How to File a Personal Injury Claim
Get an overview of the basic steps to follow if you want to pursue a personal injury claim (or lawsuit) following an accident.
There are almost as many different kinds of personal injury cases as there are ways to get injured. From a car accident to a slip and fall, from injuries caused by a defective product to those stemming from mistakes by a doctor, personal injury law covers a broad range of incidents. So, no two personal injury cases will work in the same manner.
A lot depends on the severity of the resulting injuries, the clarity of certain key issues -- such as who was at fault -- and whether or not the incident is covered under an insurance policy.
In this article, we'll focus on a handful of key, practical issues related to personal injury claims to give you an understanding of what your legal rights are.
You'll also find links to more in-depth information about each step to help you determine the best course of action for your case.
1. Determine if an Insurance Policy Will Cover Your Injury(ies)
If you've been injured and you think someone else might be legally responsible, you might want to find out whether that person has insurance coverage that will kick in to cover any injury claim you make. After a car accident, does the other driver have insurance? If you're hurt in a slip and fall, who owns the property, and do they have liability coverage?
This is important because it can determine whether or not you'd actually be able to collect any damages award that a jury hands you after a personal injury trial. Having a judgment in your favor is one thing, but collecting on that judgment is another story, and the story may not have such a happy ending when the defendant has no applicable insurance coverage in place, and very little in the way of assets. Especially if your injuries weren't all that serious and your own insurance coverage might provide a satisfactory solution, you might want to think twice before filing a lawsuit against someone who has no insurance.
On the other hand, if your injuries are significant and it's clear that the other person is at fault for the underlying accident, you'll want to proceed whether or not they're covered by an insurance policy. Let them sort out the details.
2. Decide Whether To Engage an Attorney
Except in the simplest of cases, where your injuries aren't significant and you're confident you can get a satisfactory result on your own, it's probably best to at least discuss your case with a personal injury attorney. Remember, talking with an attorney isn't the same as hiring an attorney. Most personal injury lawyers will be happy to provide an initial free consultation where they discuss the merits of your case with you, and outline your legal options.
In most attorney-client agreements in personal injury cases, the attorney works on a "contingency" basis, meaning the client pays nothing unless there is a settlement or court judgment in the client's favor. Then, the attorney takes an agreed-upon percentage of the settlement or judgment, as a fee for services.
Depending on the amount of money at stake and complexity of the legal issues in your case -- and also depending on how much of a fight the other side is willing to put up -- it might just be worth it to have an attorney fight the fight for you.
3. Decide To File (or Not File) a Lawsuit
As you've most likely heard, the vast majority of personal injury cases reach a settlement before trial, and many are resolved before a lawsuit is even filed.
There are ways to recover compensation for an injury without running to court and filing a lawsuit. Again, where insurance coverage in place, you can file a "third party claim" against the at-fault person's insurance carrier. You'd start by getting the name of the other person's insurance carrier and his or her policy number. Then, send the company a notice of claim that includes their insured's information, your information, the date of the accident, and a notification that you were injured and intend to pursue a claim. Don't get into specifics at this point. That will come later, in settlement negotiations and in correspondence such as the demand letter.
Of course, if your insurance claim stalls or settlement negotiations break down, you can always get the personal injury lawsuit process started by filing your complaint in the local branch of your state's civil court. One key law to keep in mind is the personal injury statute of limitations in your state. This law sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit after your injury, so it's crucial to understand and abide by it.