Technically speaking, there is no such thing as “San Antonio personal injury law.” There is only Texas personal injury law. There is, however, a San Antonio legal community, and familiarity with it, at least through your lawyer, could be critical to your case. The following timeline of a San Antonio personal injury case can provide you with a rough guideline on what to expect.
The Accident and Its Aftermath
If you suffer an injury in an accident, you need to collect as much information as you can at the scene. Of course, this might not be possible if your injuries are too serious. Naturally, you need to prioritize your health over your personal injury claim.
If you can, however, try to take photos of the property damage, the injuries, and the people involved in the accident. Collect names and contact details of witnesses. If you are involved in a
car accident, don’t leave the scene of the accident except by ambulance or police permission. Cooperate with the police as they prepare the police report. You might need a copy of it during settlement negotiations.
Seek Medical Treatment
Medical treatment has got to be your very first priority, above and beyond gathering evidence at the scene of the accident. Even if you don’t believe you’re injured, delayed medical symptoms might arise hours or even days after the accident. Err on the side of caution, and go to the hospital immediately if you have any doubt at all about your condition.
Consult With a Personal Injury Attorney
Almost any personal injury attorney will offer you a free initial consultation. Even if you are too injured to leave the hospital, many personal injury attorneys will agree to meet you there.
Holding a consultation with a personal injury attorney is an important first step. The attorney can tell you whether they believe you have a valid claim.
Since most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis, if they offer to represent you, it means that they are confident that they can win your claim. Your legal fee will amount to a percentage of whatever amount you win, either in court or at the settlement table.
Investigation; Preparation of Evidence and Arguments
The next stage of your personal injury claim will involve your attorney performing an initial investigation to gather evidence. They might interview witnesses to the accident, for example. Their goal will be to gain an understanding of how the accident happened and to gather admissible evidence.
The admissibility of evidence depends on the terms of the Texas Rules of Evidence. Some items of evidence, however, such as the police report, can be useful in settlement negotiations even though you can’t use them in court. Your lawyer will help you organize the evidence and build arguments around it.
The Demand Letter and the Negotiation Process
The next step is to demand compensation from the responsible party. Although this party might be the defendant, in most cases it is an insurance company. In that case, your lawyer should draft and send a formal demand letter to the insurance company.
The insurance company might flatly reject your claim. On the other hand, they might issue a settlement offer. If they do issue a settlement offer, it will almost certainly be utterly inadequate. if it is, you should reject the offer and issue a counteroffer that reflects the true value of your claim. Your lawyer can help you calculate the true value of your claim. At this point, the negotiation process begins.
Filing a Lawsuit (Maybe)
If negotiations stall because the other side refuses to issue a settlement offer that is anywhere near the value of your claim, you might need to file a lawsuit. There are three main reasons why someone might file a lawsuit even if they still hope to settle the case:
- Filing a lawsuit beats the statute of limitations deadline.
- It proves to the other side that you are serious about resolving your claim in a fair manner.
- Filing a lawsuit gives both parties access to the pre-trial discovery process.
Remember, you can settle your claim and withdraw your lawsuit at any time, even during a trial.
The Discovery Phase
The pretrial discovery process allows each side to demand evidence that is in possession of the other side. If the other side refuses to cooperate with your discovery request, you can ask the court to sanction that party. Beware, however, because they can do the same to you. Discovery is 100% reciprocal.
The discovery process allows you to utilize the following for legal weapons to gather evidence:
- Depositions: Out-of-court, under-oath testimony that you obtain by examining a hostile witness.
- Interrogatories: Written questions for the other side.
- Demands for production: A demand to examine physical evidence or to copy documents that are in the possession of the other side.
- Requests for admissions: A request that the other side admits to certain facts that you don’t want to prove at trial. When both sides cooperate in this endeavor, it simplifies the trial by allowing it to focus only on the most important issues at stake.
Typically, the discovery phase lasts for several months, although it can be completed much more quickly in some cases.
Completing the discovery process might yield enough evidence for you to be able to demand an immediate settlement. If the evidence in your favor is overwhelming, the other side will not dare refuse a reasonable settlement offer. On the other hand, the discovery phase might yield such dismal results that you abandon your claim altogether.
The third possibility is that the two sides might remain stalemated. Judges don’t like this very much because it means a trial is likely. The judge is likely to pressure you to submit to mediation. In mediation, a neutral third party attempts to help you reach a voluntary settlement.
Trial or Settlement
If mediation is successful, you sign a settlement agreement, withdraw your lawsuit, and collect your money. If mediation is unsuccessful, you might have to proceed to trial. The following is a general outline of the procedure of a trial.
- Voir dire: The competitive process of selecting the jury.
- Opening statements by each party’s lawyer.
- Examination and cross-examination of witnesses by each party’s lawyer. It is through this process that you present evidence to the court. This doesn’t just mean testimony. You can present physical evidence through witness testimony as well.
- Closing statements by each party’s lawyer.
- The jury deliberates, issues a decision, and announces it to the court.
Less than 10% of all personal injury claims go to trial.
The Sooner You Act, the Better Your Chances Will Be
Evidence deteriorates over time. Physical evidence degrades; records get lost; witnesses’ memories fade; and witnesses move out of town. Your best bet is to start moving on your claim long before the statute of limitations deadline approaches. The earlier you involve a trusted San Antonio personal injury lawyer, the more familiar they will become with your case. Contact us at George Salinas Injury Lawyers at (210) 225-0909 to schedule a free consultation.