What to Expect from Your Personal Injury Claim
Nothing can prepare you for the shock and trauma of a personal injury accident. Whether you were involved in an auto accident, injured in a slip and fall, or struck while riding a bicycle, suffering pain due to another’s negligence is something you will never be equipped to face. When the unexpected happens, the team at Weinstein Legal is ready to fight for your right to compensation.
When clients come to our office for their free consultation, they’re often still reeling from their accident. Their initial shock and confusion, and even anger and sadness, leaves them with plenty of questions. However, one of the most frequently asked personal injury questions is “How long does a lawsuit take?”
While only four to five percent of personal injury cases in the United States go to trial, clients’ unease over the court process, and how long it could require, is a serious concern we try to address as soon as possible. If you’re unsure how a personal injury claim unfolds, or how long a lawsuit might take, continue reading.
1. Seek Medical Attention to Get a Diagnosis
The first step in the personal injury timeline should always be to receive medical attention. We say this for two reasons. First, because your health and wellness is paramount. Even if your injuries appear to be minimal at first glance, we know all too well that the shock of an accident can often dull pain symptoms for up to 48 hours or even longer. Immediately getting medical care allows you to assess, identify, and treat any injuries which were incurred during your accident.
Second, a solid trail of medical documentation is crucial to building a personal injury case. Immediately seeking medical attention to diagnose and treat your injuries not only makes the point that you were in fact injured, but also helps establish that these injuries were the result of your accident and not a prior condition. In the personal injury timeline, medical assistance should always occur before all else.
2. Contact Your Insurance Company
Depending on the personal injury accident you suffered, alerting your insurance company should be the next step in your claim.
You should contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible to alert them of the accident. Once your insurance company has been alerted, the claim process can begin. This will be helpful if the individual who caused the accident had little to no insurance, because your insurance company can file an underinsured or uninsured motorist claim.
Likewise, alerting your insurance company to the accident will allow you to claim your Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. This coverage will help to pay for the resulting medical bills and lost wages that can accrue in the coming weeks. For more about PIP benefits and how they work, read more here.
3. Consult with a Personal Injury Attorney
Once the ball has begun rolling with your insurance company, contact a trusted South Florida personal injury attorney. When it comes to personal injury, insurance companies will often attempt to pay out as little as possible in order to save themselves money. This is true for your insurance company, as well as the insurance company of the at-fault individual. While letting your insurance company know of the occurrence of an accident is crucial, chances are they will not have your best interests in mind.
This is why finding a personal injury attorney you trust is so important. At Weinstein Legal, our dedicated attorneys are here to listen to the details of your case, answer your questions no matter the time of day, and work tirelessly on your claim. After your initial free consultation, you will sign a contingency contract which will specify the ground rules of your working relationship with your attorney. Then together we can begin working on your case.
4. Investigate and Gather Information
Once you’ve retained an attorney, the next step in your claim is the investigation and gathering of information.
- Vehicle data
- Police reports
- Video surveillance
- Eye witness testimony
- Medical bills and records
- The scene of the accident
- Employment history and earnings
Your attorney may also contact medical experts, accident reconstruction experts, and other expert witnesses depending on the circumstances of your accident and injuries. If you promptly sought out an attorney, this process should begin within a week of your accident, and can take several weeks to complete. While time is of the essence, at Weinstein Legal we believe that being as thorough and detailed as possible gives us and our clients the best chance at success.
5. Sending a Demand Letter
Once your attorney has collected all necessary evidence, the next phase in your personal injury claim is to send a demand letter to the at-fault party. A demand letter formally outlines your case, including liability and damages, such as what your injuries are, what medical bills have been acquired, the cost of future treatment, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more.
A demand letter formally demands payment, and allows the recipient to know the seriousness of the matter – and the failure to make payment – will result in legal action or collections. This letter will clearly state relevant facts of the case and describe the other party’s fault, utilizing evidence found in the investigative phase to support claims.
A demand letter is sent to settle the case easily and amicably, allowing both parties to resolve the issue and avoid the courts. The letter is reviewed by the opposing party, who can either reject the demand, make a counter offer, or accept it. Most demand letters will be responded to in a timely manner, which is typically within 30 days of receiving the letter.
6. Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit: Complaint and Answer Phase
If the opposing party rejects the demand letter or attempts to negotiate a settlement which you and your attorney deem unacceptable, the next step is to formally file a personal injury lawsuit. In the state of Florida, lawsuits begin with what is known as a complaint. As its name suggests, a complaint describes the issue at hand, often echoing many of the liability, damages, and evidence-based facts in the original demand letter.
A complaint is filed in the county in which your injury occurred or where the at-fault party resides. Once a complaint is filed, it is delivered to the at-fault party, known legally as the defendant. The defendant must answer the complaint within a set period of time, in which they either admit or deny the allegations of the complaint.
7. Discovery Phase
The next stage of a personal injury claim is the discovery phase. During this point in time the opposing parties obtain further evidence from one another, including witnesses and evidence that will be presented at trial. This exchange of information allows each party to evaluate the comprehensive nature of the other side’s case.
The main purpose of this phase is to make each party aware of which evidence may be presented at trial. The discovery phase gives a complete view to all of the information your attorney sought during the investigation phase, so that he or she can be as prepared as possible to argue your case.
8. Reaching Arbitration or Mediation
Either before or after a lawsuit is filed, parties can head to arbitration or mediation. Often these options are chosen because they are faster than going through the courts, and also attract less attention. Either way, both of these methods can help parties come to an agreement in an effort to avoid trial.
Method 1: Mediation
Mediation is an alternative dispute resolution that can be requested at any point throughout a personal injury claim. At mediation, both parties, their attorneys, and a neutral mediator will be present. Additionally, both parties may choose to have additional witnesses present, such as experts or psychologists.
During mediation, attorneys present the case from their client’s point of view, and discuss the facts of the case in relation to the law. For example, the matter of negligence and liability is often discussed heavily during this time. The mediation process relies very much on parties being able to personally tell their stories and be heard by the opposing party.
Once both points of view are heard, the goal of mediation is to diffuse anger and begin engaging in settlement negotiations that both parties feel comfortable with. These negotiations are facilitated by the mediator. Mediations are non-binding, and either party does reserve the right to accept the offer or reject it and head to trial.
Method 2: Arbitration
In arbitration, both parties, their attorneys, and even additional witnesses will still be present. However, instead of a neutral mediator, arbitration will be overseen by a third party known as an arbitrator. This individual acts as a private judge, and makes a binding decision about the parties’ dispute.
An arbitrator can be an attorney, a field expert, or maybe even a retired judge. Typically the parties will pay for the arbitrator’s services. In this case, sometimes parties choose to submit their case to arbitration strictly because it is faster and less costly than going to court. However, cases can also reach arbitration when a judge believes that a reasonable settlement can be in reach without the court process.
During arbitration, both parties will present their cases the same way they would in mediation. The difference with arbitration is that once the hearing has been held, an arbitrator will make a decision about the settlement which is final.
9. Possible Trial
If both parties opt out of mediation or arbitration, or cannot settle in mediation, the case will have to head to trial. Trial is often thought about as the longest stage in a personal injury claim, and truthfully it can add anywhere from 3 to 6 months onto a resolution’s duration.
Trial often begins with a jury selection process, after which a court session begins with opening statements presented by both attorneys. Opening statements are followed by testimony from eye witnesses as well as expert witnesses, after which a cross-examination by the opposing party will follow. This is followed by closing statements from both parties, and court is adjourned so that a jury can review the facts of the case.
All parties are then brought back into the courtroom to hear the final verdict once the jury has deliberated. Once a settlement amount, if any, has been announced, a party is then ordered to make the payment to the plaintiff. A settlement check is typically sent to the attorney’s office, who will then deduct his attorney fees and costs, and distribute the client’s compensation to them accordingly.
The Bottom Line
When our clients ask us, “How long does a lawsuit take?” there is truly no concrete answer. Generally speaking, there is no set time for how long a personal injury claim will take. Some injury claims may take only a few months, especially when they are settled outside of court or as response to a demand letter. However, cases that go to court may take more than a year.
The bottom line is, while “How long does a lawsuit take” might be the question, at Weinstein Legal it’s the effort and dedication put into those months that are the answer. Our personal injury attorneys work tirelessly to ensure our clients are guaranteed the best possible chances at receiving compensation for their injuries. Whether the claim takes two months, eight months, or fourteen, we’re ready to do whatever it takes to win.
If you’ve been involved in a personal injury accident, it’s only natural for you to have questions and concerns. Contact our trusted legal team today to receive the answers you need and the service you deserve.