Accidents and injuries are, at the very least, inconvenient. Causes of accidents vary vastly, as do their injuries. Even with a seemingly minor injury, there is always the unfortunate chance it could develop into something much more debilitating. The time of a personal injury case rests on this uncertainty but can also be prolonged by the other party’s cooperation (or lack thereof). The personal injury timeline generally takes six months to two years, give or take.
Seek Medical Attention
You should always seek medical attention immediately after an accident or injury. Regardless of how slight you think your injury is, it could always be more serious. After an accident, you may go into a state of shock, preventing you from immediately feeling pain. Or you may ignore a bruise that is, in fact, indicative of internal bleeding. Not only does this put your health at risk, but the longer you wait to seek medical attention, the harder it will be to prove later that the accident caused your injury. Even if you can prove that the accident was the initial cause of your injury, failing to seek medical attention immediately may prevent you from being fully compensated for neglecting to treat the initial injury promptly. Therefore, you must seek medical attention immediately to increase your chances of a full recovery.
Consult with an Attorney
While calling the insurance company may seem like the next logical step, you should consult with a personal injury attorney first. Personal injury attorneys offer free consultations and will assess whether you have a viable personal injury case, advise you on options, and estimate your case value. The majority of people who choose to settle their claim with an insurance adjuster independently receive a much lower settlement than those working with an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney will not only deal with insurance adjusters for you but will negotiate the highest settlement amount. If an attorney believes you are entitled to a larger settlement, they will give you the option to accept the settlement amount or file a lawsuit to pursue the full value of your case. Once you decide to retain an attorney, it will be on a contingent fee arrangement.
Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI)
To more accurately determine your case value and, thus, the compensation you deserve, attorneys refer to a legal concept called Maximum Medical Improvement (MMI). MMI is “the point when a condition cannot be improved any further or when a plateau in a person’s healing process is reached.” Basically, this means that you should wait six months before you consider settling your claim. Documented six-month complaints can establish a permanent impairment, which is important in establishing a comprehensive case value (future medical needs, lost wages, pain, and suffering). You should also be aware that if you settle your case before undergoing a related surgery, you will not be compensated for that surgery – settling your case prevents you from asking for additional compensation.
File an Insurance Claim or Demand Settlement
Generally, claims are filed against the at-fault party’s insurance company. After doing so, a claims adjuster will be assigned to investigate the claim and try to negotiate the settlement. Sometimes, your attorney will send a demand letter to the other party demanding a settlement for your injuries. This generally happens when the other party does not have insurance or an insurance company is not involved.
File a Personal Injury Lawsuit
The next option is filing a lawsuit when a settlement cannot be reached. Under New York Statute, a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within three years of your injury or accident. Filing a lawsuit can motivate the other party to increase their settlement offer to avoid litigation costs or a hefty jury verdict. Your attorney will file a complaint on your behalf. The other party will then file an answer to the complaint and any counterclaims they may have (which your attorney will respond to). Here’s more information on whether you should go to trial.
Discovery is the pre-trial process where the parties exchange evidence and information. This will help both parties form their arguments and predict their chances of attaining a favorable outcome at trial. This will often motivate the parties to settle before trial as it will expose the weaknesses and strengths of their cases and provides a more inclusive expectation of the actual value of the case. Discovery includes interrogatories, depositions, and independent medical examinations (IME). Interrogatories are written questions submitted to opposing parties and require a response. Depositions are essentially interviews under oath that depose both parties and witnesses. An IME is a medical evaluation given by the other party’s doctor of choice to assess your injuries. The discovery process is a lengthy one.
Mediation and Arbitration
Arbitration and mediation are two approaches to attaining a pre-trial settlement. Mediation is where the parties agree upon a neutral third party to help the parties come to a settlement. The settlement will only be binding if both parties agree to written terms and is signed by both parties. Arbitration, on the other hand, is always binding. Arbitration is a hearing conducted by a neutral third party (often a retired judge or esteemed lawyer). Mediation is never required, but judges may suggest it if they believe a settlement is within reach.
Trial, The End of the Personal Injury Timeline
If no settlement can be reached, then the case goes to trial. However, the parties can settle until the final judgment is rendered. The length of trials varies vastly, ranging from hours to months. Trials can be unpredictable, but the best way to protect your best interests is by choosing an experienced attorney.