Last updated on February 14, 2019 by Accident Monitoring Team
Being injured in a car accident can completely upend your life. If you’re feeling bewildered and don’t know where to start, this guide to personal injury cases will help you learn what you can do to protect your rights.
Coping with Consequences
Has a car accident left you injured? Has your vehicle been totaled, leaving you without the ability to get to and from work? Do you find yourself unable to do your job while recovering? Are you left with expensive medical bills you can’t afford to pay? Don’t despair — there are ways for you to cope with the consequences of your accident. In this case, you might be able to make a personal injury claim against the driver responsible.
Making a personal injury claim against the driver, or more specifically the driver’s insurance company can help restore some of what you’ve lost due to an accident. Making a personal injury claim can provide you the cost of a replacement vehicle, recover wages lost during convalescence, pay outstanding medical bills, and even compensate you for the pain and suffering you experienced as a result of the accident. This guide to personal injury cases will walk you through the steps of making a claim from beginning to end.
First Things First
If you’re ever in a car accident, there are some crucial things to keep in mind. The most important of these is to seek medical attention as quickly as possible. The types of injuries you can suffer in a car accident aren’t always as obvious as cuts, bruises, or broken bones — some injuries, like concussions, aren’t immediately detectable. Always see a doctor at the earliest possibility to protect yourself from further injury. Coincidentally, doing so also helps establish a medical record of any injuries you received, something that will help support a personal injury claim.
Additionally, it’s also imperative that you document the accident thoroughly, as this will also help you prove your personal injury case. This means receiving a copy of the police report, exchanging information with other drivers involved, taking down names and phone numbers of any witnesses, and snapping plenty of pictures of the accident site and the vehicles themselves. If for some reason your injuries preclude you from doing this, ensure that someone you trust does so on your behalf.
Always Seek Legal Advice
After you’ve gotten your immediate needs taken care of, now is the time to seek out legal advice. This can be a challenge, especially if you’re reeling from what life has just thrown at you. Drowning in medical paperwork and watching your regular rent and utility bills pile up can certainly be overwhelming, especially if you’re still in pain from any injuries. This is often made even worse because all of this happened through no fault of your own.
Yet that’s precisely why our guide to personal injury cases recommends you seek out legal representation now. Finding a good personal injury lawyer to fight for your rights has a number of advantages, up to and including the following:
- Specialized knowledge: your lawyer knows how the law works and the procedures that need to be followed to file a personal injury claim. They also know when you’re getting a fair deal — and when you’re not.
- Someone to do the hard work: a personal injury attorney will handle almost all of the paperwork needed to file a case. You can also give him all the documentation you’ve gathered and they will take care of the rest.
- Not having to represent yourself: Your lawyer represents you, and that means he makes all the arguments for why you deserve compensation personally. You won’t have to go up against an insurer or another lawyer alone.
- Not worrying about cost: personal injury lawyers don’t get paid unless your personal injury case is successful. This means never having to pay your attorney when you can’t afford to do so because you’re too injured to work.
Be sure to choose a lawyer with experience working as a personal injury attorney, and one that understands your specific needs. Once you do, make sure you share with him or her everything you know about the accident and injuries. Tell them the truth, even if it’s not flattering — your lawyer is on your side, and anything you share with them is private and protected.
Filing a Complaint
If you to make a claim against the other driver’s insurer, and they refuse to settle your claim, you have the option of taking the insurer to court. This process begins with filing a complaint against the insurer, and having an attorney on your side makes this process much easier. This legal document will contain details on the case, such as the names of everyone involved, the nature of the accident, what types of injuries and damages you’ve suffered, and what you want to receive in compensation.
Submitting a properly written complaint is the job of your attorney. Successfully doing so provides the courts with the proper paperwork to inform the insurer that you’re bringing a case against them, offering them the opportunity to respond to the complaint. It’s exceedingly rare that an insurer does not respond to a complaint, as doing so will lead to a default judgment in your favor. This means you’ll receive an answer to the complaint that will set the stage for the next step.
The Defendant’s Answer
An insurer will provide a written answer to a complaint. Typically, a few things can happen: they may admit fault, deny any fault, or answer noncommittally and neither admit or deny any fault. In some instances, an insurer may even make a counterclaim against you. This may occur if the insurer claims you may be partly or even wholly at fault for the accident.
If you are hit with a counterclaim, you’ll be given the opportunity to respond with a written answer of your own. However, even if you do not, your lawyer will have to defend you from that counterclaim, even as he or she pursues the original claim against the insurer.
Bringing a lawsuit isn’t as it’s portrayed in television and movies. After you file a complaint and receive an answer, there are pre-trial steps that need to be gone through. The first of these steps, known as “discovery”, involves information gathering, both on your side and on the side of your opponent’s.
There are no secrets during pre-trial discovery. You’ll be required to share with the defendant the entirety of your argument against them. By the same token, they’re required to share everything with you as well. This will include every scrap of information gathered previously through things like photographs and police reports. There’s also a strong chance that you’ll be required to sit through a deposition, which is a process where you’re questioned by the defendant’s lawyers while your own is present.
Depositions can be particularly harrowing, as they are official court documents and are recorded by a court reporter. You’ll receive plenty of coaching from your attorney on how to act during a deposition, but the prevailing rule is to always be truthful. That includes simply answering “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”.
Avoiding Going to Trial
Believe it or not, almost nobody wants a personal injury claim to go to trial. You don’t want to have to go through it, the insurance company doesn’t, and lawyers certainly don’t want to either. Trials are expensive and time-consuming, not to mention risky in the case that your side doesn’t come out victorious.
That’s why this guide to personal injury cases would be remiss without talking about ways to avoid going to trial in the first place. There are quite a few ways to avoid having to appear before a judge and plead your case to a jury, but most of them either involve a motion being filed or a settlement being reached.
Different Kinds of Motions
Motions are most often filed by the defendant in a personal injury case, as they’re designed to avoid having to go to trial. These include the following:
- Motion to Dismiss: if your complaint lacks legal validity, such as if you’ve filed in the wrong jurisdiction or if there were other problems with how you filed your original complaint
- Motion of Summary Judgment: if the case isn’t worth taking to court because the facts are indisputable. Either the plaintiff or the defendant can file this motion if they think their case is unassailably strong.
- Motion for Default Judgment: if your defendant never responds to your complaint or doesn’t show up for their court date, you can move to have your case decided in your favor by default
Settling Out of Court
In addition to avoiding going to trial by filing a motion, you can also avoid court by agreeing to a settlement. In essence, the plaintiff decides to drop the claim against the defendant, but only as long as the defendant provides a sufficient amount of compensation in exchange.
There are a number of things that factor into whether you should agree to a settlement, which includes how likely you are to win at trial and how much pursuing a trial could potentially cost you in legal fees if you prevail. The possibility of receiving a partial settlement or not enough to cover your own bills is also something to take into consideration when offered a settlement.
If you’re lucky, you and the insurer will settle out of court. In fact, most personal injury cases never make it to the trial due to settlements. There’s a lot that goes into a trial. It begins with selecting a jury and making opening statements, continues with presenting witness testimony and evidence, and finishes with closing arguments. The jury then deliberates and makes a final decision; if you’re successful, you’ll then be able to collect payment, minus any attorney fees.
At this point, you’ve successfully taken the defendant to court and emerged victoriously. Congratulations — you can get back to your life, pay your bills, and not have to worry about financial hardship as a result.
The Long and the Short of It
Pursuing a personal injury claim can be a long, hard road. Let’s review what we’ve learned from this guide to personal injury cases.
- In the wake of an accident, always seek medical attention and be sure to document the incident thoroughly
- Speak to an attorney as soon as possible afterward to help determine what type of compensation you may be able to receive
- File a complaint against the insurance company of the driver at fault and expect an answer
- Based on that answer, proceed with pre-trial activities such as discovery
- Consider any settlement offers from the insurer carefully
- Make the decision to go to trial only if the benefits outweigh the risks
Keep these points in mind and you too can emerge successfully from a personal injury claim.