If you’ve been injured in a car accident or otherwise harmed by someone else’s carelessness, you may be asking yourself what happens next and wondering if there is any way to hold the wrongdoer accountable. Fortunately, you have rights and legal options, and the process for filing a personal injury lawsuit starts with your injury itself.
Step One: Injury and Treatment
Your injury is the first piece of proof you need in a personal injury lawsuit, and it requires attention, evaluation, and documentation. Before you do anything else, please seek medical treatment. Not only is it important for your health and well-being, but seeking immediate medical attention highlights the severity of your injury and strengthens your personal injury claim.
The medical professional you see can also estimate your recovery time and how your injury may impact your life. This is all important for the next step of your claim.
Step Two: Hiring an Attorney and Estimating Damages
Once you have received medical treatment, you will want to consult an attorney. Your lawyer will help you determine what your claim may be worth. They do this by estimating damages. The term, “damages,” refers to any injury-related losses, including the expenses you can measure (economic damages like medical bills and missed wages) and those you cannot (non-economic damages like pain and suffering).
Translating non-economic damages into economic terms is difficult, but your attorney can help. Once your attorney has estimated all economic and non-economic damages, you can move on to step 3 together. Your lawyer can also help you deal with all the paperwork and questions that come in when you start receiving treatment.
Step 2.5 – Communicating with Medical Providers and Insurance Carriers
When you hire an attorney, it is like having a weight lifted off your shoulders. As our very own Christopher Lind explains:
“One of the things I tell clients is that part of my job is to send notices of representation to all medical providers and insurance carriers to get them to back off. A lot of the time my clients get inundated with questionnaires and phone calls and are not sure what to do. I take those calls and overall correspondence away from them and tell them to focus on treatment. While we do have a statute of limitations [see the ‘When Do I Call a Lawyer’ section below], I want my clients to be free to focus on themselves for a time. I understand that my clients may be feeling overwhelmed or potentially even grieving or dealing with pain when they contact us, so I do everything in my power to help.”
Step Three: Issuing a Demand Letter
Litigation is expensive for everyone involved, so a good lawyer will try to recover compensation for you outside of court before they file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. Your attorney will begin settlement negotiations by issuing a demand letter. In this letter, your lawyer will ask the at-fault party or their insurance company to pay you the damages you are owed.
Step Four: Negotiating
Usually, the insurance company or at-fault party will respond to your demand letter with a counteroffer. Your attorney might go back and forth with the other party to get you a fair settlement. The settlement should cover all your damages and legal fees, and the other party may be willing to settle to avoid the threat of litigation.
If your attorney cannot negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf, they will make good on the threat of litigation and file a personal injury complaint in civil court.
Step Five: Pre-Trial and Discovery
To begin litigation, your attorney will “serve” the other party with the complaint – or deliver the complaint in a verifiable way. From there, you become the plaintiff, and the other party becomes the defendant. In most cases, the defendant will hire an attorney, as well, and then the lawyers will start preparing for a trial.
As part of the pre-trial process, both attorneys ask each other for information and evidence. This is called “discovery.” During this time, settlement negotiations continue and proceed with even more pressure.
Often, defendants make reasonable settlement offers in personal injury cases because they realize the evidence is stacked against them.
Step Six: Trial
Most personal injury cases do not go to trial. If your case does make it to trial, however, the judge or jury will determine whether the defendant is liable for your losses. If the judge or jury sides with you, they will issue a verdict or award to cover your damages and legal fees.
The defendant may decide to appeal, but unless their appeal is approved – and successful – you will be legally entitled to the money the court awards you. When you have a court order, there are many ways you can recover the compensation you are owed – even if the defendant does not want to pay.
How Do I Pay My Attorney?
Personal injury attorneys work on contingency fees, which means your lawyer does not get paid unless you win your case. Typically, your attorney will recover about 30% of your final settlement or verdict. Don’t worry – your attorney accounts for their own fee when estimating your damages!
Additionally, plaintiffs who hire attorneys usually get larger settlements and verdicts than those who don’t.
When Do I Call a Lawyer?
You can call a lawyer as soon as you want to after an accident or injury, and the sooner you contact an attorney, the stronger your case will be. At Nichols Dixon, we recommend calling a lawyer before you speak to insurance companies. Your insurer may pretend to have your best interests at heart, but insurance companies are ultimately more concerned with limiting their liability and protecting their profits.
Many of our clients call us from the hospital, as this is where most people realize how serious their injuries are. Whatever you decide to do, you should contact an attorney before the statute of limitations expires. In Oklahoma, you have two (2) years from the date of your accident or injury to file a personal injury lawsuit.
If you miss this deadline, you not only lose your right to file a lawsuit, but you also lose negotiating power.
Ultimately, you should contact an attorney sooner rather than later. If you think it might be time to call a lawyer, schedule a consultation as soon as possible.