What happens in a Personal Injury Case? The process is explained here.
Many callers reach out to ask what happens in a Personal Injury Case. We’ve created a standard timeline of the events you can expect to encounter when dealing with a personal injury law firm. Remember that each personal injury case is different from another, so it’s essential not to compare your case to any other. However, this article will walk you through the overall process.
Consultation With An Attorney (Our law firm offers these for free!)
During this visit, you’ll meet with a personal injury attorney to discuss your case. At this consultation, we’ll discuss your accident, your injuries, the treatment you have received, and any other concerns you may have. It is imperative to not leave out any important information during this consult. If you have think anything may interfere with your case such as a previous illness or injury, now is the time to advise the attorney (It may have an impact later on in your case). During the Consultation the attorney is collecting valuable information from you, regarding your accident, that will be crucial to the investigation period and your personal injury case overall.
First, your attorney will send a letter to your Insurance Company as well as the Other Party’s Insurance Company notifying them that you have retained legal counsel. This means any Insurance Company must speak directly to us – not you, the client. It also means they must include us in all correspondence and empowers us to speak directly to the Insurance Company on your behalf.
This phase is for also collecting and examining information. In order to build your personal injury case, your attorney will request medical records and bills from all of your medical providers – any doctors or facilities you visited following your accident. Your attorney will compile any and all relevant information to your accident. Sometimes there is a need to rely on Expert Witnesses and their reports.
For any Personal Injury Case involving Motor Vehicle Accidents/Pedestrian Accidents: You will also be scheduled for an Independent Medical Examination (IME). This is a medical exam conducted by an independent medical professional, not your primary care physician or someone you’ve already visited for care, related to this accident. This doctor must be first approved and vetted by your Insurance Company. The purpose of this exam is to see where you stand in your treatment. Insurance Companies rely on these doctors to examine you and relay what is in the best treatment plan for the injuries sustained. In New Jersey, Auto Insurance Companies rely on a NJ CARE PATHS Treatment Plan to determine what is the recommended treatment progress. The doctors will recommend more treatment if necessary or will “cut off” treatment if you are found to be at Maximum Medical Improvement. If you are still in pain and the auto insurance company declares you at MMI or Maximum Medical Improvement, you may need to rely on your own health insurance to fund your treatment for your injuries. This can be very expensive and may affect your personal injury case – specifically your claim – depending if your insurance is an ERISA Lien, or Medicare.
- Supplying your Insurance Company with a letter of representation.
- Independent Medical Examinations
- Obtaining Medical Records
- Obtaining bills for your treatment
- Recruiting Experts, if needed
- Collecting other information
Submission of a Demand Package
After the Investigation Period, your attorney will make an assessment of all the findings, and calculate a settlement amount, which he will discuss with you at a subsequent meeting. Once you both agree on the settlement amount, we will send a packet of information (“Demand Package”) to your insurance company, which includes a letter requesting payment for your accident, based on the medical reports, bills and other substantiating details. If the insurance company denies our request for payment, we will file a lawsuit on your behalf.
Filing A Personal Injury Lawsuit
It is essential that – should we decide to file a lawsuit – we do so within the Statute of Limitations. In the State of New Jersey, the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is typically two years from the date you were injured. That means we must file a lawsuit within two years from the date of your accident in most cases.
If your matter is due to the negligence of an employee or agency of the New Jersey government, you will need to file a Tort claim with the state government within 90 days from the date of your injury. After that, you’ll have to wait six months to file a lawsuit (assuming the government hasn’t reached out to resolve your claim). And you must file the lawsuit, in any case, within two years of your injury.
There are many times where suing someone for injuries isn’t as easy as it sounds. Often in a strong personal injury case, you need to prove you have a significant permanent injury.
Here are some examples of significant, permanent injuries:
- loss of body part
- significant disfigurement
- significant scarring
- a displaced fracture
- loss of a fetus
- permanent injury (the affected body part has not healed to allow normal function, and is not expected to)
There are a few exceptions to this rule and it is best to discuss your case specifics with an attorney, so they may give you the best advice to proceed.
During this period, the Insurance Company’s attorney(s) will get involved, and we will await a response from their attorney.
- Plaintiff (you, the injured person) files a complaint
- Service of Complaint on Defendant
- Defendant Files an Answer to the Complaint
This begins the back and forth between attorneys and the Insurance Company. Attorneys will formally request information (Interrogatories) from each other in order to collect and clarify facts, to help prepare their arguments for trial. The Defendant’s Attorney will also request that you attend one (or more) Defense Medical Examinations, by their expert doctors, in order to confirm the extent of your injuries or to disprove your injuries.
Attorneys from both sides may also call in Medical Experts (impartial, highly experienced, very credible doctors) to testify, either for – or against you, in order to argue your injuries, and – by extension – your settlement.
Attorneys will also call you in for a Deposition, which is a formal question-and-answer session, that is given under oath. The Defense Attorney usually asks questions based on your answers to Interrogatories and other discovery they have received. They will ask questions regarding your family life, personal life, work life and social life. They will ask you in-depth questions regarding the accident and the treatment of your injuries. They will also ask questions regarding how the accident has impacted you. The best advice is to be consistent and truthful in your answers. If you have any more questions regarding the depositions, check out our article on Depositions.
- Supplying Interrogatories
- Defense Medical Examinations
- Expert Reports
Mediation and/or Arbitration
The Mediation process is a negotiation period that includes both sides (you and the Insurance Company, via attorneys), plus a neutral third party. In Mediation, there is no resolution unless both sides come to an agreement.
In Arbitration, each attorney provides a statement regarding your injuries, the bills incurred and other important factors to the case the arbitrator (a neutral third party) should consider. The Plaintiff’s attorney and Defendant’s attorney present any operative reports, diagnostic tests, photos, and expert reports to the arbitrator to determine what they believe in their experience what your personal injury case is worth. The Arbitrator is a third-party attorney who applies their experience to determine what settlement value the case has. If either side has any issue with the settlement value given on the case, they will need to take it to trial. The arbitration allows the parties prepare a range of settlement value, to present to an impartial party. This provides a preview of how the case is likely to appear to a judge or jury in court.
**Good News** Most personal injury cases never make it to trial. Most cases are resolved during Mediation and Arbitration, where both sides can agree on a settlement amount.
While our law firm works hard to get you compensated long before this stage, your personal injury case may ultimately end up going to trial. In a personal injury trial, both sides argue in front of a judge and/or jury, who will examine the evidence and decide whether the defendant is legally responsible for your injuries, and what is a fair and reasonable compensation.
Notwithstanding an appeal, which can get costly, this decision is usually final.