlement negotiations even if their initial offer is unattractive.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
You can file a lawsuit without giving up on settlement. In many (if not most) cases, the filing of a personal injury lawsuit is a way of shaking things up when negotiations encounter an impasse. This move could generate a powerful motivation to settle the case if your lawyer enjoys a strong track record of winning in court.
Another reason to file a lawsuit would be to beat the statute of limitations deadline. For most personal injury claims, Pennsylvania requires the plaintiff to file a lawsuit (or finalize a settlement) within two years of the date of the accident that produced the injury.
Once you file a lawsuit, it doesn’t matter how long the lawsuit takes to resolve–you’ve already met the statute of limitations deadline, and you won’t have to worry about it again.
Engage in Pretrial Discovery
Once you file a lawsuit, you become eligible for the pretrial discovery evidence collection process.
During discovery, both sides will gain access to the following four legal weapons that they can use against each other:
- Depositions: Out-of-court cross-examination of hostile witnesses
- Interrogatories: Written questions to be answered under oath
- Demands for production: Demands to inspect physical evidence, copy documents, etc.
- Request for admissions: Asking the opposing party to admit to certain facts to simplify the proceedings
Pretrial discovery can take anywhere from several months to a year.
Resume Negotiations or Attempt Mediation
The discovery process will likely alter the bargaining power of the two parties. If one side gains enough of an advantage, the other side will likely settle. Should bargaining power remain relatively even, a third-party mediator might be able to break the stalemate with a non-coercive solution.
Reach a Settlement Agreement
If the parties manage to reach an agreement, someone will draft a settlement agreement. There might be further discussions over its exact wording. In a settlement agreement, the plaintiff agrees to withdraw their claim, and the defendant agrees to pay the settlement amount. A settlement agreement is enforceable like any other contract.
Alternative: Go to Trial
A trial is always a last resort due to its unpredictability.
If settlement efforts fail, however, a trial proceeds through the following stages:
- Jury selection (voir dire)
- Opening statements by each lawyer
- Presentation of evidence and examination/cross-examination of witnesses
- Closing arguments by each lawyer
- Jury deliberation and verdict
You should hire an attorney if your case reaches the trial phase. They’ll know the local rules and procedures and argue on your behalf in court.
Your Chances Are Better With an Experienced Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer
No ethical lawyer will offer you an absolute guarantee of results. If you run into one who purports to, run the other way. Nevertheless, the evidence is clear–people who hire lawyers to represent them in personal injury claims win more often and receive more money than claimants who managed to win without a lawyer.