Six Steps You Might Need to Prepare For
Immediately after a severe accident, you may have substantial financial needs. You need to pay your medical bills, manage transportation to all your medical appointments, and replace any items damaged in the accident. Many people also cannot work while recovering from severe injuries, which can make your bills pile up even faster.
You need compensation fast. Unfortunately, it may often take a considerable amount of time to settle your personal injury claim.
Step One: Investigation
As soon as the accident gets reported to the relevant insurance company, the insurance company’s investigation into the accident will begin. Once you choose an attorney, that attorney will also begin to investigate your claim and the circumstances that led to your accident. Both sides will investigate all aspects of the accident to determine who contributed to the accident, what injuries you suffered, and what compensation you deserve.
The Accident Itself
Both the insurance company and your attorney will look into all circumstances that contributed to the accident. For example, if you suffered injuries in a car accident, the investigation might include talking to witnesses about the accident and what they saw and taking and going over statements from you and the other driver. Then, both sides will take a look at any video footage of the accident: dashcam footage, traffic camera footage, or even footage from nearby security cameras.
Sometimes, especially in cases of disputed liability, the investigation may also require input from an expert witness, who will take a look at both vehicles and determine what may have contributed to the accident. For example, in a T-bone collision, you can usually clearly see damage to the front of one vehicle and the rear of another. The damage patterns on the vehicle may show which driver most likely caused the accident, especially when compared to photos of the scene of the accident.
During the investigation process, the insurance company’s representatives or your attorney may also evaluate photos of the accident scene or even go to the scene themselves to determine whether any features of the accident scene may have contributed to the accident.
This investigation can also help turn up other factors that may have contributed to the accident. For example, if you suffered a slip and fall accident because you fell down a flight of steps, an investigation of the scene may show that the handrail had broken or did not provide adequate support, or that a flight of stairs had become slick and unsafe over time.
Several factors can extend the length of this stage of the investigation, including how many parties contributed to the accident, what outside factors may have increased your injuries, and any instances of disputed liability.
The Company or Entity That Caused Your Accident
As part of the investigation, your attorney will look into the company or entity that caused your accident. Suppose, for example, that you suffered injuries in an accident with the driver of a big truck. In addition to evaluating the actual accident, your attorney will look into the driver’s employer.
Your attorney may want to check out the driver’s logbook, the company’s policies, and any history the company has past accidents. For example, if your attorney discovers that the company routinely pressures its drivers to make runs inside a tight timeline, encouraging speeding or driving in unsafe conditions, it could prove negligence on the part of the company. Often, if a company has a substantial history of causing accidents due to its negligence, it can show that the company shares liability for your accident.
Both your attorney and the liable party’s insurance company will need to go through your medical records and any statements issued by your doctor to evaluate the extent of your injuries. Investigating your injuries may include looking over your medical bills to determine how much you have spent on medical care as well as evaluating the extent of your injuries and the limitations they place on your life.
In most personal injury claims, your medical bills will form the foundation of the financial aspect of your claim. Most individuals who suffer severe injuries due to another person’s negligence will turn to a personal injury claim to help them pay for many of those medical bills: the biggest financial expense you will have because of your accident.
In addition to looking at your existing medical records, the insurance company that covers the liable party may require you to have an independent medical evaluation performed by a doctor chosen by the company. This evaluation will provide an outside look at the severity of your injuries, which can help better establish the compensation you deserve.
Sometimes, your injuries can extend the investigation. For example, some severe injuries, like spinal cord injuries, may result in such severe deficits that your doctors cannot predict how much you will eventually recover until six months or more after your accident. Your attorney may advise waiting until you have that information from your doctor before proceeding with your demand package, since you may develop complications or increase your medical expenses unexpectedly during that time.
After a simple accident, it should take approximately 30-45 days to investigate the accident. If the investigation will extend longer than that, you should receive an explanation letter from the insurance company. Likewise, your attorney may submit information about your injuries and the anticipated length of your recovery to establish why you would like to wait to establish the extent of your medical expenses.
Step Two: Negotiation
The negotiation process can extend for some time during your personal injury claim. Often, it starts shortly after your accident, before you even have a chance to contact an attorney or begin the investigation into your accident. The insurance company may contact you within a few days of your accident to issue a settlement offer.
At that time, negotiations begin.
You have a settlement offer in hand. That offer, however, likely does not fully reflect the compensation you deserve for your injuries. In those early days after your accident, you may not even know what the full extent of your medical bills will look like or how long it will take you to recover.
Before accepting that offer, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney, who can give you a better idea of how much compensation you should expect. Your attorney can put together a demand package that will include evidence of your actual injuries and how they impact your life as well as your current expenses and anticipated future expenses related to the accident. Then, you can submit your demand in response to the initial settlement offer.
The insurance company can either accept your demand and agree to a settlement or continue to negotiate.
Most often, you will go through several rounds of negotiation with the insurance company before arriving at a settlement agreement. Most personal injury claims do settle out of court, so if you can reach a settlement agreement, you can skip mediation and go to court. Some injury claims, however, may not settle so easily.
Step Three: Mediation
A mediator serves as a final step before you have to take your personal injury claim to court. The mediator, usually a judge or former judge, will look over your claim and the evidence, evaluate the insurance company’s offer and its policy, take a look at your demands, and make a recommendation regarding your claim. Both your attorney and the insurance company will have the chance to lay out the case and provide evidence. The mediator provides an unbiased opinion about the award most likely issued by the court.
Often, if you cannot settle your claim through negotiation, you can reach an agreement through mediation. Sometimes, mediation works as the last opportunity to present your claim and look at all the evidence laid out.
Step Four: Trial
If you have to take your claim to court, it can significantly extend the time needed to receive compensation for your injuries. You must wait for a court date. Then, your attorney must present your claim to the judge and, if needed, the jury. Finally, the judge or jury will render a verdict that will establish the award you should receive for your injuries.
It can take some time to fully present your claim to the court. Both you and the liable party will once again have a chance to lay out all evidence related to your claim. Your attorney may call on expert witnesses to testify on your behalf, including a witness who can establish how the damage or accident occurred and doctors who can help present evidence about your injuries and their impacts on your life.
The liable party’s insurance company may also present evidence that tries to establish that you contributed to the accident or that your injuries do not impact you as you claim. Then, the court will have a chance to review that evidence and establish a verdict.
Step Five: The Order of Settlement
Once you have reached an agreement with the insurance company, either through a settlement offer that meets your needs or through a court-issued award, both sides will fill out the order of settlement. This extensive document serves several vital purposes.
First, it establishes liability for the accident. As part of the order of settlement, the insurance company will accept liability or the liability of the party that it covers, for the accident. Essentially, the order of settlement establishes that the other party did cause your accident and that you have the right to compensation.
Next, the order of settlement establishes how much compensation you should receive for your injuries. The paperwork may break down your award based on your medical expenses, lost wages, and any compensation you receive for pain and suffering.
In general, both parties will have between 30 and 60 days to fill out the order of settlement completely and submit any necessary paperwork.
Step Six: Payment
Once you have reached a settlement agreement or received a court-issued award, the insurance company must issue payment. Typically, the insurance company must issue that settlement within 30 days of a completed order of settlement; however, that may vary based on your local laws and the rules set out by the court, if you had to turn to a court-issued award.
That payment will come to your attorney’s office. In most personal injury claims, your attorney will accept payment out of a percentage of that award based on the amount you agreed to in your initial contract with your attorney. Then, you can use the funds from your personal injury settlement as you see fit.
Keep in mind, after receiving payment, that you have numerous financial obligations related to your accident. You must, for example, take care of your medical bills, pay for your legal fees, and make arrangements for any bills that may have piled up during your recovery. However, you can choose how to distribute the funds from your personal injury claim. Talk to your attorney about other parties that may have grounds to claim some of those funds, including a workers’ compensation company that may have paid out for a workplace injury.
Filing a personal injury claim can provide you with the funds you need to help take care of expenses related to an accident or to pay for your living expenses when you cannot work due to those injuries, but you should not expect a fast process. It can take months or even years after your accident to reach a satisfactory agreement and receive the settlement you deserve for your injuries.
By working with an experienced personal injury attorney, however, you can streamline that process and get the funds you need in your hands sooner. Many accident victims also find that an experienced personal injury attorney can help increase the compensation they ultimately receive for their injuries, which can make it easier to pay for those bills.