When you first think of a personal injury claim, you might think of an injured accident victim taking the stand in court. While it is certainly true that some personal injury claims end up going to trial, the reality is that most do not, and there are dozens of steps between an injury-causing accident and taking your case to court. The following is an overview of how a personal injury claim might make it to litigation and what to expect during the litigation process.
The Insurance Claim
Typically, the first step to financial compensation that you will take after an injury-causing accident is filing a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. “Fault” refers to legal negligence, which occurs when a person fails to use the degree of care ordinarily used by a person in the same or similar circumstances. More colloquially, it refers to the person whose mistake caused the accident.
When you file a claim, you will provide supporting documentation detailing the economic and non-economic losses you have sustained as a result of the accident. In addition, you should also send a demand letter detailing your losses and the amount of money that you will accept as compensation for your losses. Common losses sought in personal injury claims include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Lost quality of life
- Property damage
- Physical and emotional pain and suffering
Upon receiving your claim and supporting documentation, the insurance company will generally make a settlement offer. In a settlement agreement, the at-fault party’s insurance company offers to pay you a certain amount of money in return for you releasing them and their customer from any further liability for the incident that caused your injuries. Not surprisingly, these first settlement offers are typically far below the demand and the actual value of your claim.
While an experienced lawyer will know how to negotiate with insurance adjusters to seek the full amount you deserve, some insurance companies simply will not offer a favorable settlement. In this situation, your attorney can advise you whether it is time to escalate your claim and file a personal injury lawsuit.
Lawsuits are started by preparing and filing a complaint – also known as a petition – with the civil court in your jurisdiction. The complaint must designate the parties you are trying to hold liable for your injuries, the details of what happened and why the party was negligent, as well as the damages you are seeking. This is a complicated document, and it is critical to have an experienced injury litigation lawyer drafting and filing your complaint.
The defendant (or defendants) will have the opportunity to answer your complaint, move to dismiss the lawsuit, and they can even file counterclaims against you. Your attorney can review the documents filed and decide whether they need to file an answer on your behalf.
If the lawsuit is not dismissed, it will proceed to the discovery phase. This is when your attorney and the defendant’s attorney exchange information, and each side learns about the other side’s case. Discovery can include:
- Interrogatories, which are questions prepared by your lawyer
- Requests for admissions to certain statements
- Requests to produce physical evidence
- Depositions, in which lawyers question parties or witnesses to learn about what their testimony in court might entail
Your attorney should use all of the information gathered in discovery to continue building the strongest possible case for you.
As your lawyer builds your case, and the defendant realizes you have a strong case, the attorneys can engage in ongoing settlement negotiations. The defendant will likely make a settlement offer, and your attorney can deny the offer, counteroffer, or accept the offer if you instruct them to do so.
In many cases, defendants will offer a favorable settlement to avoid further preparations for trial or the trial itself. Trial can be costly for defendants, and they lose control over the outcome of the case. For example, a jury might award an injury victim significantly more than might be offered in a settlement. By offering a favorable settlement, the defendant can maintain control over how the case is resolved if you accept the offer.
In some cases, if settlement negotiations are still not successful, the court might require the parties to participate in mediation. Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) that involves a neutral third-party mediator working to facilitate compromise and agreement between the parties. Mediation is often a successful method of resolving an injury lawsuit without going to trial.
If neither settlement negotiations nor mediation work to resolve your claim, the case will continue to proceed to trial. Plaintiffs have the option of a jury trial, in which a group of your peers decides the outcome, or a bench trial, which allows the judge to rule on the case. Your lawyer can help determine which is the best type of trial in your situation.
Trial involves many different steps, including:
- Jury selection (for a jury trial)
- Opening statements
- Each side presents its case, including introducing evidence and examining witnesses (the other side has the chance to cross-examine witnesses, as well)
- Closing statements
The judge informs the jury of the law, and the jury then reaches a verdict. The verdict can include whether or not the defendant should be liable for your injuries, as well as how much you deserve in damages.
Learn How a Tulsa Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
In reality, the large majority of personal injury cases are resolved directly with insurance companies or during pre-trial settlement negotiations. However, while it is rare, there is always the chance that your injury case will make it all the way through litigation to the trial stage. It is imperative that you have an attorney on your side who is both a skilled negotiator and an experienced litigator.
At Wandres Law, our Tulsa personal injury lawyers represent clients injured in many different ways. Call 918-641-4044 or contact us online for a free case evaluation and discussion about our services and experience.
Company Name: Wandres Law, PC
Contact Person: Patrick Wandres
Email: Send Email
Address:4835 South Peoria Ave.
State: OK 74105
Country: United States