A personal injury lawsuit allows injured victims to seek compensation from the parties responsible for their injuries for any accident-related damages. Injured victims may be entitled to financial compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Unfortunately, victims will not receive the compensation they are entitled to overnight. The duration of an injured victim’s personal injury claim from filing to resolution may depend on many factors.
The biggest factor: An experienced personal injury lawyer can DRAMATICALLY cut through red tape, make sure all paperwork gets properly filed, and through the right negotiation tactics, speed the settlement process and efficiently navigate any court proceedings that need to take place for you to recover the compensation you deserve. Read on to learn more about what a personal injury lawyer can do for you.
The 4 Stages of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
After sustaining injuries in an unexpected accident you will likely be preoccupied with your recovery. You may require medical procedures, follow-up appointments or therapy sessions. You may also need to discuss time away from work with your employer. Depending on the severity of your injuries and recovery outlook, you may need to request a modification of your current job duties to accommodate any temporary or permanent disabilities.
In addition, you must comply with many legal procedures and requirements throughout the personal injury claim process. Your personal injury lawyer, however, can perform many of those tasks for you as quickly and efficiently as possible, and help you through the others that require your participation.
1) The Discovery Phase
During the discovery phase of your personal injury lawsuit, both sides—your attorney and the attorney or attorneys for the defense—have the opportunity to collect evidence. When appropriate, attorneys may investigate your accident, your injuries, and the value of your claim.
The discovery phase can involve several stages, many of which require your cooperation to proceed as smoothly as possible.
- Gathering evidence. Each side in a personal injury lawsuit has the opportunity to collect evidence that supports their legal argument regarding the claim. Your attorney, for example, may want to talk to witnesses, review video footage, or take a look at any pictures of the accident. You may need to provide copies of your medical records. To ensure your case continues to move forward, you should promptly gather any evidence requested. Gathering some of the information required for your case may be out of your control. For example, the discovery phase may take longer if you have trouble contacting a critical witness.
- The deposition. During the deposition phase of discovery, each attorney has the opportunity to obtain a statement from any witnesses at the scene of the accident. You and any others involved in the accident may also be required to give a deposition. If you schedule your deposition promptly, answer questions clearly, and keep your statements consistent, it can help streamline the deposition process. On the other hand, if unexpected information arises during the deposition, you may need to bring in additional witnesses, which may extend the process.
- An independent medical exam. If you suffered severe injuries in your accident the defense may request an independent medical exam, conducted by a doctor of its choosing. If your injuries cause limitations that will cause long-lasting impacts, it is highly likely you will be required to submit to the medical exam. Scheduling that exam promptly and following your attorney’s recommendations can expedite the process so that your claim can move forward. On the other hand, if you wait to schedule that appointment or miss an appointment it can slow down the process.
An experienced lawyer doesn’t need to learn on the job, but knows how to accomplish these tasks in a competent but streamlined fashion.
Following the discovery phase, the parties may have an opportunity to negotiate a potential settlement. Some insurance companies will try to quickly settle your case by proposing a low settlement offer immediately after your accident. Speak with an attorney before agreeing to any settlement offers. If appropriate, your attorney may create a demand package to justify the value of your claim.
As your personal injury lawsuit progresses, you may go through several stages of negotiation. At each stage, you have the option to accept the offer of the responsible person or entity. Upon accepting a settlement offer, you will likely have to relieve responsible parties from any future responsibility for your injuries. A finalized settlement agreement ends negotiations, and you will receive compensation.
If you have the right lawyer working on your case presenting strong enough evidence, the defendant will feel more inclined to settle, rather than dragging out the process (and costing him or her more and more money in attorney fees than settling for a reasonable amount of money).
If you cannot reach an agreement with the responsible entity for any reason you may proceed to mediation. Mediation may be needed if an entity refuses to acknowledge liability for the accident or fails to offer adequate compensation for your injuries. Typically, a current or retired judge will act as the mediator to facilitate the parties in creating an agreeable solution. During mediation, you will decide whether the agreement adequately addresses your needs. Mediation often helps parties reach an agreement when the two sides cannot come to a settlement on their own.
Should either party decide not to accept the offer put together by your mediator, you may have the option to proceed to trial. If your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial, it will significantly lengthen the time it will take for you to receive compensation. Most personal injury claims are resolved without proceeding to trial.
In the event of a trial, both sides will have the opportunity to present evidence. Evidence presented may include information about the accident’s cause, the severity of your injuries, and how those injuries continue to affect your life. Then, a judge or jury will determine how much the liable entity owes you and set a timeline for payment. After the trial, the liable entity must provide those funds within the agreed-upon time or face further legal penalties.
As with negotiations, an experienced lawyer presenting strong evidence will encourage the defense not to waste their own time and money by dragging things out.
4 Factors That May Influence How Long Your Personal Injury Lawsuit Takes
In addition to the required stages, many factors can contribute to the time it takes to resolve your personal injury lawsuit. In turn, these factors also increase the time it takes for injured victims to receive the compensation they are entitled to.
1) Do your doctors believe you have made a full recovery?
Immediately following your accident, it is difficult to predict the amount of compensation an injured victim may be entitled to. Victims of traumatic brain injury may surprise their doctors by recovering more than expected. On the other hand, they might never progress as far as their doctors had hoped. Victims of spinal cord injuries will often come close to a full recovery within six months of the date of injury.
Regardless of the type of injuries, if you are still recovering, it may be difficult to calculate medical expenses. Accurately predicting future medical needs requires the consideration of multiple factors. In some cases, the legally liable entity may want to wait until you are recovered before finalizing the settlement.
2) How long did you wait to contact an attorney?
While the liable entity may want to wait until you recover before offering a settlement, you should not hesitate to contact an attorney. In fact, in most cases, you should contact a personal injury attorney as soon after your accident as possible.
The sooner you contact a personal injury lawyer, the sooner that lawyer may begin protecting your best interests. If necessary, an attorney may help you create a demand package and begin investigating your accident and claim. Much of the evidence related to your accident may be harder to obtain if you delay beginning the investigation.
- Witness statements can grow less accurate with time. The more time that passes after an accident, the more your witnesses’ memories may fade. As a result, witness statements may grow less accurate. You may struggle to get witness statements that correlate with your version of the events that led to the accident. When you take witness statements as soon after the accident as possible, on the other hand, you can improve the accuracy of those statements. Accurate witness statements will provide a more clear view of what—and what entity—caused your accident.
- Video footage may get deleted. Many businesses keep recorded security footage for a set period of time. At the expiration of that time period, the video footage is permanently deleted. Your accident could occur in clear view of security cameras. However, if you do not access that footage as soon as possible, it may be difficult or impossible to access it. If you report your accident when it happens, the facility may keep that footage longer. As time goes on, however, that footage grows more likely to get lost or recorded over. Prompt investigation of your accident may ensure that you can obtain valuable evidence.
- The scene of the accident may change. Photo evidence or a visit to the scene of the accident can be invaluable in attempting to recreate the accident. Documenting the scene as it was on the date of the accident will help demonstrate exactly how your accident occurred. If you wait months to contact an attorney, however, the scene of the accident may change substantially. After a slip and fall, for example, the business or premises owner may decide to take care of much-needed repairs. Improvements may be made to the scene or items may be rearranged to decrease the risk of future accidents. Construction sites change between one day and the next. Outdoor accident sites may change significantly based on the season. To ensure an accurate picture of the accident scene, you should contact an attorney who may begin a prompt and thorough investigation.
If you waited to contact an attorney after your accident, it may not change the amount of compensation you are entitled to. However, it may extend the duration of the claims process. As time passes, evidence becomes hard to collect, so discovery may take longer if you wait. By contacting an attorney quickly, you can reduce the amount of time needed to investigate your accident.
3) Who caused your accident?
When an accident causes serious injuries, you will need to identify the entities that caused your accident. In an auto accident, for example, you may determine that the other driver bears full liability for the accident. In that case, the other driver’s insurance company will pay the costs associated with your injuries. On the other hand, further investigation may reveal that mechanical failure caused the accident.
Therefore, the manufacturer of the vehicle or a mechanic who recently serviced it may be liable for damages. The entity that caused your accident may have a substantial impact on how long it takes to resolve your claim.
- When dealing with an auto insurance company, the limits of the driver’s policy may define how much compensation you can expect. Washington law, for example, requires drivers to carry a minimum of $25,000 in personal injury coverage for each individual injured in an accident. If your expenses related to your injuries clearly exceed this amount, you may easily settle your personal injury claim.
- Some big businesses, including large insurance companies, may drag out the claims process. Many companies hope that if they delay the resolution of your claim, you will accept a lower settlement offer. Repeated delays may influence injured victims to end the claims process, so they may recover the compensation they are entitled to. Insurance companies often have large internal legal departments. Delays in processing a claim will not increase their overall legal costs, but, in some cases, delays may increase yours.
- If more than one entity is liable for your injuries, the claims process may be complex. In some personal injury lawsuits, you may have multiple defendants. Several individuals or entities may have contributed to causing your injuries. When you must deal with multiple entities who caused your accident, it may take longer to resolve your claim.
4) How much money are you asking for?
Ultimately, claims involving minor injuries with lower costs may be resolved more quickly than severe injuries with higher costs. Seeking higher levels of compensation, especially following an accident with severe or complicated injuries, can extend the claims process.
Experience allows attorneys to regularly fight for the injured victim’s right to the compensation they are entitled to. Having an attorney on your side can make a big difference. Allowing an attorney to handle your legal matters may reduce your stress levels and increase the compensation you receive for your injuries. if you are having trouble deciding on an attorney learn what factors make up an ideal attorney to choose.
An experienced personal injury lawyer may also, in many cases, streamline the process so that you get your settlement faster. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon after your accident as possible to increase the chances of maximizing the benefits you recover and the speed with which you can receive it.
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