What Will Your Personal Injury Lawyer Do?

You've found a lawyer to handle you car accident or personal injury case, and you've signed a fee agreement - what happens now?

Many people think that hiring an accident attorney will mean that they must go to court.  Although it is impossible to make any guarantees, most client’s cases settle out-of-court, saving you the stress and expense of trial.  Since any “estimate” to the value of a case and/or the time it will take to settle stands a good chance of being in error, it is inappropriate to predict these things.  However, it is to your lawyer’s advantage to obtain the best possible settlement in the shortest period of time – since his or her fee is contingent on the settlement - but an attorney should never commit you to a settlement without your consent.

Your Insurance Coverage

It is usually advisable to utilize your health insurance or automobile medical payments coverage applicable to the accident.  This coverage can be used to pay medical bills within a reasonable time after they are incurred rather than asking health care providers to wait until the case is settled.  If you possess this kind of insurance coverage, any benefits payable will not count against you or cause your rates to increase.  Health coverage and automobile medical payments coverage do not require someone to be negligent in order for the benefits to be payable.

Settlement Negotiation & Litigation Process

Due to the nature of this specialized field, the efforts expended by your lawyer may be sporadic – you may not hear from your lawyer’s office on a regular basis.  Even so, you should be able to call and receive reasonably timely response – your lawyer shouldn’t leave you in the dark about your own case. Many factors affect the time it takes to obtain a settlement and the following is a brief summary of the most common ones:

  1. Initially, a lot of work may be done such as obtaining witness statements, photographs, official reports, etc., in order to gather whatever evidence is necessary to verify how the accident occurred and to help establish who was at fault.
  2. An attorney cannot proceed until he or she is advised that you have been released by your doctor and have recovered from your injuries - or have been advised that your physical condition has stabilized.  At that point your lawyer can begin assembling medical reports, records and bills, employment reports and other items necessary to document each element of your damages.  This process takes time since some health care providers and employers are slow in preparing the reports.
  3. The next step is to solicit an offer from the insurance company involved.  This is another source of delay since each case is generally reviewed by a number of insurance company employees.  When an offer is received, it should promptly be sent to you for review and your lawyer will discuss possible courses of action.
  4. If your attorney is unable to obtain a fair settlement with the insurance company through negotiations, he or she will file a lawsuit and/or demand arbitration.  The defendants brought into the case typically have thirty days from the time they are served in which to file their response to the lawsuit. Sometimes there are several defendants and some may be difficult to locate.  Sometimes one defendant will bring other defendants into the lawsuit.
  5. After all defendants have filed their respective “answers,” “discovery” proceedings are started which may include depositions of parties, witnesses and experts.  Your lawyer will assist and instruct you at every step and may utilize the same discovery devices to substantiate your claim.  Discovery can be very time-consuming and expensive depending upon the complexity of any given case. For some tips on what to expect, see Getting Ready for Your Personal Injury Lawsuit
  6. After discovery is completed, a trial date is requested.  The assignment of the trial date is completely beyond the control of any party to the lawsuit, but is dependent upon how busy the Court is where the lawsuit is filed.

If You Have Problems With Creditors During Your Case

When a person is involved in an accident, it is not unusual for financial disruption to occur.  Not only is the injured person unable to work, but at the same time may have an increase in financial obligations.  If it is fairly obvious that you will be unable to meet your financial obligations, you should immediately notify your various creditors before you become greatly in arrears on your required payments and ask them to suspend your payments until such time as you have returned to work.  Usually creditors will understand if they’re told what to expect in advance, and will make reasonable arrangements for payments to be delayed.  If necessary, your attorney can contact your creditors for the purpose of verifying the accident and, if requested, agree to protect your creditor’s claim out of the proceeds of any settlement.  When checking with your creditors, you should check to see if you have Credit Disability Insurance which makes your loan payments while you are disabled.

Your Part in the Case

Proper Health Care

Proper health care is essential for 3 crucial reasons:

  1. A “minor” injury could be more serious than you think;
  2. It will be difficult to convince anyone that you had discomfort but chose to “suffer in silence” rather than seek appropriate treatment;
  3. By not obtaining adequate health care or by returning to your normal work and normal activities too soon, the other side may allege that you failed to comply with you “duty to Mitigate damages” (the law imposes upon every injured person the duty to prevent his/her injuries from becoming worse), and that they should not be financially responsible for some.

Rental Cars

In a car accident case, when the other party is at fault their liability insurance company is responsible for providing you with a rental car while your vehicle is being repaired.  Normally, you will have to rent the car and pay for it first.  You are also responsible for insurance, tax, and gas on the rental car.  The insurance company will then reimburse you after they receive the rental bill.

Avoid Discussing Your Case

Do not discuss the accident with anyone other than your lawyer and your doctors.  If anyone questions you about your case, tell them that you’ve been instructed not to discuss your case.  Refer all inquiries to your lawyer.

Other Important Instructions

Your lawyer will instruct you on a variety of things you can do (or avoid doing) to help protect your personal injury case. Usually, the following types of recommendations are given:

  1. Do not sign any document relative to your case without discussing it with your lawyer first.
  2. Send your attorney copies for all bills you incur relative to the accident, even if your own insurance company is paying them.
  3. Notify your lawyer immediately when your doctor has released you from further care and when you have returned to work.
  4. Notify your lawyer immediately if you have a change of address or phone number.
  5. Do not change doctors without advising your attorney.

Having an experienced lawyer handle your injury case not only ensures that you are compensated to the extent required by law, but should also relieve much of the burden of dealing with insurance companies and creditors. If you have yet to hire a lawyer and are considering it, see this series on finding and choosing the right injury lawyer.

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