How Does a Personal Injury Lawsuit Work?
A personal injury lawsuit has several phases from beginning to end. The very first phase is for you to get medical treatment after an injury. Even if you believe your injuries are minor, additional injuries could manifest hours or days later. Adrenaline masks many symptoms, even when following a serious injury. Beyond this, insurance adjusters may try to deny your claim or offer you a lower amount if you delay in pursuing medical attention, since he or she will assume that your injuries are not severe.
When you’ve seen a medical professional and are sure your injuries have been addressed, the next step is speaking with a San Antonio personal injury attorney.
Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
If you don’t have a personal injury attorney yet, you will need to find one. Look for an attorney who offers free consultations. Also, most personal injury lawyers will take your case on a contingency basis, which means you pay no attorney fees unless your attorney secures a settlement or court award. Choose your accident lawyer carefully.
When you initially meet with your prospective legal team, ask how much experience they have with your type of accident case, how and how much they charge for taking your case, firm communication policies, and other questions you might have.
Keep in mind that during the initial consultation, the attorney should ask you many questions about your case. However, a lawyer should never make any promises about how much money you could receive. A lawyer may, however, explain to you about the different types of damages available and talk about the average amount that people in your situation might receive.
No case is the same, and different insurance companies will offer or settle for different amounts. Juries will also look at similar cases with a different eye because not every jury has the same people on it.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Gets Paid
Most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, which means that you don’t pay an attorney’s fee until a successful resolution to your case. Fees are often based on a percentage of what you recover, depending on the length of negotiations and whether you need to go to trial.
Once you decide to retain a lawyer, your attorney will research your case to understands how you received your injuries and their extent. Once your attorney has a complete understanding of your case, the next step is usually to send a demand package to the insurance company and the defendant’s attorney.
The demand letter outlines your case, including your injuries and the amount of damages that are fair and reasonable based on your injuries. Damages could include medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other losses.
If the insurance company and/or the defendant’s attorney agree to a fair and reasonable settlement, you sign a settlement agreement, and your case ends. However, if the insurance company and/or defendant does not agree to a fair and reasonable settlement, your attorney might recommend going to trial. During this phase, your attorney will contact you with the results of negotiations and other significant developments in your case. During this time, you should continue to get all of the medical attention you need.
The negotiations might go back and forth several times, depending on the liable party’s initial offer. An insurance company will likely dispute facts and ask questions during the process in an attempt to pay a lower amount.
Some of the items an adjuster will look at include:
- Whether your policy covers the accident;
- Who was at fault for the accident;
- How severe your injuries are; and
- The type and extent of medical treatment you received and / or will need in the future.
If a defendant or insurance company does not offer a fair and reasonable settlement, you may need to prepare for trial.
Filing a Lawsuit
Filing a lawsuit has several steps between the complaint, the answer phase, and the ultimate trial.
Complaint and Answer
Your attorney will draft a complaint, and have you review it. It will then be filed with the court, and a process server will serve the complaint to the defendants named in the case. The defendants—usually the person who caused the accident and his or her insurance company—have a certain number of days to file responsive pleadings.
The plaintiff—you—and the defendants gather evidence, testimony, documentation, and other information from each other and third parties, such as your doctors, first responders, and witnesses during this phase. Discovery includes depositions, interrogatories, and requests for admissions. You will be deeply involved in this process since you will have to provide many of the answers and documents requested. Your attorney helps you with the discovery phase.
Either party can file motions before, during, and after discovery. If one of the parties does not respond to discovery requests in the allotted time, the opposing attorney might file motions with the court to instruct the noncomplying party to respond to discovery. Motions filed before discovery could include a motion to dismiss the case, or to dismiss part of the case if the defendant thinks one or more of your claims is not warranted. In most cases, you will have to attend a hearing on any motions.
Either party or the court can request mediation at any time during the court case. Mediation could be formal or informal. If it is formal, a third-party mediator attempts to help you and the defendants come to a settlement. In an informal mediation, your attorneys might meet with you to see if the defendants will agree to a fair and reasonable settlement. If mediation fails—you don’t accept the defendant’s final offer—you will likely continue with the trial process.
If you get to the trial phase, you will typically go through seven steps:
- Selection of a jury;
- Opening statements where each attorney presents his or her side of the case;
- Witness testimony;
- Closing arguments where each attorney tells the court and the jury why you or the defendant should prevail;
- The court instructs the jury; and
- The jury deliberates and then reads the verdict.
After the trial, the defense can accept the verdict and pay the damages the jury awards, or in some cases, it may appeal the case to the appellate court for reconsideration of the trial court’s decisions.
Once your attorney receives a settlement or court award, your attorney first pays anyone who has a legal claim against you, including claims for medical expenses, and then deducts fees and costs. Your attorney then writes you a check.
While this is a basic outline of a personal injury lawsuit, remember that every case is unique, and there is no way to guarantee exactly how your case will play out. To gain the best understanding of what to expect in your case, consider speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area.