If you’ve been injured in a car accident and you want to pursue a personal injury claim, you may feel a little overwhelmed not knowing what to expect. The legal process can be complicated and confusing, and some insurance companies will try to take advantage of that to keep from paying your claim. That’s why you should have an experienced attorney on your side to help you navigate the process. Of course, every case is different, but our guide to a typical car accident personal injury case will help you know what to expect as your claim progresses.
Right After the Accident
What you do immediately after a car accident can have a big impact on personal injury claims or other legal situations that may arise later as a result of the accident. Check out our guide to what to do after a car accident to make sure you do all you can to protect yourself in the event of a car accident.
Hiring a Lawyer
When you think you may have a personal injury claim, consulting with an experienced attorney can help you decide what to do next. They will ask about the details of your claim, including the exact circumstances of the accident, whether your injuries resulted from another person’s negligence, the nature and severity of your injuries, and your medical costs and other expenses. This information will help the attorney to advise you on your legal options.
If you choose to hire an attorney to assist you with your personal injury claim after a car accident, the next step will be for them to conduct a full investigation of your claim. Your attorney will gather all the information they can about the car accident, your injuries, and other details relevant to your claim. A typical investigation will include:
- Police reports
- Accident scene photographs
- Witness statements
- Your medical records
- Your work history and salary information (to determine lost wages from your injury that may be included in your claim)
In addition to gathering this information, your attorney may pursue a number of other avenues in order to fully understand what occurred in your car accident and make the strongest case possible for your claim. Some of these additional measures include:
- Consulting with accident reconstruction experts, medical experts, and any other experts that may be relevant to your particular case
- Obtaining vehicle data from just before the crash from the vehicle’s black box
- Examining the damage to your vehicle in person
- Determining if there is any surveillance video of your car accident from nearby businesses and obtaining the footage if it exists
- Seeking out witnesses to the accident and obtaining additional statements from them
Your attorney should keep you informed of their progress during the investigation process, but you should not need to be involved in the investigation other than providing your own medical records and other information as requested.
The Demand Package
Once your attorney completes their investigation and your doctor releases you from treatment for your injuries, it is time to compile the demand package. Your attorney will write a demand letter to the insurance company or other responsible party from whom you’re seeking compensation. The letter will make a strong case for why you should be compensated and will propose a settlement amount. The demand letter along with supporting evidence gathered during the investigation phase make up the full demand package.
Once the opposing party receives the demand package, your claim enters the negotiation phase. Ideally, your demand will be accepted; however, in most cases the opposing party will make a counteroffer, or they may reject the demand. At this point, your attorney will negotiate with the opposing counsel and try to reach a settlement that is acceptable to all parties. If a settlement is reached, then your claim will be paid and your case concluded. If a settlement cannot be reached, your claim will proceed to litigation.
If the parties are not able to agree on a settlement, your attorney will file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. This is a civil legal action intended to secure compensation for your injuries from the responsible party or parties. As the lawsuit proceeds, negotiation may continue through alternate dispute resolution (ADR) methods. Mediation involves the parties meeting with a neutral third party who will help them reach an agreement.
Some cases may proceed to arbitration. While mediation is an informal and non-binding process, arbitration is binding and takes the place of a trial. An arbitrator, often a retired judge, is brought in to review the case and make a determination of liability and damages. Both parties agree to waive their right to a trial by judge or jury and be bound by the arbitrator’s decision
If an agreement cannot be reached through ADR methods, then the case will proceed to trial. The vast majority of personal injury cases are settled without going to trial, but in the rare instances where a settlement cannot be reached out of court, a judge or jury will review the evidence in the case to determine liability and award damages if they find in favor of the plaintiff.
No matter what path your personal injury claim takes, you want an experienced attorney on your side to help guide you through the process. You can be sure that the insurance company has a team of lawyers to advise them. Having a good lawyer on your side will ensure that you aren’t taken advantage of, and that you are fully compensated for your injury from a car accident.
Geoff McDonald & Associates offers free initial consultations. If you’ve been injured in a car accident, contact our offices for an evaluation of your case. You can reach us through our online form or by calling (804) 888-8888.