Many people do not understand the car accident claim process. Injury accident claims generally follow the same type of process, but some may be settled more quickly and might not have to go through every step. A qualified car accident attorney can help you understand the claim process.
If you have been injured in an accident that was caused by someone else, here is what you can expect to happen.
- Lawsuit filed
- Written discovery
The first step after your accident occurs when the at-fault driver's insurance company is notified about the accident and your injuries. You may be contacted by an insurance company representative or adjuster. Even if he or she seems to be caring, you should not provide him or her with a recorded statement or sign any documents that might be presented to you without talking to a personal injury lawyer.
After your claim is filed with the company, you will need to continue getting treatment for your injuries. Attend all of your doctors' appointments, and follow any of the recommendations that you are given. Getting treatment for your injuries can help you to establish a causal link between your accident and your injuries. It can also help you to demonstrate the extent of your injuries and the likelihood that you have of fully recovering from them.
Your personal injury attorney will analyze your case and calculate the amount of money that you should receive in a fair settlement of your claim. He or she will draft a letter to send to the insurance company called a demand letter. In the demand, the attorney will list the facts of your case and will make some legal arguments about why the at-fault party is liable to pay damages. Your lawyer will also include a recitation of damages and make a monetary demand from the company. The demand letter may include different legal theories through which you could pursue your claim, and it serves the insurance company with notice that you are thinking about pursuing legal action.
The insurance company might make a counteroffer to your attorney, and he or she can negotiate on your behalf to try to get a higher amount. The company might also deny your claim or dispute it. However, it is important to note that most car accident injury cases are resolved through settlements before lawsuits are ever filed. If your case is not resolved, your attorney can file a lawsuit on your behalf.
To file a lawsuit, your attorney will draft a complaint, which is a legal document that initiates the case in court. The complaint will be filed with the court that has jurisdiction to hear your case. It will then be served on the defendant together with a summons. Once the defendant has been served with process, you will need to file proof of the service with the court.
The defendant will then have 20 days to respond to the complaint. If the defendant does not respond within the 20 days, your attorney will send him or her a letter notifying the defendant that you will request a default judgment if a response is not made within 10 days. If a response is still not filed, the court may enter a default judgment in your favor. However, when insurance companies are involved, the defendants normally do respond to the complaints within the required time period.
After you have filed your complaint and the defendant has filed his or her answer, your case will move into the discovery phase. Both sides will be required to exchange the evidence that they have gathered in the case. Your attorney will send the written documents and evidence that you have gathered to the defense lawyer. The defense lawyer will also send the evidence that has been gathered by the defense. Both sides will review the written discovery and will continue negotiating with each other. In an effort to understand what the witnesses will have to say, they may depose them.
Depositions are hearings that are held outside of court. While the judge will not be present, both attorneys will be there along with a court reporter. You may be deposed, and the at-fault driver may also be deposed. Witnesses to the accident and the investigating officers may also be deposed.
During a deposition, the witnesses will be sworn in and will testify under oath. The lawyers will be able to question their own witnesses and to cross-examine the witnesses that are called by the other side. Depositions give the attorneys important information about the testimony that will be presented at trial. They also allow the lawyers to assess the truthfulness of each witness and how they may be perceived by a jury.
After depositions have been held, your case may go to mediation. Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution process that facilitates the settlement process. You and your lawyer will meet with a mediator, who is a neutral third party who is skilled at helping opposing parties to negotiate agreements. If you reach an agreement at mediation, you will not have to go to trial. Most cases that are mediated settle and do not go to trial.
If your case still does not reach a settlement, your attorney can file motions. Motions are documents through which your lawyer might ask for certain types of evidence to be declared to be inadmissible at the trial by the court. The defense may file a motion asking the court to dismiss your case. If the defense prevails on the motion, your case will be dismissed. Your lawyer may also file other pretrial motions asking for the court to make decisions about how the trial will proceed.
At the start of your trial, the court will go through the jury selection process. Both of the lawyers can submit questions for the judge to ask the potential jurors. The lawyers can move to strike people from the jury until there are 12 remaining people. Out of the jury pool, 20 potential jurors are selected. Both attorneys can strike four jurors each.
At the trial, your attorney will present evidence and call witnesses. You will generally need to call expert witnesses to testify about the extent of your injuries. There may also be other types of expert and other witnesses who will need to give testimony. Your lawyer will prepare you for the trial and for your own testimony. Your lawyer will be able to cross-examine the witnesses that the defense calls. Once both sides have rested, the case will be sent to the jury for a verdict.
If the jury issues a verdict in your favor, the defense can appeal the decision. If the jury decides in favor of the defense, you can file an appeal. Appeals are filed when there were errors in the trial that were substantial enough that they might have changed the outcome of your case. If an appeal is granted, you may have to go through the trial process again.
After a verdict award, your case may then be settled. There may be parties that have liens against the award that you receive. These liens must be resolved before you will receive your money. If you have private health insurance, your insurance company may have a lien on your award for the amounts that it has paid for your medical bills. Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare, and health insurance through your job can also place liens on your award. If you paid for your own medical care for your injuries, you won't have to resolve these types of liens.
Once your attorney receives the settlement check or the award for you, any outstanding liens will first need to be paid. Your unpaid medical bills will also have to be paid. Your lawyer will then take out money for his or her attorney's fees and costs. Finally, the net will be disbursed to you.