Whether they have been bitten by a dog or injured in a motorcycle accident, one of the most urgent questions that clients have is, “what happens next?” If you have been injured in an accident, your entire life has been suddenly thrown into question. You may be unable to work and worried about your bills. You may be worried about whether you will ever be able to fully recover. These questions can be overwhelming without even considering whether you should pursue a claim.
If you have suffered a serious injury, however, you should at least talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer. They can explain your options and help answer the question, “what happens next.”
The Initial Consultation
The first step in your case is, for many people, the most difficult. Deciding to meet with a lawyer is a momentous step. It is important to choose the right lawyer for you and for your case. That said, do not worry about getting in over your head - every personal injury attorney we are aware of offers a free, no-obligation initial consultation. The lawyer can review your case, determine whether you have a claim, map out potential legal strategies, discuss the potential outcomes, and provide an estimate of what your case may be worth. For many accident victims, meeting with a lawyer can feel empowering in that it gives them the information they need to make the best decision for themselves and how they should proceed.
Building Your Case
Should you decide to proceed with a claim for compensation, the next step is to begin gathering the documentation and other evidence you will need to support your case. This can include gathering the following:
- Your medical bills and records
- Accident reports
- Photographs and video footage
- Statements from witnesses
Thorough documentation of your accident, your injuries, and your losses is vital to the success of your case. Unfortunately, gathering the evidence you need can be time-consuming, especially if you are struggling both physically and emotionally. Your lawyer can gather the documentation you need so that you can focus on your recovery.
The Demand Phase
Once you have assembled the documentation you need, the next step is to submit your claim to the insurance company with a demand for payment. This is typically done in the form of a letter that accompanies your supporting documentation. The letter will summarize your injuries and other losses, detail the amount that you believe your claim is worth, and demand that the insurance company pay the amount you are seeking or you will pursue legal action. The letter should be concise yet detailed enough to be persuasive.
To be clear, the demand phase will not likely be the first time you will have communicated with the insurance company. You need to be extremely careful when speaking with the insurance company - any statements that you make may be used against you, specifically when you make your demand for payment. That said, your insurance company should stop communicating with you directly once you have hired a lawyer. Your lawyer can handle all communications with the insurance company from that point forward.
The Negotiation Phase
Once you have issued your demand for payment, the insurance company will typically respond in one of three ways:
- They will pay the amount demanded
- They will deny your claim
- They will make a settlement offer for some amount less than the amount sought in your demand letter
Insurance companies rarely pay the amount demanded. If they deny your claim without justification or simply do not respond, you may have a claim for bad faith in addition to your injury claim.
Most claims wind up being settled for some amount less than the amount demanded. This means that once the settlement offer is made by the insurance company, you have the option to accept the offer, reject it, or make a counteroffer.
This is a critical phase in your case. If you accept their offer, you waive your right to any other claims, even if you later discover that your injuries were worse than you thought or you require additional medical treatment. Most non-lawyers settle their claims for far less than they are worth, later discovering that they have bills they can’t pay.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can evaluate the offer and discuss with you whether or not it’s fair. They can discuss with you what would be an acceptable settlement and then negotiate on your behalf. The decision to settle is always yours, but they can handle the back-and-forth that negotiating your claim will require.
If your case is unable to be settled, your last remaining option is to file a lawsuit. The legal system is extremely difficult for non-lawyers to navigate, and even a minor mistake can result in your case being dismissed. We strongly recommend that you contact a personal injury attorney if you are considering filing a lawsuit in order to protect your rights and get the best possible outcome.
The litigation process can take several months for your case to get to trial. During that time, there will be a separate process for gathering evidence referred to as “discovery.” Both sides may also file various motions that could affect how the case proceeds. Along the way, both sides may continue to discuss possible settlement options - it is not uncommon for cases to settle before they get to trial, and having a pending lawsuit could give you additional leverage to reach a favorable settlement.
However, you may need to proceed to trial. Depending on the complexity of your case, the trial may last several days. Your lawyer will know how to get the evidence you need to build a compelling case and how to persuade the jury to rule in your favor.
Injured? Call Powell, Powell, & Powell Today
At Powell, Powell, & Powell, we have decades of experience in helping injured people get the compensation they need to rebuild their lives. We’re here to put your anxieties to rest and handle the details so that you can focus on your recovery. To schedule a free consultation, contact us today at 850-862-2757 to discuss your case and how we can help.